Revolution and Renewal: How Churches Are Saving Our CitiesRevolution and Renewal: How Churches Are Saving Our Cities
Tony Campolo, Bruce Main
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Fiery, funny, and challenging, Campolo has long served as the social conscience of American evangelicalism. In this powerful work, he pays tribute to Christian men and women who've refused to walk away from America's urban communities. Learn how---through the Holy Spirit's power---faith-based social action can transform inner cities, one soul at a time! 285 pages, softcover from Westminster/John Knox.

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Chapter One

Stories That Tell the Story

Zechariah, the Hebrew prophet, had a vision for the city. It was a city that was yet to be—a vision that generated faith in the face of the ugly realities of the Jerusalem of his day. Zechariah did not despair as he looked upon the devastation of blighted Mt. Zion, nor did he throw up his hands in surrender at the sight of grinding poverty. He did not lose hope in the face of the crime that pervaded Jerusalem's neighborhoods, nor did he deem incurable the social pathologies that destroyed the peace of that city. Instead, Zechariah looked beyond the sorry condition of the Jerusalem of his day and dreamed of a time when God would make its streets safe for children and for the elderly to once again venture out of their homes without fear.

    We find the vision of this city that was yet to be in scripture:

Thus saith the Lord of hosts; There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; If it be marvelous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, should it also be marvellous in mine eyes? saith the Lord of hosts. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Behold, I will save my people from the east country, and from the west country; And I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness.


But now I will not be unto the residue of this people as in the former days, saith the Lord of hosts. For the seed shall be prosperous; the vine shall give her fruit, and the ground shall given her increase, and the heavens shall give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things.


So again have I thought in these days to do well unto Jerusalem and to the house of Judah: fear ye not. These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath; for all these are things that I hate, saith the Lord.


Thus saith the Lord of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you. (Zeeh. 8:4-8, 11-12, 15-17, 23)

Is that not what we all long to see happen to our own city? Is not Zechariah's vision a vision we can all embrace?

The way to transform the city that is into the city that ought to be is not easy to prescribe. The simplistic answers to the urban crisis that are flung about in cavalier fashion by journalistic pundits on C-SPAN do not readily work. The chaos and evils that wreak havoc on urban dwellers are not really addressed by the ideological rhetoric that comes from politicians on either the left or the right. Granted, there are those in each of the parties who have some good insights and suggestions to make, but in the platform of neither party do we find the sure formula to transform the city into what God wants for it to be.

The political left, generally expressing itself within the Democratic Party, tends to believe that ameliorating the problems of the city will be brought about by intervening in the socioeconomic order of the city and restructuring its institutions to facilitate justice and prosperity for all of its people. Political liberals believe that structural evil is what creates the pain and troubles of individuals, and that life will be good in the city only when the various institutions of the social order are transformed into paragons of virtue. The city, they claim, can only be changed from the top down. A good social system, they say, is what creates good people—and what they say is somewhat true.

Those on the political right, who usually identify with the Republican Party, believe that the city can be changed only from the bottom up. The city, they say, is nothing more than an expression of the character of the individuals who make it up. Consequently, the conservatives' approach to social change requires that we deal with those whose sinful behavior is destructive to themselves, as well as to others around them. Conservatives believe that ultimately individuals determine the quality of life in the city, and that urban policies should be designed primarily to convert individuals into good people. Good people, they believe, are what make a city good—and they, too, are partly right.

In this book we will affirm both the left and the right—both the liberals and the conservatives—both the Democrats and the Republicans. In this book we will contend that changing the city into the kind of place that actualizes Zechariah's vision requires both a "top-down" and a "bottom-up" approach.

