Reaching Detroit for ChristJanuary 12, 2012
Detroit has been taking some hits economically. But God has not forgotten this city. Dennis Rainey talks to Detroit pastors Bob Shirock and Dave Wilson about the recent recession and the response of the churches there to lift Christ up and make Him known.
Detroit has been taking some hits economically. But God has not forgotten this city. Dennis Rainey talks to Detroit pastors Bob Shirock and Dave Wilson about the recent recession and the response of the churches there to lift Christ up and make Him known.
Reaching Detroit for Christ
Bob: If you had to pick a city in the United States where things are maybe the toughest right now, what city would come to mind? Two pastors from Detroit say, “Things have been pretty tough there over the last couple of years; but in the midst of it, God has been at work.” Here’s Pastor Bob Shirock.
Bob S: So, here’s Detroit in the midst of its greatest economic tsunami in history. What’s the church supposed to do? Sit in the suburbs and sing our great music and all that, or are we supposed to rise up like the ancient church did in times of plague and go into the city and be the healers and the helpers? I think it is “game on” for Detroit, in terms of the church.
I think Jesus Christ has said, “Look, I’ve humbled your region like no other region in the country, in the world. You are the icon of failure. Can the church come together and show the world what the church should be? And if so, I’ll give you a future and a hope. If not, I might just turn out the lights.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, January 12th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife® Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll hear about how God is at work in the city of Detroit, bringing His people together. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You were up in Detroit a couple of months ago; and as I remember, you came back pretty pumped about what was going on in Detroit, of all places.
Dennis: I’m telling you, there’s some cool stuff taking place. It is because these two guys, who join us here on FamilyLife Today—it’s because of their faith, their lives, and their influence in the area that it’s happening.
Dave Wilson and Bob Shirock join us on FamilyLife Today. Dave, Bob, welcome to the broadcast.
Dave: We—I can speak for myself, I think Bob would agree, I’m glad to be here.
Bob S: Glad to be here. Thanks for having us.
Dennis: Both are pastors in the Detroit area. Dave pastors Kensington, and Bob, Oak Pointe. We’ve got too many Bobs here.
Bob: Just two, you can handle it. (Laughter)
Dennis: We’ll get there. Some of our listeners are going, “Bob pastors Oak Pointe?” Well, he does. Bob Shirock pastors Oak Pointe. Before we get to the story of what’s taking place up in Detroit, both of you guys have previewed the Art of Marriage® as pastors. Dave—
Bob: Well, now wait. Dave’s in the Art of Marriage. Session 2 of the Art of Marriage starts off with Dave and Ann Wilson telling a remarkable story of God’s grace in their lives.
Dave: The greatest story of my life—I get to tell about my horrible ten-year anniversary! Anybody knows anything about Dave and Ann Wilson that is all they know—
Bob: Is about your major failings as a husband.
Dave: —is that I almost lost my marriage.
Dennis: Well, despite your major failing that we have on video, you’ve decided to use it in your church.
Dave: Oh, yes. When it came out, you guys were talking about it. I honestly was skeptical. I was like, “Okay, is this going to really be good?” When I saw it, I was blown away—not because we’re in it. It was—what you guys did was fantastic. So, we previewed it with a focus group at Kensington, up in Detroit. Thirty couples went through it to see it so they could all understand it and then say, “Okay, how are we going to use it?”
Bob S: You like the fact that you’re in it; don’t you? (Laughter)
Dave: I wish it was a better story.
Bob S: There are sessions—session 2 is getting all the rave reviews from our group, but we’re going to do a series of Friday night date nights for our congregation. We’re going to do three of them. So, we’re pretty excited. We’ve already got 300 - 400 people signed up for the first one.
Bob: That’s cool.
Dave: If Oak Pointe’s going to do that, we’re going to do five date nights because whatever they’re doing, we’ve got to do better. (Laughter)
Bob: A little competition going on here, I see.
Bob S: There is a pecking order in Detroit.
Dennis: Well, Dave, the last time you were on FamilyLife Today, we flew you down here because we were in the middle of a recession, and your church—and I’m sure, Bob, your church as well—was filled with people who had lost jobs. As I recall, you had 100 people a week—
Dennis: —being laid off in Detroit. There’s a different spirit today, though. Something is going on up there spiritually.
