Christian Community Development

Feb 1, 2022

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“Christian community development should help us attain a mental image of how our community will look in the future when God is in control when his kingdom has come ‘on earth as it is in heaven.'”[1]

Urban Ministry 

Twenty years ago, I was on the cusp of significant change in my life. As a seminary student anticipating graduation, I was excited to finally be done with school, but I was even more thrilled about the newest adventure that awaited me, marriage! My fiancé, Shelly, was a first-year medical student at UT Health Science Center in Memphis, Tennessee. Naturally, our new life together as husband and wife would demand a relocation for me from the mountains of Denver to the delta of the Mississippi. As one who loves travel and partaking in different cultures, I was excited to live in the South. With this move in sight, I thought it would be worthwhile for me to take a course titled “Urban Ministry,” as this small-town Wyoming boy was going to be plopped down into a predominantly African American city with lots of colorful history. Little did I know how this course would drastically change the trajectory of our lives.

God’s Heart for those on the Margins

For the first time in my adult life, through this Urban Ministry course, I was being exposed to men and women who had intentionally committed their lives to the service of the poor. While I remember very few specifics of the course, namely in that it was all so new to me, I distinctly remember reading books by John Perkins, Ray Bakke, and Bob Lupton as they all lived by a common theme and practice they referred to as Christian Community Development. Again, this was brand new terminology to me. But even more profound than these books we read and discussed was the neighborhood tour our then professor, Ted Travis, took us on as we visited his low-income neighborhood to see his home, meet his family, drive by the church he pastored, as well as their community outreach center. At that moment, these concepts of urban ministry and community development clicked. As God has a heart for those on the margins, so are we as His disciples to have a similar heart, and what better way to engage a particular people than to live among them.

Life in Binghampton

For the next 7½ years, Memphis (and our low-income community known as Binghampton) was our home. There are so many fond memories and lessons learned from this time of living in the community as Shelly and I wrestled through the dynamic teaching of Jesus to love God and love our neighbor. In considering moving back West, we desired to continue to live in and among the poor to exercise and practice our call to love God and others. By His divine leading, the door of opportunity opened for my wife at Billings Clinic, and wouldn’t you know it, we stumbled upon this precious community known as the South Side. In the fall of 2009, our then family of four packed our bags and relocated to the South Side of Billings. While my initial community engagement was to lead a church plant in the South Side, I was astounded to learn of this great Christian community development work started by Dave Hagstrom, called CLDI. Having worked with CLDI since August of 2010, I am incredibly grateful for the years of labor and Christ-like love Dave and so many others connected to CLDI had faithfully engaged in for 30 years prior. While I thought we were moving to unchartered territory, these brothers and sisters had tilled the soil, planted the seed of the gospel, and watered the soil for years! More than 40 years later, the initial prompting of the Lord that led Dave to initiate the work of CLDI to love God and love others, especially those who are often overlooked, remains a passion for those of us at CLDI.

Unpacking Christian Community Development

Throughout the next year, we will take you on a journey to unpack what we mean when we refer to the work of CLDI as being a Christian community development work. As you will see, many of the themes we often mention, such as shalom or the kingdom, are certainly not unique to CLDI, but rather, have been distinctive pillars of His kingdom-building in our world since the beginning of time. John Perkins, the founder of the Christian Community Development Association, beautifully portrays the heartbeat of this work: 

“…a key concept in Scripture of the blessing of God is found in the Hebrew concept of shalom. [Shalom] is usually translated as ‘peace.’ However, shalom entails a peace that is more than mere cessation of hostilities or peace as opposed to war. Shalom envisions a state of general well-being, wherein one experiences the fullness of all the blessings God has for his people. It is akin to Jesus’ promise in John 10:10: ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’ God’s shalom is a thread that runs through the prophets, especially as God looks forward to the restoration of a people who have experienced the ravages of sin. . . . [In reference to Isaiah 61] the Messiah speaks of what he will do: I will preach the good news, I will bind up the brokenhearted, and so on. In verse 5, the prophetic message says: ‘They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations… In other words, the mission of the Messiah – and our mission – is not complete until we have empowered those living in the devastated places, the ruined cities, to restore and rebuild their own community.“[2]

Friends, it is CLDI’s missional call to love, serve, and engage the South Side community in this way. As a Christ-centered and gospel-oriented organization, we wholeheartedly believe that this work of restoration of lives, marriages, families, and communities is possible through the gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope you are looking forward to this journey as much as I am!

ECB

[1] John Perkins, ed., Restoring At-Risk Communities: Doing It Together and Doing It Right (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1995), 28.

[2] Ibid., 31.


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