The Example of Lawndale Christian Community: Four Lessons to Learn for Every Missional Leader

imagesI spent last Wednesday at Lawndale Community Church in N. Lawndale Chicago. The Lawndale church is now famous for how it has impacted its community in ways the world cannot believe. People come literally from around the world to see what has happened and understand it. Out of one small gathering of people in the neighborhood (actually a coach’s Bible study with some high school students) grew a “culture” of gospel for the neighborhood. Thirty five years later that little church has started/partnered with and runs a world class Healthcare clinic (indeed an entire system) for a neighborhood that had none. It brought a restaurant into the neighborhood where there was none. They started a day care center for children, after school tutoring, a health and wellness center, a real estate development company, built/rehabbed hundred of units of housing, all into a community that had none of these things. Through its founding pastor, Wayne Gordon, along with John Perkins, they founded the CCDA movement. All of this has been done with Jesus and His reign at the very center of everything.
I love Lawndale and CCDA. I love the principles they stand for. When you spend a day at Lawndale meeting and greeting, touring and hearing stories, you are amazed at what God has done in that community since founding pastor Wayne Gordon moved into Lawndale almost 35 years ago. To me Lawndale/CCDA are one of the finest expressions of Missional church in the country. They were doing it before the term was used “Missional.”

My only caution is please don’t expect every CCDA expression to look like Lawndale. Indeed every community and every context is different. But the mere existence of Lawndale Community church challenges all missional leaders to inhabit a place, and seek the welfare of the city, and cooperate with God in Christ bringing the full-orbed gospel into expression into every place.

The faculty at Northern Seminary spent last Wednesday with Wayne Gordon (he’s a graduate of Northern and a member of our faculty). Our seminary has partnered with Lawndale to do theological education in the city. So it was time for our annual visit as faculty. He told us a lot of his story. Listening to him I took notice of four things he said, postures he took, that made possible God working in the way he did. Here they are:

  1. HE GOT A JOB. Wayne Gordon came to Lawndale humbly, expecting nothing and got a job in the community (teach and coach in the high school). He said, “because I didn’t need money it gave us freedom to do things. We didn’t have to focus on getting people into church seats and tithing.” He was able to be “with” people on their terms not on terms dictated by needing to get a church going that was self-sustaining.
  2. HE INHABITED HUMBLY INCARNATIONALLY. He came to be “with” the community resisting any colonialist impulses: He resisted the attitude that “I can solve your problems.” He came to listen to the community, hear the issues, and ask God how he could cooperate with His salvation in this neighborhood.  Wayne said (and he says this repeatedly) “everything we’ve ever done here was an idea (that God was doing) that came from this community.
  3. HE GAVE IT TIME: He said the number one reason things don’t happen is we don’t give it enough time.” He said “if you would have come here when we were fifteen years into it, you would have said nothing is happening here. Longevity is important. Staying faithful!” I have said often you must be committed to a context for ten years minimum to be able to cultivate the ground for God to work. I’m thinking now of upping that to 15 years.
  4. MONEY COMES FROM GOD: Wayne talked about money as being a provision from God. Every one of the buildings were paid for by cash. He said contrary to the way many ministries are run, we’ve said from the very first day we were here “if we ever run out of money we will leave … we’ve never lacked for money.” I think what he means here is, they never starved. And when they needed money for a ministry they waited for it. For Wayne Gordon, faith does not mean we take crazy risks. Faith means we trust God that if we’re meant to do this we will wait long enough and God will provide the money. He said average time a project takes to go from initiation stage to completion is seven years. It takes perseverance.

Incarnational ministry will be different in every context. But these principles I take as gold. The needs of each community are different. What God is doing to bring righteousness and Kingdom witness in each place will look different. How have you experienced these four postures in your local church, in your ministry?

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