Pastor Darryl Williamson, an African-American bio-vocational pastor of Living Faith Bible Fellowship in Tampa, Florida, has a passion and a clear vision for reaching the urban context with the gospel. His vision extends both to his own local church and beyond. Over the span of several years of faithful ministry, Pastor Darryl has led a predominately African-American congregation to be overtly diverse. Predominately led by African-Americans and a diverse group of Hispanic members, the church is a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-generational, and economically diverse congregation with African-American, Anglo, and diverse Hispanic membership. To help equip churches in and beyond the Tampa area to foster this kind of urban racial reconciliation ministry, Pastor Darryl and his leadership team founded Arise City Summit. As stated on the movement’s webpage, “Arise City Summit is about taking the Gospel to urban communities and addressing urban realities. God’s vision for Christian community has always been mosaic.”

The Summit

The second annual Arise City Summit took place May 28-30, 2015 on the beautiful campus of the University of South Florida in Tampa. The theme was “Gospel, Racial Reconciliation, and Justice.” The summit featured a diverse group of speakers, who gave provocative and challenging talks, from different disciplines and different perspectives. The speakers were scholars, pastor/scholars, pastors, and social justice advocates. There were seven speakers. Five speakers were African-American and two were Anglo. Five of them were men and two were women. Each speaker spoke approximately 60 minutes and participated in a panel discussion that featured questions from the audience.

The Speakers

Pastor Leon Brown from Crown and Joy Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia, who is currently pursuing a Ph.D in Classical and Near Eastern Studies, began the conference on Thursday night. He gave a very challenging message about the Christian’s identity and purpose from 1 Peter 2:9. His message especially provided an evangelistic vision for the urban community. Friday night featured two speakers. Mrs. Austin Channing Brown from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan talked about reconciliation and the pursuit of justice. Mrs. Brown’s message emphasized some of the fundamental reasons that social injustice exists. Her talk offered historical reasons behind many of the systemic problems facing people of color today. Dr. Dan Williams from Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania was the second speaker on Friday night. His talk focused on systemic injustice and the missional priorities for the hood. He especially focused on specific strategies that urban missionaries could fashion to unleash the gospel to redeem institutions and to minimize marginalization.

Saturday featured three speakers. Pastor Keas Keasler from Rhythm Church in Miami, Florida offered a lecture on eclipsing white privilege in gospel community. His lecture articulated his definition of white privilege, and he argued for ways  he thinks Christians can eclipse this ideology in gospel community with each other. Ms. Ruth Arnold from 2nd Mile Ministries in Jacksonville, Florida was the second speaker on Saturday. She gave a wonderful talk on pursuing and winning urban women with gospel discipleship. She made several strong points about how current discussions about biblical manhood and biblical womanhood assume a traditional two-parent household. But, she argued, this is not the reality in many urban homes where single mothers are raising kids alone. Thus, she argued, that biblical womanhood looks differently in the urban context.

I was the third speaker on Saturday. My talk focused on the intersection of race, gospel, and salvation with social justice. I set these categories in their ancient Greco-Roman and Jewish contexts and discussed Paul’s understanding of these categories. I concluded my talk with a few practical applications. Pastor Darryl from Living Faith Bible Fellowship in Tampa was the last speaker on Saturday. Pastor Darryl gave a powerful message titled “Why We Must Pursue a Multi-Ethnic Gospel Movement.” He made a compelling case that God’s vision for Christian community and fellowship has always been mosaic, and the example of the early church reflects this vision. Both the speakers and the audience reflected this diversity. Though the audience primarily consisted of underrepresented people of color, there were several Anglos in attendance.

Summit Resources

In addition to the speakers, the summit featured a book table with resources that focused on racial reconciliation, justice, and related materials addressing needs facing urban communities. There were also opportunities to interact with representatives from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for those interested in pursuing theological education. There was sweet fellowship with many whom Jesus redeemed from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation. There was also corporate worship. Those in attendance had the opportunity to have personal, one-on=one conversations with the speakers.

KB, Christian hip-hop artist and member of Pastor Darryl’s congregation, served as moderator for the conference. He held a free concert in a nearby local church for all who attended the conference. To be sensitive to the fact that many within the urban community have limited financial resources, the Arise City Summit was FREE for all who registered to attend.

See You Next Year?

I am extremely thankful for the brothers and sisters at The Arise City Summit. In my view, this is a gospel movement that I hope gains intense momentum in the years to come. Some of the finest Christians that I’ve been privileged to know are part of the ethnically diverse staff at Arise City and are members of Pastor Darryl’s congregation. Pastors, lay leaders, seminarians, and Christians in general interested in learning how to contextualize the gospel for the urban community should make an effort to attend the Arise City Summit next year. It will provide great insights into how to contextualize the gospel and theology on the ground in diverse urban communities.