My Dream for Arizona

My dream:

  • for every Pastor in Arizona to be in a small, relational, nurturing, accountable, trans-denominational network … for the purpose of personal growth and to develop leadership partnerships to change our cities and state.  Our city and state need healthy pastors who lead healthy churches that transform our communities.
  • for the Evangelical community to be at the table and fully engaged in community and neighborhood transformation.

The problem:  

  1. Isolation. Pastors are isolated and the evangelical church community (an oxymoron) is fragmented.  In this regard, the Barna group (www.barna.org) has found, first, that upwards of 80% of American pastors do not have someone they consider their best friend.  Isolation among the spouses of clergy is even greater. Furthermore, the Lily Foundation, which has had a focus on clergy health, reported recently that, according to their research, pastors who are in a friendship/accountability group with other pastors stay in ministry longer.Secondly, according the Barna studies, less than 5% of the churches in any given area actually work together even though they may have very similar values and purpose statements. Networking, communication, and collaboration are far more common among mainline churches.  An example is the Arizona Ecumenical Council (AEC), which is a center point of communication and a voice for mainline churches.
  2. Adversarial disengagement. The ACLU isn’t the only culprit in separation-of-church-and state controversies.  Often, evangelicals are unwilling to work with “those people,” that is, those with whom they may disagree.  This is not true of African-American churches, which are deeply engaged and active in government, community work, and social justice issues—and seem to work willingly and well with other faith communities.  In my last several years of experience interacting with key leaders in state and municipal government, I have been surprised by the absence of the evangelical voice.
  3. Outside in. So many “city-reaching” efforts seem to be initiated, even driven and implemented by “parachurch” ministries, like Promise Keepers, Mission, the Luis Palau ministry, Food for the Hungry—and visionary leaders in the Phoenix business community like Jerry Colangelo.   It’s been said that the proliferation of parachurch ministries is an indictment of the failure of local churches to come together to serve a common cause.  Local churches participate in common causes but are seldom proactive in those causes.  Ideally, however, efforts to advance God’s kingdom in our cities should be led and sustained by coalitions of local churches.  In my view, efforts to reach are cities cannot be sustained without the leadership of local pastors.
  4. Spiritual and economic Armageddon. Our state and municipalities, our communities, our neighbors are in crisis.  It’s time for the evangelical community to be a prophetic voice and a river of compassion.  Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  This is our mission, not to preach the gospel (John 3:16) “in word only,” but in a demonstration of God’s love and power (Luke 4:16-19).  The Jewish community has a lovely term for this, tikkun olam, which refers to our mission to “repair the world.”

The Gospel of Luke 4…
We all know the Gospel of belief in John 3:16.  But the practice of the Gospel according to Luke 4 is less familiar:

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18        “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to release the oppressed,

19        to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The key here is that “the Spirit of the Lord is on us.”  This is not the “social gospel.”  “The spirit upon us” is the power of God to transform people’s live, and we get their attention by loving them, by caring about them, by devoting ourselves to meeting their needs.

Quadrants of Influence…

In my simplified view of our communities, I see four key sectors:

  1. Government (state, county and municipal)
  2. Marketplace Leaders
  3. Non-profit, human service organizations, including both faith-based and non-faith-based.  I’d also include public schools, police and fire departments in this quadrant.
  4. The faith community, including small elements of non-Christian religions, but primarily Christian:  Catholic, mainline Protestant (generally theologically and socially “liberal”) and evangelical churches (generally theologically and socially conservative)–and in Arizona, a large LDS population.

Again to oversimplify, governmentattempts to ensure that businesses operate in the best interests of their employees and the community—and strives to identify and address state and local social problems.  In a perfect world, marketplace leaders practice business within the boundaries set by government—and are involved in community development because business leaders want to be known for caring about their community–and practically speaking, business do better if their employees and their employee families are doing well.  Human services: no other quadrant is as fully in touch with the needs of the community than non-profits, NGOs, faith-based community initiatives, public schools and police and fire departments.  They are the people on the streets, “in the trenches.”

Oftenpeople in these first three quadrants work together—sometimes out of necessity—to help the helpless and solve social problems, and generallythe faith community is concerned about the poor and vulnerable, and about social justice issues, but as I’ve noted above, churches seldom work together.  Recently I participated in a meeting sponsored by key business leaders who want to improve public education in Arizona.  Government, the market place, and education were all featured prominently in the panel discussion, but no one even mentioned the faith community.  Out of sight, out of mind.

My personal goal is, then, to bring down “the dividing walls of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14), to “defrag” the faith community, particularly the evangelical faith community.  I want to see us at the tables of discussion and influence—and in the streets doing the work of the kingdom:  meeting needs, being a voice for the voiceless, and bringing with us the message of eternal life and the transforming power of the Spirit of God upon us.