If the church is going to be the "lead institution" in bringing something of the city of God to urban America, we believe that it must, on the one hand, address institutional evils and simultaneously challenge its people to bring the lost souls of the city into transforming relationships with Christ. We believe that the church must combat evil on the macro level by working to eliminate racism in the business sector, bring true justice to the courts and to the juvenile-protection agencies, end corruption in the housing authorities, improve the educational system, clean up the environment, create good recreational programs, eliminate the drug traffic, outlaw gambling, improve family services, and organize neighborhood people to address all the problems inherent in the urban social system. In this book we will try to provide some directives and guidelines for making the church effective in doing such social action. But even as we challenge the church to embrace the call to work for social change, we will, at the same time, remind the church of its God-given calling to bring individuals into the new life that comes from Christian conversion.

The kingdom of God in the city begins with persons who surrender to the lordship of Christ or it does not begin at all. While we believe that social institutions and urban culture condition what happens to individuals, we also believe that individuals make their personal influences felt on the societal level. But when we consider both sides of this interactive process, we must conclude that the conversion of individuals into radical followers of Jesus is what will get redemptive social change started. Therefore, we believe that whatever else the urban church may get into, it must always hold its ministry to individuals as primary and, like its Lord, "seek and save those who are lost." That is why, before getting into the roles that the church must play in bringing justice and creative socioeconomic change to institutional systems, we must first declare what the church can and should be doing to change individuals and to impact their lives with God's transforming love.

Over the years, I have been involved in urban ministries on both the societal and the personal levels. I have done my best to earn my credentials as an advocate for social action, identifying with those ancient prophets who demanded justice and help for the poor and oppressed. But over the years I have also recruited and organized an army of young people who have set up ministries that have reached out to distressed individuals in the city—especially to children and teenagers. These young volunteers, who come to us mostly from colleges and universities, have formed the backbone of a variety of programs for city people that are incorporated under the direction of The Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education (now renamed EAPE/Kingdomworks).

During the last two decades, the young people who have come to work with EAPE/Kingdomworks have touched the lives of tens of thousands of children and teenagers who live in some of the worst ghettos of America. They have organized after-school tutoring and recreational programs. They have put together alternative schools, which have rescued the kids who were falling between the cracks of the public school system. They have developed youth programs in churches that had never before tried to reach the young people in their neighborhoods. They have placed teams of young adults in neighborhoods to go door to door with ministries of prayer and evangelism. And they have run summer day camp programs for thousands of children in urban neighborhoods across the country.

Of all the young people who have come to join our ranks of dedicated youth workers, none has proven more faithful and effective than a young Canadian named Bruce Main. Bruce now heads up our affiliate ministry, Urban Promise, in Camden. The work that Bruce has done has rightfully earned him the recognition of Christianity Today as one of the 40 most outstanding young Christian leaders in America.

For a decade and a half, Bruce has labored long and hard in a city which Time magazine labeled "the worst city in America." In local churches in a half dozen neighborhoods of that city, he has established a variety of programs that have turned "throwaway children" into college students of promise and led untold numbers of "lost" kids into lives of hope and promise. When it comes to change on the micro level, Bruce Main is a blazing example of what can be done. While calling for social change and supporting those who struggle against "the principalities and powers" that perpetuate structural evil within the institutions of the city of Camden, Bruce has not given up his first love, which is a personal ministry to the at-risk youngsters who roam the streets of the city.

I can think of no better illustration of how the church can bring the love of Christ to individuals than to give you a glimpse into some of what Bruce does in his daily rounds of service. Allow me to share with you some of Bruce's own stories. Read them and be inspired by what the church can do when it takes seriously its calling to rescue the perishing and care for the dying who live in the city.

Baptism by Fire

Our mission organization had been using the almost vacant Baptist church for a year and a half. In that time carpets had been stained, door handles had been broken, and graffiti had appeared on the bathroom walls. Utility bills had skyrocketed, toilet paper was being used at an astronomical rate, and the Sunday morning service was being interrupted by the restless commotion of over a hundred city kids. Our mission organization was covering the costs, yet it still appeared that this mission project was becoming a little too expensive. After all, what was the payoff? What was the church gaining from the project? There were no new members. The weekly collections were not increasing. And there were no visible signs that the children were changing.

