The urban racial reconciler
by Jarvis J. Williams
Posted on Tuesday, June 2, 2015, at 2:36 pm
Jesus’ ministry largely focused on rural areas in the ancient Mediterranean world, while the Apostle Paul and his missionary colleagues traveled to the urban centers, where they could reach large groups of people with diverse backgrounds (see Acts 13-28). Paul knew then what many Western thinkers are beginning to understand now: If the gospel message expands in urban areas, there’s greater potential to reconcile diverse sinners to God and to each other. Last week I witnessed this truth firsthand in Tampa, Fla.
There I met with Darryl Williamson, an African-American pastor at Living Faith Bible Fellowship. Instead of settling for the usual homogeneity in the pews, Williamson passionately pursues gospel-saturated racial reconciliation in an urban setting. This passion is reflected in the makeup of Living Faith’s congregation: What once was a historic black church is now a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-generational body of believers. There you will find African-Americans, other blacks, Anglos, diverse groups of Hispanics, the old and the young, people from a variety of economic backgrounds—all worshipping side by side.
Williamson and the predominantly African-American, black, and Hispanic leadership at Living Faith are introducing other churches to this type of racial reconciliation ministry by hosting the Arise City Summit. Their second annual gathering—which focused on the gospel, racial reconciliation, and justice—took place last Thursday through Saturday.
Williamson told me that Arise City’s mission is to take the gospel to urban communities while addressing urban realities. “God’s vision has always been mosaic,” he said, pointing out that God’s intent has always been to unify diverse people in Christ. While it’s true that all urban communities have their own unique set of challenges and problems, Williamson said they do face common difficulties: poverty, drug abuse, violence, broken families, lack of educational opportunities, systemic challenges, and other obstacles—all of which make gospel ministry in an urban context uniquely challenging.
To meet those challenges head-on, Arise City helps equip urban churches by working with Christian academics, pastors, and other Christian practitioners to provide contextualized biblical, theological, and practical instruction. In addition to its annual gathering, Arise City promotes books and theological materials written from an urban perspective. Williamson believes this contextualized foundation is essential in equipping Christians for ministry in urban areas.
When I asked him why he pursues this kind of ministry instead of homogeneity, Williamson said it was because “the Lord pursues it.” May God bless Darryl Williamson, Living Faith Bible Fellowship, and Arise City as they seek to help establish multi-racial, multi-cultural, and multi-generational churches in urban communities nationwide.
Jarvis J. Williams
Jarvis is associate professor of New Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and the author of Christ Died for Our Sins: Representation and Substitution in Romans and Their Jewish Martyrological Background. Follow him on Twitter @drjjwilliams.