During a recent interview with Fuller Theological Seminary president Mark Labberton, Wayne Gordon, pastor and founding president of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) shared tips for cultivating "a faith that leads into engagement" and a congregation that weaves into the lives of its local community.
In addition to leading CCDA, an organization that seeks to "inspire, train, and connect Christians who seek to bear witness to the Kingdom of God by reclaiming and restoring under-resourced communities," Gordon is the founder and senior pastor of Lawndale Community Church, which is based in a predominantly African-American part of Chicago - a city that has seen an uptick in violence and poverty in recent years. For Gordon, living and working in a city most people would avoid is no accident.
"Jesus calls us to be salt and light," he explained. "Where are the decaying areas? That's where we ought to be going as Christians. Light dispels darkness; darkness in the Bible is a code word for 'evil'. Where are the evils? As a Christian...if I really want to be Biblical I'll go the realtor and say, 'show me the decaying neighborhoods, show me the evil neighborhoods, cuz I want to look at houses there.' We almost disqualify ourselves as Christians of being salt and light because we live in such light communities."
The CCD philosophy can be summed up by the three "R's": Relocation, Reconciliation, and Redistribution, Gordon explained. Christians are also called to "love thy neighbor"; thus, it's important for churches to immerse themselves in their local community, and meeting and engaging with the unreached and neglected.
"Christian community development is really church based; it should happen out of the local church, or it should happen with a group of churches," Gordon said. "Living in the community where we serve...it just makes sense...The parish concept - you live there and you worship there. That helps to build this community of people that love one another."
However, working in a community riddled with violence and poverty isn't easy; Gordon shared how, on a number of occasions, he's been called to the hospital to comfort families who lost a loved one to gun violence.
"That's the part of the ministry I don't like," he admitted.
When asked how he, as a pastor, cultivates a faith culture that knows how to lean into violence and danger, Gordon said that because the Lawndale community has grown up with trauma and learned how to mourn, they've actually taught him more than he's taught them: "In our neighborhood, people are wailing and screaming - they get it out. They know how to weep, they know how to mourn. And you know what? It helps, because then they move on, and a month later they're so much healthier than people who've held it in."
In a time when it seems racial tensions will never ease, Gordon said it's all the more important to have culturally sensitive, black - white conversations.
"There has to be a place where you build slowly, and you have some honesty," he said. "When you begin to have authentic dialogue, people of color, particularly the African-American community I'm in, are very trusting if they think you're trustworthy. And they'll tell you things that you are surprised they're gonna tell you. White people tend to hold their cards closer to their vest, but when one person tells you something that's very vulnerable, if you're authentic, you usually come back with something vulnerable."
How does one have authentic dialogue? Gordon said it takes a significant amount of time: "One of the reasons we get to do it is because we live in the community," he explained. "We've got forty years of relationships with people. It takes time - it doesn't happen overnight."
He added, "With authentic conversation, we break down those barriers. How do we break down the dividing wall between us of ethnicities and other things that divide us? The church should be doing that. An authentic conversation is what we need to really make it - it has to be authentic on both sides. If one side is inauthentic, one side shuts down, and you're just having coffee."
To learn more about CCDA, visit their website.
"Conversing" is a podcast series produced by FULLER studio in which Dr. Labberton interviews leaders on the intersection of theology and culture.