The deacons finally called me into the pastor's office one Sunday after church. It had been the usual banner morning. Some child had clogged the toilets, and one of our five-year-olds had thrown a tantrum during the responsive reading. I approached the office with some trepidation for I knew that the news was not going to be good. Stepping into the office, I was greeted by the stares of five elderly men. The deacons. They made up one half of the attending congregation.

"Have a seat, Bruce," gruffed one of the aging men. I sank into the collapsible, cold metal chair that had been placed there especially for me. The pastor, who was sitting behind the desk, took the initiative.

"Well, Bruce," he began slowly, "you know your youth program has been in the church for about a year and a half." I braced myself for what was to come. "People in the congregation are beginning to wonder whether it's making any difference. The people need to see some change."

I could see the deacons nodding in unison with the pastor. Obviously they had had a meeting previously and the pastor was simply seizing the opportunity to collect some political points to substantiate his leadership.

"What we really need, Bruce ... what we really need are baptisms." I almost fell off the chair. After all the discontent, after the relentless criticism, all I needed to do was get some kids baptized? It couldn't be that easy. I don't want to take the sacrament of baptism lightly, but it was difficult to believe that a baptismal service would make the deacons happy. Had I misread them? I have never been one to play the political game or sacrifice the spiritual integrity of a person to prove a point. We had, however, had a number of children commit to following Christ, so there was a strong possibility that some of them might want to be baptized.

"I think it could be arranged," I replied, repressing a smile. "Give me a week and I'll see if there are some interested candidates."

"How many do you think there might be?" asked one of the deacons who had yet to make a comment. I did a quick tally in my head.

"Probably fifteen to twenty," I said with a tinge of satisfaction and pride, for the church had not seen a baptism in the past ten years and now the deacons would have to contend with the fact that they did not even have enough robes to clothe all the children who would desire baptism.

Just then the old deacon curtly commented, "You know that they'll have to be interviewed by our committee. Yes, every one of those children will have to be approved by the deacons." I began to sense what was going on. Baptisms were not the real issue. The issue was power and control. With the presence of the outreach program, the leaders had lost control of their church. Their hope was to back me into a corner. But to their surprise I responded to their game. They thought I could not deliver with the baptisms; I caught them off guard. But even now, their power had, once again, to be asserted. No child was to be baptized without their stamp of approval.

The night arrived when the children were to be interviewed for baptism. The kids were nervous and scared. They feared these white, old men who seldom smiled or made them feel welcome. Seated in the back room of the church, the fifteen baptismal candidates huddled around in a circle and waited to be called.

"Kenyatta Mickey," yelled a voice from down the hall. Kenyatta hesitated. The ten-year-old little boy didn't want to move from his seat. He just sat there and shook his head at me and mouthed the words "not me."

"Come on, Kenyatta," I whispered, not wanting the deacons to hear of the problems we were having. I reached, grabbed his hand, pulled him to his feet, and walked him down the hall. We entered the office. There were the five old deacons, sitting in the same five seats, staring at us with the same blank faces. There were no cordial greetings. There was no "Welcome, young man, it's so good to have you interested in surrendering yourself to Jesus." Just the blank stares and the penetrating eyes. I could see little Kenyatta begin to perspire. What an introduction into the Kingdom! The poor kid. He was terrified, he was nervous, and he was definitely not experiencing the warmth of Christian fellowship.

"When did you become a Christian?" started one of the old men.

"This summer at the church camp." By this time my heart was leaping for joy. My pride was screaming silently that there were kids changing because of this program.

"How has becoming a Christian changed you?" asked another deacon, still without expression or warmth.

"Well, I used to be bad. I got'n all kinds of trouble, and fights, and I said a lot of bad words. Now I don't do all that stuff," replied Kenyatta while satisfaction wrinkled across his brow. After a few more questions and a sermon from the oldest deacon about the importance of tithing, they released Kenyatta from his interrogation. Kenyatta flew out of the door and skipped down the hall with his arms raised, screaming, "I did it! I did it!" When Kenyatta got back to the group, he burst forth with his story. The others were relieved that he returned alive and yet envious that he had finished.