Dave: Definitely, in ’08, ’09, it was a dark time. Hundreds of thousands of people were leaving Michigan because they couldn’t find jobs there. So, as a pastor—yes—you’ve got spiritual care going on with people really losing hope.
Bob S: Yes, just to give you a perspective on how bad it was, TIME Magazine does an almanac every year of top stories around the world. In 2010, they did a three-page story on Detroit. The opening line said, “Detroit has become the icon of the failed American city,” but the closing line became sort of the challenge to the churches and church leaders of Detroit. Closing line—and I quote it, “The world is watching Detroit with interest to see if it can find a way to rise from the ashes.”
Dennis: You’ve taken that almost like a challenge.
Bob S: That was “game on”. It really was.
Dennis: I mean, the reason I wanted our listeners to hear what happened through your churches and over 500 more is because, I think, as we move forward—and this is not going to be the last recession we experience—it’s not going to be the last set of catastrophic events and circumstances—the church needs to move into the battle and needs to seize the day.
You did that, Bob. You had an idea initially that was just for your church; right?
Bob S: Yes, it was for our church. I saw it happening overseas in India, Asia, and Africa. I saw movements of churches and parachurch organizations coming together to reach entire urban centers in short periods of time. You know, combining strategies, and resources, and saturating a region with good deeds and Good News.
So, I came back. Big visionary that I am, I drew a circle on a white board in our church board room. I said to our church, “Let’s do this: 12-mile radius, Oak Pointe Church, 250,000 people; let’s give everyone a chance to hear in one year.” So, that was the vision. One of my staff members raises his hand and says, “What about the other good churches in the circle? Don’t you think you ought to at least talk to them to see if they might want to work with us?”
One church led to a series of meetings, lunch meetings, and it was seven churches. Then, Dave’s group from Kensington walked in on it with eight staff members to a meeting. Suddenly, the thing just blew up. It suddenly became 3.5 million people that we were going to try to reach in a 40-day period following last Easter with good deeds and Good News. It just exploded.
What happened was incredible. Detroit has been historically divided racially, denominationally—
Bob S: —economically. It’s been one of the most divided cities in the world in terms of the Christian community. The barriers dropped immediately because, all of a sudden, reconciliation wasn’t the goal. Suddenly, the mission was the goal.
People who hadn’t talked to each other for years, and people who didn’t like each other for years, suddenly liked each other. Sort of like two guys in a fox hole and the enemy is coming over the hill. All of a sudden, you are best friends because you are fighting a common enemy. We linked together to do the Great Commission in our region.
Dennis: A part of what impressed me about what happened was that you coalesced over 500 churches in a hurry. I mean, historically—and this is to our shame—across the nation, churches—we laughed about at the beginning—but churches compete. We’re pretty turf-oriented. You know?
What you actually did here, what you guys called other churches to do, was draw a circle around their church. If they overlapped, it didn’t matter. “Let’s reach the area. Let’s reach Detroit.” Are you guys amazed that that many joined together and dropped their egos and logos, and said, “Let’s proclaim Christ”?
Dave: Yes, I think it’s one of the best things that happened as a result of the campaign. I really don’t think we were competing with anybody, but we’re doing our thing. We’re trying to fulfill God’s call for Kensington. We’re not thinking a lot about the other churches around us—not in a bad way or a good way. It’s just like we’re so focused on this. This helped get our eyes off ourselves around the bigger mission.
Really, I’m embarrassed to say this was one of the first times in 21 years of being a pastor at Kensington that I actually looked around and said, “Who else is doing ministry in this city?” This mission put us in a room, and everything has changed since then. There’s something now that can be birthed out of this network that was always there but had never been coalesced to do something greater for the Kingdom.
Bob: Bob, let me ask you about the vision because it’s not like Detroit is an unreached people group. I mean, you’re in a reached area—“Everyone A Chance to Hear.” Doesn’t every American already have a chance to hear? Is there something new we need to be doing here?
