Urban Ministry

A Rooted Gospel

NOEL CASTELLANOS is the CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, a network of Christians committed to seeing people and communities restored spiritually, economically, physically, and mentally. In order to nurture that holistic work, committed CCDA practitioners move into under-resourced neighborhoods and try to foster community. Castellanos’ experience with CCDA and a lifetime of missional community has informed his new book, Where the Cross Meets the Street: What Happens to the Neighborhood When God Is at the Center (IVP Books), a powerful testament to the necessity of externally focused ministry. He was interviewed via email by Dave Baker, who is responsible for school accounts and diversity initiatives at Baker Book House.

Dave Baker: You write that in terms of diversity, the evangelical community is far behind the rest of society. In what ways?

Noel Castellanos: Most evangelical denominations and organizations are not very ethnically or culturally diverse in leadership. With the amazing demographic changes that are happening in our country, how can we possibly be in a position to effectively reach and disciple people of color if the leadership on boards and in executive positions is all white?

What is your biggest challenge as CEO of CCDA? CCDA is a broad and diverse family held together by a core commitment to be a witness of the kingdom in the most vulnerable neighborhoods. My biggest challenge is to create an environment where everybody feels valued and respected in spite of our racial, theological, and denominational differences. Our call is to love one another across racial and class lines and to demonstrate that God’s people can be at the forefront of loving the poor.

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New & Noteworthy

Everyday Saints
St. Peter’s B-List: Contemporary Poems Inspired by the Saints, edited by Mary Ann B. Miller, is not a collection of sentimental greeting-card-style verses; instead these literary works wrestle deeply with the human condition and the yearning for holiness, sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit. Ave Maria Press

City Missions
For nearly 30 years the Christian Community Development Association has been a resource for people seeking to do prophetic, non-paternalistic urban ministry. In Making Neighborhoods Whole: A Handbook for Christian Community Development, CCDA co-founders Wayne Gordon and John Perkins, and other veteran and emerging leaders, revisit key principles and lessons learned. IVP Books

A Narrative Ark
Noah’s Flood: Ancient Stories of Natural Cataclysmis a new website with essays, visual media, and conversation on Genesis, other ancient flood narratives, and the resonance of Noah’s story in contemporary culture and climate change. It was started by Ingrid Esther Lilly, a Pacific School of Religion visiting scholar. www.floodofnoah.com

God and Our Devices
Author, filmmaker, and cultural commentator Craig Detweiler explores the gifts and curses of our social media frenzy and teched-out society from a Christian perspective in iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives. Brazos Press

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Urban Legends: Rethinking Inner-City Ministry

Chicago skyline,  rSnapshotPhotos / Shutterstock.com

Chicago skyline, rSnapshotPhotos / Shutterstock.com

I used to lead and organize inner-city mission trips. Churches, youth groups, non-profit organizations, and well-intentioned philanthropists would excitedly arrive within the diverse and fast-paced world of Chicago and enthusiastically dive into whatever tasks we gave them. The work they volunteered for made a huge difference in people’s lives, but more importantly, it dramatically challenged — and changed — their own way of thinking about urban ministry.

For years “The City” has been the pet project of Christians throughout America. Billions of mission trips have been made to homeless shelters, food pantries, and poor neighborhoods, all in an effort to “clean up,” “rehabilitate” and “evangelize” in Christ’s name. Unfortunately, the inner-city isn’t as stereotypical as we want it to be, and our missionary zeal can often cause more harm than good.

Here is the most common myth that Christians mistakenly apply to urban areas: The Inner-City is Morally Bankrupt.

When Radical Welcome Gets Messy

Photo: Downtown Portland, DRGill / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Downtown Portland, DRGill / Shutterstock.com

It’s easier to guide the vision and mission of a church you start. It’s another thing to help a 135-year-old congregation reimagine what it means to be a downtown urban church in a world that has changed dramatically all around it. At Milagro, the church we founded in our living room some nine years ago, we set the course for what we wanted that community to look like: a refuge for the spiritual walking wounded, safe haven for questions, doubt, and a culture of mutual encouragement, support, and accountability that would allow people to explore their own relationship with the Divine. We have since set that community free and already, it is becoming something different.

As well it should.

Now we find ourselves at First Christian Church in downtown Portland — a different animal entirely. In some ways, the two communities are very complementary, in that one has what the other tends to lack. But we’ve discerned that, first and foremost, our job is to help cultivate a spirit of radical openness and welcome. But what does this mean, and how do we even begin to change the makeup of an institution that has exited for more than five generations before us?

Sometimes, it’s the simplest things that say the most. We had a tradition at Milagro of “mugging” people when they came for the first time. This meant one of our hospitality stewards (AKA, “muggers”) would approach them and give them a coffee mug filled with candy and some information about the church. With First Christian, however, most people know we’re here; the bigger question lingering in the public mind is why.

In this case, instead of a brochure describing programs or institutional history, Amy included the welcome statement that follows, which she borrowed and adapted from a Catholic community.

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