Religion & Liberty Online

Gospel as Oasis: Bringing Economic Flourishing to Urban Deserts

detroit-neighborhood“The Bible has a rich desert theology…He will cause rivers to flow, even in desert conditions.” –Christopher Brooks

Pastor Christopher Brooks and Evangel Ministries have demonstrated a unique model of urban ministry in Detroit, focusing not just on meeting immediate needs through traditional channels, but on fostering a vision of long-term, whole-life discipleship.

In a talk for the Oikonomia Network, Brooks offers invaluable perspective from his years of ministry, concluding that the gospel has the power to bring economic flourishing to impoverished communities. Poor communities are very similar to deserts, Brooks explains, where people feel trapped by the elements and desperate from the thirst. “These feelings of fear and vulnerability, and feeling overwhelmed, is exactly what the poor feel on a daily basis,” he says.

The good news is that Christ brings life and liberty to all people and in all places. “We preach a gospel that tells people they don’t have to relocate in order to experience the blessing and flourishing that comes from being in Christ,” Brooks says. “In other words, you shouldn’t have to change zip codes for the gospel to work for you.”

Thus, Brooks and his church have sought not only to meet temporal needs, but to help communities see the gifts and resources they already have, harnessing and connecting them accordingly. This isn’t to say that it’s as easy as strolling into these communities and peeling open a Bible. It begins and continues with close and attentive relationships.

“Any program for poverty alleviation or economic flourishing that is not centered upon discipleship is a failed enterprise before it even begins,” Brooks says. “Poverty alleviation starts and is built around relationships.”

Brooks goes on to outline two other obstacles the church continues to face in serving poor communities —struggles that surely prevail in many of our prosperous neighborhoods as well.

1. The Sacred/Secular Divide

The greatest gap in the church is surprisingly not the racial gap or the generational gap or even the income gap. But it’s the gap between Sunday and Monday. Sadly, many Christians have not been able to bridge the enormous gulf between work and worship. So this presents to us another great challenge. We have to give them a rich and robust theology of vocational stewardship, helping them to see that God has given us these vocations so that we might love him as we work faithfully unto his glory, and that we might love our neighbors as ourselves as we work for the good of humanity and generosity.

2. Hyper Polarization on Anti-Poverty Strategies

On the one hand you have those who take a more parental approach, an extreme liberal approach of big government and massive relief programs as the only effective way of helping the poor. On the other hand, you have those who take an extreme libertarian approach…I believe the Bible presents to us a more balanced approach…that helps the church to realize that we were never called to operate in isolation in the desert. But that helping the poor requires us to collaborate effectively with civic organizations and social agencies and even the business community…

For stories and examples of how Brooks and his church have fought to overcome these obstacles and empower people in their communities, listen to the whole talk.

“I believe that God wants the church to operate like Moses did in the desert, when he opened up the rock and caused waters to flow,” Brooks concludes. “We’re supposed to bring the promises of the Gospel alive, and we do this through effective acts of compassion and unleashing the enterprising spirit of the individual. If we do this, poor communities will be transformed and the poor will rise out of poverty.”

Joseph Sunde

Joseph Sunde's work has appeared in venues such as the Foundation for Economic Education, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work, as well as on PowerBlog. He resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his wife and four children.