Bob S: Well, I think Dave has experienced this; and I have, too. We planted Oak Pointe 14 years ago with 60 adults and 30 kids. We’re about 3- or 4,000 people now. What we are finding is—thousands of people who really--they had no idea that Christianity was like this. They’ve seen some version of Christianity, but it’s not what they’re seeing at churches like Kensington or Oak Pointe. This is authentic, simple-to-understand Bible teaching, great worship, people that love God.
We’re finding that there are tons of people, who if they just had a shot to experience authentic Christianity, they’d probably step across the line of faith. So, when I talk about “Everyone A Chance to Hear,” I’m not talking about people who’ve heard some version—I’m talking about people who are lacking the chance to hear a clear, simple, modern, relevant explanation of the Gospel.
Bob: What did the 40 days look like? What happened in those 40 days? Just give me some examples of what went on.
Bob S: In terms of the evangelistic strategy, the Good News, it was really cool. We came up with something called the “2 Word Story” campaign. Dave was in the room the night that that vision occurred.
Dave: That was a crazy meeting.
Bob S: It was a three-hour meeting where we were looking for the key macro-strategy to create the buzz. For two hours and forty-five minutes, we were going around the room with all kinds of lousy ideas. The last 15 minutes, out came this thing called “2 Word Story”. The idea was that everybody has a story about their relationship with Christ, their encounter with Christ. It might center around love, or value, or respect, or forgiveness, or healing.
So, we came up with this idea of—let’s say your word was loved. “Loved? Loved. 2WordStory.com”. We had billboards all around town—hundreds of billboards with these word combinations on them: “Loved? Loved. 2WordStory.com”. We had thousands of believers wearing buttons, t-shirts, coffee mugs, buses around town with this.
So, in terms of creating the buzz, it was everywhere. Then, we turned the believers into the actual story tellers. We equipped them, through some training that Kensington prepared, how to tell their story in three minutes or less.
So, if you met somebody and they said, “Hey, I’ve been seeing that everywhere. What is that on your mug, that 2 Word Story?” We taught them to simply say, “You know, everybody has a story; and this happens to be my story of how God has changed my life. I can tell you that story in three minutes, if you want. Then, I’d like to hear your story because everybody has a story.”
So, that’s what we taught them to do—to engage in conversation, centered around their story and the other person’s story; and then, hope for the opportunity to share God’s story. That was kind of the Good News part of the campaign, equipping believers to be story tellers.
Good deeds—Dave can talk about that. We had just a gazillion projects going on at the same time to build good-will.
Dave: One of the things we heard early, as the idea was starting to birth and grow—one of the black pastors in the city was in our offices at Kensington, Pastor Bishop Vann of Second Ebenezer.
We’re talking to him about this whole EACH campaign. He looked right at Steve and me—Steve Andrews at Kensington—and he said, “You guys can’t just come down to the city and spend a week with us and then bail out. If you’re doing this, we need to partnership. You need to come down and back up your words with action.”
That was exactly what Bob had us—the original vision was good words and good deeds. “Good words and good deeds,” that became a mantra, and he was echoing that. “Don’t come in here and do your little white thing—come into the city and then, go back to your big old churches. Come in and let’s partner together.”
That was a real challenge because he was not going to be involved if that’s what it was going to be. If this was real and it was going to be lasting long-term and we could build some relationships that would be for decades, he’s in. He was in because the good deeds part was part of it. There were all kinds of things from home renovations to cleaning up neighborhoods. You name it. People had an idea; they just did it.
Now, there was a network to send out an e-mail and say, “We’re going down on Saturday to do a homeless barbeque. We’re going to just provide food for homeless people. People are going down”—I mean, it’s—and it’s still going on. It didn’t stop when EACH—
Bob S: Didn’t stop.
Dave: — the 40 days ended. Forty days was sort of the kick-off and catalyst, but it’s continued since. That 2 Word Story—it is still going around. There’s t-shirts. On Easter that Sunday—and I know Bob did the same thing—I had t-shirts on. I took one off, and it said, “Dad? Dad.” You could personalize this thing.
My story was—my whole life, I was looking for a father. Dad walked out when I was seven. I found in Jesus Christ, my Heavenly Father. It’s just that simple. You could tell your story that quickly. It gave the body of Christ, I think, a tool to simply tell their neighbor, their coworker, or whoever a simple story; and then, like Bob said, hear their story as well.
