White Church Planter, Black Neighborhood
Five Lessons from the Field
by Rev. Scott Moore
I am a white guy planting a PCA church in an all-Black, impoverished neighborhood. I understand this is not a novel effort. Many people from many denominations are reaching across cultural and racial lines to advance the Kingdom of God. And I’m not a veteran. I’m learning so much from men and women who have labored in distressed settings for many decades.
I simply want to share some lessons I’ve learned during my short ministerial way. My hope is that you or someone you know will be blessed by the blessings the Lord has so graciously given to me through this experience.
Lesson #1: Love Must Motivate You
First, I am convinced that ministry must be birthed out of a love for neighbor rather than a love for self. If you like attention, this sort of ministry is sure to bring it. I wish I could say I have never binged on the praise of men, and that all of my motives have been unstained from this sin. But that wouldn’t be true.
Yet I never saw this ministry coming. A few years ago, I was thinking of going for further schooling or church planting in a down-town area. Sure, I had multi-cultural ministry in mind, but not like this. The relationships linked me to Trinity Gardens. After three years of building relationships there, my heart won’t let me pastor anywhere else. I feel truly blessed to be bound by love to such a wonderful people.
Lesson #2: Be Yourself
Second, I have learned that it is okay to be myself. While my wife says that I change my voice a bit when I talk with guys from the hood (something I continually deny!), I really don’t think I have tried to change who I am to be more like who they are.
I am about as White as it gets. I wear slacks and a long-sleeved button-up shirt every day of my life. I even carry a pen and a small notebook in my front shirt pocket. Sure, I’m tall and I used to play some college ball; but I have yet to use my “skills” (if there are any left!) as a way to connect. I’m just Pastor Scott. And for the last three years, people have accepted me for who I am.
Lesson #3: Focus on Faithfulness
Third, I am learning that its better to be a faithful presence than fantastic performer. As much as I’d love everyone in the neighborhood to come barging into the Sunday service, I am learning that my day to day, seemingly mundane presence communicates more than I ever could in a sermon. Preaching is important, but not as important as our faithful, long-term presence. Just being there communicates volumes to a people who have been repeatedly abandoned.
Along these lines, I’d like to add another lesson I have learned. When the vulnerable call comes, immediately go. After thee years, people are beginning to come to me as a pastor. When their world falls apart, a window of vulnerability opens. And when it does, we must be ready to jump through it. It closes quickly.
I had a young man text me that his life was all messed up and that he needed the Lord. I told him that I’d come get him the next day. When I called the next day he didn’t answer. I haven’t been able to reach him since. So, a faithful presence often means being an immediate presence.
Lesson #4: Trust Comes Before Truth
Fourth, trust must come before truth. The saying is powerful, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” People in Trinity Gardens are not impressed by my library, degrees or credentials. They primarily want to know if I can be trusted. They want to know I’m not a cop, drug dealer, investor, or homosexual pervert (yes, I have been called all of these). They want to know that if they trust me with their life, I won’t be gone tomorrow. (Don’t we all want this?) And once that trust is earned, the truth can explicitly come. This is when everyone changes – even me. But it takes time – sometimes years of just being there.
Lesson #5: Build a Church One Relationship at a Time
Fifth, I feel a huge burden to build the church from the inside-out. We have no programs to attract the masses. We are not presently doing any big events for spring or summer. The people in this neighborhood have seen it a million times. People come one day and are gone the next. So, in order to love well, we feel our call was/is to begin with the few relationships the Lord brought our way. We currently have a faithful group of about twenty five.
Finally, many people ask if I am scared to move my family into the hood. My answer is that I am more scared not to. Sure, there is the need for wisdom. But, even the hardest among them will die protecting those they trust and love – a trait that may be more uncommon in the suburbs.
There are many more things I could say, but if I could summarize what I have learned this far, I would say it like this, “Faithful, steadfast love is the megaphone the Lord uses to communicate his grace, power, and loving preservation.” This love reaches across all divisive barriers. It covers a multitude of sins.
Christ sets the pattern. He is steadfastly strong. He is there, always there to heal, encourage, care, and forgive. And He empowers us by His Spirit to love like He does – to be His image bearers to a watching world. And when we do this, He blesses us like no other. The riches of his grace are real.
It may seem unlikely to some that God would send a White church planter to a Black neighborhood, but that is the unifying strength of God’s love for all His people–whatever their color or culture.