“Confusion” was spelled out between his scrunched eyebrows. “Hold up, though. You talk to us ‘bout Jesus all the time. What that got to do wit’ you and Mrs. Maggie goin’ nuh Atlanta for two whole years, though?”
Avante’ and I had been THROUGH it! I remember his first day at the center as a fourth grader. It was crystal clear that he was going to be one of our “heavyweights." He had two detention slips tucked in his front right pocket, no worksheets to match the homework assignments written on his homework pad, and an attention span that was shorter than the broken pencil lying in the middle of the floor. Now he’s standing in front of me, eight inches taller from that day, an AB Honor Roll student for the last two grading periods, and the real estate owner of a bona fide acre in my heart.
“It’s got everything to do with it, Vanteezy. Everything.”
Before the wife and I sold our house, packed, loaded up, migrated four hours south (I hate long trips in the car), unpacked, unloaded, and joined the Blueprint team, I served as a bi-vocational associate pastor with a church in downtown Asheville, NC, as well as the executive & program director for an inner city mentoring organization called the “I Have a Dream” Foundation.
From the outside looking in one could very legitimately ask, “Why in the world would you uproot and leave so much wonderful ministry?” Ministry that not only blasted James Brown into the windows of my soul, but that was making a tangible difference in so many people's lives.
The truth is, I found myself with a quiet burden that over the course of several years grew louder and louder. A burden for my people. A burden that the ministry I had been doing was making a meaningful difference but was not getting at the root, only at the limbs. Not getting at the cause, only at the symptoms.
So here I am working, laboring, GRINDIN’ day in and day out to lead this awesome educational mentoring program. So I’m constantly hustling for the King of the kingdom, sharing the gospel, inviting people in the hoods and at the schools to the church. And we saw a lot of good fruit. I had a very large number of students, homies from the block, and young single mothers in the neighborhood come out and check out the church: Sunday mornings, small groups, as well as mentoring from sisters and brothers in the church.
But I noticed a trend happening. Aside from one family, anytime any of my students’ actual parents would come to church, they would come for a Sunday or two, genuinely enjoy it, but not come back... like clockwork. And that was a very difficult thing, because over the course of time I realized that if I’m reaching students but not their parents and not their home life, then in a lot of ways we’re spinning our wheels. So many of my students would leave the environment of my program, my community, my church, my home and go back to a home situation of their own that competed for EVERYTHING we passionately had been pouring into them. Going back into the same:
drug selling- using-abusing-ness,
weed ain’t a big deal even though I can’t pass a drug test and get a job-ness,
we need the Gospel of Jesus but don’t have nobody to walk with us and talk in our heart language-ness,
After some thorough thought, investigation, and conversations, it became clear that we were looking at an issue of simple, profound, cultural disconnect… and by disconnect, I mean Nemo out of H2O! And it all made sense.
You see, I’d been serving at an awesome church plant that just so happened to fall on the very relevant, CCM, Chris Tomlin, Louie Giglio side of the spectrum, where I had been a team member who not only brought leadership and gifting but much valued diversity. The issue at hand was that the diversity I brought was reflected when I led but not as much in the DNA of the church outside of that, and it proved to be too far of a jump for a number of the brothers and sisters who had come.
It all made so much sense that it was time to make cents… as in change, lol.
God had been working on my heart to begin taking steps towards planting a church and becoming a lead pastor for a while and so when the dots mentioned above began to connect, my wife and I had a lot of praying, discussing, and deciding to do. God was leading us to lead a church that would not be exclusively hood, but definitely INCLUSIVELY hood.
Indeed it was the church that God used to rescue my own family from the ravages of the hood struggle when I was just a kid. A church that spoke our language, loved us well, preached the gospel, was committed to TEACH the Gospel, and it made all the difference.
A very long story short, we found Blueprint...a diverse, dynamic, urban, gospel-centered, people-focused, glory of God protecting and projecting church, to spend two years with gaining experience and training for the purpose of unleashing healthy people to do ministry where life exists, because quite frankly, “Duh hood need Jesus.”