By Shannon Baker
BALTIMORE—Pastor Joel Kurz ministers at The Garden Church, located blocks away from the Baltimore riots. To him, the riots were eye-opening on a lot of levels. While they exposed issues that have been around for a long time, he said, the riots also provided solid lessons for church leaders serving in urban environments, such as:
1). Promote reconciliation. In the face of uneasy relations between residents and the police, The Garden Church held a block party in Baltimore this summer. Police, in uniform, came to serve the community. Two officers expressed their care for the community. “Most officers don’t engage the community except while in uniform and on active duty. This event allowed them to spend time with the residents and get to know them,” Kurz shared. “We want the community to learn to trust them, but we also want the police trust the community.”
2). Start younger. While most churches seek to reach adults and then their families, it is easier in the city to start with the kids, especially those in elementary and middle schools, Kurz said, noting his church is constantly looking at new ways to reach youth. For instance, Emma Kate, a student at the Maryland Institute and College of Art volunteers time every week to lead an art program—in school and after school. Volunteers from the church also assist in the monthly youth activities, where they experience “life on life in the community, walking through every door God opens for them to serve.”
3). Figure out what it looks like to embrace a holistic approach in the city. “The Gospel is the number one priority in ministry,” shared Kurz, “yet this is very hard soil. There are generational habits that keep [people] from hearing.” Kurz knows kids who sell drugs—an easy way to make money on the street—who have a hard time understanding the value of work.
4). Engage in job development and creation. Kurz witnesses first hand the explosive growth of Islam in his community. Why? Because many Muslims provide jobs and offer ways to think through the social realities of life. On the other hand, “the church has a middle class mindset,” which assumes people have most basic needs met. “We have to approach everything from an entirely different mindset,” Kurz said.