Bob: Let me go back to what you’re talking about in terms of inner-city engagement and the challenge you got from this pastor. You had to go back to your suburban folks and say, “Hey, ‘game on’”—
Bob: —“We’re being called into something that’s more than just a one-Saturday project. We’re being called into partnership.” Folks in your church had to go, “I’m in.”
Bob: How did that happen?
Dave: I think inside of the folks in our church, at least, out in the suburbs, is this desire to do more than what we’ve ever done—
Bob S: Yes, absolutely.
Dave: —which has been sort of “go in and come out”. They know it’s not really lasting. It’s not even genuine. They have genuine hearts when they do; but it’s like “You know what? If we’re going to do this, it’s going to cost us something. It’s going to cost a change in our lifestyle. Am I in or not?”
Throughout this 40 days—and by the way, we are all doing a similar series on the weekends. So, we’re teaching. We all taught basically the same messages through this 40 days. They are hearing, at all these different churches all around the city, the story of this whole Gospel from Genesis all the way to Revelation—basically, what we taught. So, they’re getting knowledge, and they’re taught.
Then, somewhere in that 40 days, I think a lot of people decided, “I’m in. I’m not going down for a weekend. I’m going to decide what this looks like for my family and me and Iong-term, and let’s build a partnership,”—which is still there. It’s not perfect. Still got a long way to go, but there’s something that’s generated that I don’t think has ever been there before—at least from our side to the city of Detroit.
Dennis: I really agree with you guys. People do want to do something today. I think we’re sitting at really a key fork in the road for the capital “C” Church, the Christian community. If we don’t seize the day, who will?
Well, I’ll tell you who will—Evil.
Bob S: Yes.
Dennis: Evil is winning the day, as we speak. Now, I know who wins the war. We all know who wins at the end of the book of Revelation.
The question is today—in our communities—are we going to sit back and leave it to somebody else, or—and I like what you said, Dave. You said, “It’s going to cost me something.” I think for too long our Christianity has not really cost us much of anything. Yet, the Gospel is about self-denial; it’s about proclamation; it’s about good works, good deeds, and also sharing our faith.
I just have to read the passage because, as you guys were coming in, I just was thinking, “You know, you guys are embodying Matthew, Chapter 28, 18 through 20.” Jesus said to them, “All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me; go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Behold I am with you always to the end of the age.”
It’s been my experience—and I’m sure you guys have experienced this as well—when you go, you step out in faith, He is with you; He does guide you; He does bless the work of your hands.
Bob, you and I were walking around here at FamilyLife earlier this morning before we came into the studio. You remarked about your ministry and FamilyLife—and I’m sure, Dave, you can identify with this as well—when God takes somebody’s availability, you just never know what He is going to do.
My challenge to folks, out of this broadcast, is to find out more about this strategy so that your entire city can be saturated with prayer, with the Gospel, and a lot of good deeds.
Bob: Bob, I imagine there may be somebody listening who is a pastor or who is a lay elder, deacon, in his church—maybe, just somebody who is an active church-goer. They go, “Man, I wish something like this would happen in our city, but we’re—it’s a small church that we’re in. We’re not a big mega church like you guys are. I’m just a layman.” How does something like this get going? How could this happen in Sioux Falls, in Sarasota, or in communities all around the country? Is this a reproducible strategy?
Bob S: Oh, it’s very reproducible. In fact, it’s happening. It’s really simple. If you can get a small group, a core group of leaders, who don’t have huge egos and they’re not trying to own the thing—if you can get them together and share the simple vision, then, they begin going out and having lunches with other pastors who share the vision. It will spread. It will spread like wildfire if God breathes HisSpirit into it.
We didn’t create the coalition. God created it. Remember—this guy wanted to do it, one church alone. My little silo was one circle with Oak Pointe in the middle. God is the one that built the coalition. So, I think if leaders dream and pray—one thing, Dennis, just to piggyback on what you said, “We know who wins at the end of the book of Revelation,” but we know who loses at the beginning of the book of Revelation—and that is the church that doesn’t act like the church.
Jesus walks around and turns the lights out—doesn’t He—on some churches because if the church is not being the church, that’s a big loss for Him. He’d rather have the church with the lights out than the church that’s not functioning properly.
