CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
At this point in the series, it is probably a good idea to provide a refresher as to what we mean by the phrase Christian Community Development (CCD). Pastor and community developer Mark Gornik writes:
Community development in biblical perspective is the applied imagination of the kingdom for the sake of the kingdom in the concrete realities of the inner city. It is thus holistic in word and deed, truly local but also visionary; honest about the nature of change and realities of sin and suffering, yet profoundly expectant and hopeful.1
Since our founding over 40 years ago, CLDI has been convinced that the gospel of Jesus is to be expressed holistically in word and deed. We often say that as we lean into the fabric of the South Side as neighbors and friends, we believe there is a gospel response to the brokenness among us. With this kingdom-imagination at play, we can’t help but be compelled to think of the person as a whole. Just as Jesus went about proclaiming the realities of the kingdom of God, so also did He feed the hungry, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, offer friendship to the marginalized, and give hearing to the deaf. Likewise, we aim to provide a gospel response in all that we do. This is the heart of Christian Community Development work.
1Mark R. Gornik, To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City (Grand Rapids, Michigan: W.B. Eerdmans Pub, 2002), 149.
CHURCH AS A VEHICLE FOR TRANSFORMATION THROUGH THE GOSPEL
When my wife and I arrived in Billings in October 2009, our priorities were to move into the South Side, raise our family, love our neighbors, and plant a church. In Memphis, where we had spent the previous eight years, we had been part of a network of house churches that intentionally sought to provide an incarnational engagement to a low-income neighborhood. The practice of this was quite simple. Move into the inner city, become a part of the community as salt and light, and intentionally seek to love God and neighbor. Over the course of those eight years in Memphis, Shelly and I were convinced more than ever that the gospel was the solution to the brokenness we witnessed daily and that the Church was the vehicle through which healing, discipleship, and transformation took place. I share this to communicate how central the gospel of Jesus and the Church is to engage low-income communities holistically.
Stepping into the role of Executive Director for CLDI in 2011, half of my time was spent leading a network of house churches we had planted, and I designated the rest of my time to CLDI. I continued this dual vocation for several years before finally stepping out of pastoring to commit myself solely to the work of CLDI. Yet, those early years of engagement with the South Side as a pastor and nonprofit leader were formative for me. More than ever, I was convinced that the Church – as the community of believers committed to practicing the teachings of the Bible – was key to a life of ongoing transformation and growth in Christ.
THE GOSPEL IN WORD AND DEED
After several years of meeting with pastors over coffee, I literally drew out our philosophy of ministry on a napkin. This diagram begins with our mission statement: we undoubtedly believe that lives can and will be changed by the gospel of Jesus. Not only so, but every person has something of great kingdom significance to offer as they faithfully follow God and do the works he has set before them (see Ephesians 2:10). Moving on, our model in fulfilling this mission is Jesus Himself, who made known the gospel in word and deed, which we also refer to as “preach” and “heal.” Both are essential to make the gospel known, as one is incomplete without the other. Central to the gospel is the concept of shalom, which simply means flourishing to the fullest extent and life as God intended. Through the cross, a person’s relationship with God, self, others, and the world are restored as they live out their true identity; people made for His honor and glory and their greatest joy. Lord willing, as CLDI is faithful to make the gospel known in both word and deed, we are provided the opportunity to teach others what it means to follow Jesus. This emphasis on “evangelism and discipleship” is at the heart of CLDI in all that we do. Finally, it is our hope to further partner with the local Church as we encourage those who are new to the faith or still exploring it to be connected to a local, Bible-believing church. It is our conviction that connection to the Church and a community of believers is essential for the well-being and discipleship of every follower of Jesus. For this reason, as a church-based community development work, our partnership with the local Church is paramount.