Conference educates church leaders to address urban issues

Conference educates church leaders to address urban issues

FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Abortion, fatherlessness, poverty and unemployment were among the issues discussed at the Urban Economics and Ministry Conference, Feb. 6-7, at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. As part of what keynote speaker Tony Beckham called “the urban milieu,” these issues were presented to attendees—mostly pastors and church leaders— so they could lead their churches in addressing them.

“You can't just sit as an ostrich with your head in the sand,” said Beckham, a business consultant and scholar. “You need to have an awareness and grapple with ‘how do you then respond to what’s in the urban milieu?’”

The conference’s theme was “The Urban Church as a Catalyst for Human Flourishing,” and speakers examined how churches can respond to issues common to the urban setting.

During the opening session, Beckham spoke on the creation of wealth, which he defined as “a condition of well-being.” Beckham argued that wealth is not about dollars but rather a mindset.

Using Deuteronomy 8:18 as his text, Beckham said he derives three principles about wealth creation from this verse: (1) God is the one who empowers us to be able to attain wealth; (2) there is a process for obtaining it; and (3) there is a purpose for obtaining wealth, which is so that God can establish something within us, that He would be at the center of all we do.

In addressing the issue of wealth in an urban community, Beckham argued for an asset-based assessment rather than a need-based assessment. The difference, he said, is that a need-based assessment looks at all the problems within a community while an asset-based assessment looks at a community’s potential for sustainability.

An example of this dichotomy is graffiti. A need-based assessment would view this as a problem that needs to be solved. An asset-based assessment, however, would view this as representing artists who are void of proper space in which to work. The response to this latter view, then, is to redirect the artists’ talents to more legitimate means, such as painting, which could potentially lead to profit and self-sustainability.

Beckham stressed the importance of empowerment, which he defined as “the process of increasing the capacity of individuals to make choices and transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes.”

Recalling the Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish …,” Beckham explained that empowerment is neither giving a man a fish nor teaching him to fish but rather allowing him to own the river that produces the fish.

Beckham encouraged asking the right questions of those in need of wealth: “What is it you really want, and what is it you really need? Then, how do we journey together to get out of where you are? Suspending my judgment of who you are and not comparing myself to you, how do we walk together? How do I be incarnational and empower you to see, to think, to dream, to have hope?

“I have to, as a facilitator coach of that process, be able to hear the person, hear God, and hopefully connect those two together for the empowerment of the development of wealth.”

Other speakers at the conference included Ryan Bomberger, founder and chief creative officer of the Radiance Foundation, and Jim Petty, director emeritus of the Children’s Jubilee Fund of Philadelphia.

Each of the sessions focused on a different issue of the urban community and was followed by a Q&A session. Craig Mitchell, director of the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement, which hosted the conference, said these Q&A sessions were vital to the overall experience, as they allowed not only for discussion but also application of the information presented during the main sessions.

During a Q&A session, for example, speakers clarified that it is not the pastor's job to implement all the principles being taught at the conference. The pastor’s job is, instead, to raise awareness about these issues and help people within the church to recognize their own gifts so that they can then implement these principles and bring about change. In this way, the church truly can serve as a catalyst for human flourishing.

Elaborating on this concept, Beckham said, “As the local church pastor, am I a facilitator? What is your church's call given by God in hearing these issues? Is it to mobilize a group of people around certain types of issues? What is it that you, as the senior leader, are championing?”

Mitchell concluded, “We can provide some general information. Fitting it to your precise situation, that's where following the Lord, praying, and seeking His will come in.”

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