One by one the children went through their interviews. One by one they returned by running down the hallway bubbling over with joy that they had completed the encounters with the deacons. What an introduction to the Christian life: horror, fear, and intimidation.

The day came when the children were to be baptized. Ten minutes before the service, when I was already dressed in my robe and hip waders, the pastor called me into his study. He informed me that the deacons had decided to vote the Outreach Program out of the church. I stood in his office in total disbelief. Fifteen children waiting in robes to be baptized, fifteen children who had given their lives to Jesus, fifteen children and teens who had been approved by the deacons, and yet they secretly decided to vote us out of the church.

As I baptized the children I felt both joy and sadness. Joy because these beautiful children were making a statement to their families and friends; sadness because the deacons were going to ax the very thing that Jesus commissioned us to do—reach those who are lost and preach the good news to those who need Good News. The church had lost its vision and had become a place where power could be misused, where peace and quiet and reverence were treasured and children were not counted as real humans. Ironically, as I scanned the congregation between immersions, I saw not one deacon.

The program was to leave. But before the deacons could bid us farewell, the decision needed to be brought before the congregation and voted upon. Realizing that the deacons had a sort of intimidating presence, with the ability to sway the congregation, we decided to visit the congregation individually and get their feelings about what was happening in the church. Were the deacons actually reflecting the sentiment of the whole body? Was the leadership really listening to the concerns and interests of the congregation?

We were greeted with some surprising responses. Overwhelmingly, the responses of the parishioners were positive. Although many were elderly, couldn't get out to church too often, and "didn't understand the ways of the youth," they did believe that the church needed to become more community oriented and that the children were the future. We encouraged all to get out to vote.

The day of the congregational meeting arrived. The twenty or so members gathered after church. In addition to the members, we had encouraged some of the parents to come out and share what the programs had done for their children. About fifty children were outside the church, waiting and praying for the outcome of the vote. They were concerned that they wouldn't have a place to go after school and in the evenings. They were concerned that their clubs and activities would be canceled.

One of the deacons got up to speak. A hush fell over the group as he began to speak. "The deacons of the church feel that it is time for the Outreach Program of the church to be terminated. We come here today in full confidence that you will vote in agreement." One of the older men in the church, Mr. Brown, stood up. I had never heard him speak publicly before. He was a quiet man, so to see him rise to speak was a surprise. "You know, in the Bible Jesus speaks about the disciples who shooed the children away. If I'm not mistaken, Jesus got a little mad. In fact," he continued, gaining a little momentum, "Jesus said that we have to become like little children to get into heaven, didn't he?" A few of the deacons were getting a little restless. Old Joey Brown wasn't about to sit down, and he was obviously having an impact on the crowd. "If we turn away these children, I think Jesus will be real mad."

Old Joey sat down. He had said more in those two minutes than I had heard him say in two years. But his words had gone forth with power. However inarticulate he was, the words had made an impact. Before anything more could be added, the deacon seized the floor.

"We need to vote! All those in favor of keeping the program, raise your hands." Fifteen of the twenty hands shot up. Only the hands of the deacons did not come off their laps. The program would remain! We still had a home. The children would have their facility. But the best was yet to come. Although the outcome was obvious, the administrating deacon now asked, "Those who oppose the program, raise your hands." Fully conscious of the stares of the congregation, only two raised their hands. The other two walked out of the church and have never returned. The last deacon just sat, a little bewildered, unable to comprehend what had happened.

When we walked outside, the children came running up to us. "Did we win? Did we win?" they screamed. When they heard the news, they erupted with a yell of approval. Two of the boys I had baptized just weeks earlier said they had been on their knees praying the whole time. Now they were beaming because their prayers had been answered. God had heard them. They would not lose their church—a place that, for many, had become their home.