Practicing Presence in Neglected Neighborhoods
By: Jonathan Brooks
READ: August 2019
Summary: Church Forsaken is the story of an inner-city pastor and church who change their framework for ministry from attractional to incarnational. I love and support that change. So, why didn’t I love the book? For me it was difficult to buy the theological foundation that Brooks used to support the change. From Jeremiah 29:4-11 Brooks attempts to unfold a theology that compels people not to go out, not to move towards the lost abroad, but to return home. I believe it’s a viable call to return home (says this former overseas missionary back in his hometown), but it’s not a call for everyone. The Biblical support he offers for such a missiological shift is just the Jeremiah passage. What Jeremiah said to the exiles in Babylon has some application to us, but in my opinion isn’t enough to develop foundational missional theology. Additionally, Brooks makes little attempt to connect his core points to the New Testament, though I think many of them could be have been easily connected.
Additionally, the book was written both from and to those living in a very specific context…the neglected inner city. If that’s not your context you might be left wondering how these concepts can be practically applied in middle America. My other frustration in this book is that he seems to use a lot of words to make very few points. It is repetitive and sometimes seems to veer off into tangents (such as Chapter 7 when there’s a long discussion on the value of hip hop).
That said there is still a lot of value in this book. Ministering to the whole person, viewing the Gospel as a call to minister to the whole person…and communities of people. Restoring places where both faith and hope are seemingly absent. Yes, absolutely! For me though, the value was overshadowed by the above mentioned problems.
Chapter titles are: Practice One: Reside Where You Don’t Want to Be, Introduction, Practice Two: Return to Previously Forsaken Places, 1. Welcome Home 2. That’s Not My Dream, Practice Three: Reconnect to the Whole Gospel 3. Co-ops, Cafes, Gardens, and Grocery Stores 4. Why Saving Souls Ain’t Enough, Practice Four: Reestablish the Value of Place: 5. God, Have You Looked Out Your Window? 6. Promising Place, Practice Five: Remember the Poor and Marginalized 7. No More Outreach 8. Ain’t a That Good News?, Practice Six: Remind One Another of our Collective Power: 9. Shut Down the Churches 10. The Power of Partnership, Practice Seven: Reorient Our Vision to See Like God: Conclusion: Seeing the World the Way God Does
“The passage in Jeremiah 29 that I unpack in this book is the impetus for the way I understand God’s plan for humanity in the world.” pg. 9
Chapter 4: Why Saving Souls Ain’t Enough
“…their spiritual health is inextricably linked to their physical and mental health.” pg. 81
“It becomes imperative that we not force our views, no matter how true, onto the community, especially when they have seen no error in their present views.” Pg.87
“If the people do not ask questions to which the whole gospel is the answer, we can no longer just say, ‘Their hearts were hardened,’ and walk away feeling good that we have witnessed the to the gospel. Instead we need to get down on our knees and ask God why our life and our work are so unremarkable that they never result in a question relating to what we believe and whom we worship.” – Bryant Myers in Walking with the Poor.
“It comes across as condescending to act as if we only come to serve and have nothing to receive from the community…We must constantly ask if our church is sharing the whole gospel, a gospel that uplifts the marginalized.” Pg. 93
Chapter 5: God, Have You Looked Out Your Window?
“God was not expecting transformation to happen in our community or anywhere else in the world without the participation of his church.” Pg. 103
“Transformation does not happen through individuals alone; it happens through generations of individuals committing to a place, recognizing its value, and instilling that value in the next generation.” Pg. 105
Chapter 7: No More Outreach
“Local churches are waking up to the damage that can be caused by our desire to be service providers and never recipients.” Pg. 130
Chapter 8: Ain’t a That Good News?
“He [Paul] also carried the most privilege of all the disciples because of his academic and religious training and his dual citizenship.” Pg. 149