So, here’s Detroit in the midst of its greatest economic tsunami in history. What’s the church supposed to do? Sit in the suburbs and sing our great music and all that; or are we supposed to rise up like the ancient church did in times of plague and go into the city and be the healers and the helpers? I think it is “game on” for Detroit, in terms of the church.
I think Jesus Christ has said, “Look, I’ve humbled your region like no other region in the country, in the world. You are the icon of failure. Can the church come together and show the world what the church should be? If so, I’ll give you a future and a hope. If not, I might just turn out the lights.”
Dave: I would add—I think the un-churched population is looking at the church, whether it’s in Detroit or anywhere, and are saying, “Where are you? What are you doing?” I mean, they expect—I mean, based on what we believe, or at least what they think we believe—that we would act rather than just preach and talk.
If there is a blind spot in the contemporary church, that’s probably it. It’s like the un-churched world is saying, “You believe that Jesus cares, and you’re doing nothing but preaching about it or preaching against it.” So, I think we have to—there was no option. The church had to be a part of the resurrection of Detroit. We couldn’t let it happen, and we were over here watching—we had to be the center of it.
The only other thing I would add, in terms of another city or another community doing what we were privileged to be a part of—this guy right here (I’m pointing at Bob Shirock), a man with a vision.
I mean, when I came over to Oak Pointe and heard him then articulate what the e-mail said about “Here’s a dream,” there was a fire in his belly that I felt within five minutes. He’s not jumping up on a stage, screaming and yelling—he’s not that kind of guy. It was just quite, gentle; but there was a fire that was like, “Oh, my gosh! God is doing something.” You could sense it, and you wanted to be a part of it.
So, if there is a man or a woman in a city that says, “God’s called me to do this,” it’s going to spread, if it’s real. Everybody jumped on because of his vision.
Bob: You guys have established a website, and we’ve got a link on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com to the website that explains how this campaign has worked and all of the elements that are there.
I’m just thinking if there are folks in other cities who hear about this and they go, “You know, our city could do something like that;” maybe there are pastors already getting together in those cities. This would be a way for this idea to spread—people who like the “2 Word Story” concept that you’ve talked about today. Again, all of that’s explained on the website. So, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the link that you see there for the EACH website. Again, it’s FamilyLifeToday.com. When you click on the link—that will get you the information you need.
I might mention—we’ve got a resource called The God Conversation written by our friend, Dr. Tim Muehlhoff, and Dr. J.P. Moreland. It helps you walk through how to have a conversation with someone about God, about Jesus—how to be ready for that conversation, and how to know what to say. Look for information about that book when you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, it’s FamilyLifeToday.com.
Then, I mentioned at the beginning of today’s program the Art of Marriage. If you’d like more information about how you could host an Art of Marriage event in your church or in your community, there’s information about that online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call us toll-free. 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
You know, one of the reasons why we wanted to have this conversation today is because one of the things we’re hoping to see happen here at FamilyLife is for God to raise up a whole bunch of husbands and wives and moms and dads who are ready to have a conversation about God, about faith, about marriage, about family, with friends and neighbors—to have those kinds of engaging encounters.
In fact, that’s what we’ve been working on here at FamilyLife—developing tools and resources, like the Art of Marriage and like other tools that we have, that make it easy for you to invite folks to come and consider the claims of Christ in an environment where we’re talking about the difference that God makes in a marriage and in a family.
I just want to say, “Thanks,” to those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife because, in addition to helping to fund the production and syndication costs for FamilyLife Today—keeping us online at FamilyLifeToday.com—you are also helping us pioneer some of these new tools—these new resources, that we are developing. We appreciate your support of this ministry.
If you’d like to help with a donation, you can do that online at FamilyLifeToday.com or do it when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY. We just want to say, “Thanks,” in advance to those of you who support us regularly—and those of you, who at the end of the year in 2011, you made a year-end contribution—thanks for your support.
Again, anytime you want to make a donation to help support FamilyLife Today, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the button that says, “I CARE”, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, we appreciate your partnership with us.
We want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow. Dave Wilson and Bob Shirock are going to be here again. We’re going to talk about what God is doing up in Detroit. Hope you can be back with us, as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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