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A Different Kind of Partnership: Urban Missions

Justin Juntunen

Justin Juntunen

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In the Vineyard, we love partnerships. Recognizing that we can do more in ministry while working together is a big part of who we are. So we’ve used partnerships for foreign missions since the early days of the Vineyard, and we also have domestic church planting partnerships, like Small Town USA and La Viña. But in Buffalo, NY, there’s a brand-new partnership focused specifically on urban ministry.

The partnership is called Buffalo Urban Missions Partnership—BUMP and is happening across denominational lines, as well as between churches and non-profit organizations that all have a heart and a vision for the urban center of Buffalo.

 

Why a Buffalo Partnership:

Steven SchenkWe got a chance to speak with Steven Schenk, the pastor of the Buffalo Vineyard about what BUMP is and how it came about. Steven and his wife came from Redding, CA to plant the Buffalo Vineyard about 8 years ago.

Steven told me that BUMP grew up pretty organically from what was happening in the city. Buffalo is part of the “rust belt.” 100 years ago, it was the premier city, attracting artists, inventors, and other innovators. But in the last 50 years, the population has dwindled to half what it used to be. Today it’s just under 300,000 in the city proper. Steven said that, “When everyone else around the country was bemoaning the economy crashing, we didn’t really feel it at all in Buffalo, because it had already been that way for 50 years.

Today, Buffalo is still decidedly urban. It is highly diverse, and is a major destination for refugees, so there is a constant influx of people from all over the world, with a wide range of languages and cultures.

In the middle of all this, Steven says, God is bringing a lot of unity to the church in Buffalo. That’s new. There’s been a huge history of brokenness and division in the church, and God is doing healing in that area. We get to be right in the thick of it, experiencing it all as it happens. It’s fun.

BUMP has come about in large part because of that unity. When he first arrived in Buffalo and was planting the Vineyard, he became friends with a couple other pastors in his neighborhood. They would get together every week.

At first, it was more like a support group. As we developed more of those relationships within our churches and around town, we started opening it up to anyone who wanted to come. We were having weekly meetings where we talked politics, church, theology, or whatever.

One time a friend of mine who hates sitting around listening to pastors talk theology said “what are you guys doing? Do something!” And in many ways, that was the birth of BUMP. After that conversation, we started planning what has become BUMP. Together we are leading the charge for Kingdom ministry in Buffalo today.

 

How It Works

In its current formation, BUMP is led by four pastors from different denominations, and two non-profit leaders. Together they host a yearlong ministry training internship. Interns attend weekly classes on Kingdom theology, specifically practical ways to do Kingdom ministry in an urban context. These are augmented with workshops or panel discussions every couple of months.

Every intern lives in Christian community and faithfully participates in one of the churches. They spend 30 hours a week in service, either in one of the churches or at one of the non-profits. The kind of work and service they do depends very much on the intern—their passions, giftings, temperament, etc.

 

This year, there are 10 interns, all doing very different things.

  • Two are working in an after-school program working with refugee children, helping them learn to read and write English, but also helping them navigate our culture and system, as well as pastoring them through trauma and overwhelming life situations.
  • Another of the interns is working at an urban farm that grows vegetables in the middle of a neighborhood where there is not a lot of other fresh food available. It is built on the site of what used to be a crack house. During the summer, they hire local teens to teach them how to hold down a job and handle money, as well as disciple them and build really deep bonds to the community.
  • Another intern helps with spiritual care at one of the non-profits, Jericho Road, a community health center. She goes in to offer spiritual care to patients in between visits from the nurse and the doctor. She might walk in and find herself talking with a pregnant woman who’s excited about having her baby, or a patient who was just diagnosed with terminal cancer.
  • A few of the interns work in support positions. For example, one of the interns has a degree in business, and is doing administrative work for one of the non-profits. She’s behind a desk, but she’s helping to advance the Kingdom using her skills.

 

Good Fruit

Some of the most compelling results of BUMP is the unity I’ve been talking about. A Mennonite pastor’s kid in the program pulled me aside after a month of being here and started talking about how much it surprised, blessed, encouraged, and challenged him to see four pastors from radically different theological traditions work together.

We’re also really intentional about presenting ministry as something something we do no matter what our vocation or occupation is. We had a guy who is a general contractor come speak to the class last Tuesday, talking about what the Kingdom of God looks like on his block in our city. This has been so fruitful in helping people who want to do ministry, but don’t see themselves working in a church.

This has been a beautiful thing for our church, too. Aside from Sunday mornings or small groups, there is nothing that we do just on our own. That has some challenges, but it’s a blessing. The people in the church really like it; it’s who they are. And the people who haven’t seen something like this before come into our church and are blessed by it. It’s a fresh wind.

BUMP is only in its first official year. I asked Steven to describe what he hopes the long-term effects of the partnership will be.

I want to see people set on fire for the Kingdom in all kinds of service to the cities of our nation. I guess I think the future of America is the cities. All the things that the church will have to deal with in our generation, the urban church is already dealing with: globalization, justice, multiculturalism.

BUMP is a product of the beautiful collaboration and unity between churches and nonprofits, but I hope that we will also be a catalyst for continuing unity. Buffalo still has a long way to go in this area.

I also want to see the collaboration between pastors and people of other vocations to keep happening—having a place where the doctors and the lawyers and pastors all looking over each other’s shoulders , saying “that looks fun, can you teach me how?”

 

 

How Can We Participate?

If you’re finding yourself compelled by what BUMP is doing, there are several ways you could potentially get involved:

  • You could apply to be an intern. Interns can be any age, but they must commit to giving a full year to BUMP. Steven says, “If you’re looking for a job, go somewhere else. But if you want to serve Jesus in the city, and you don’t want to starve to death while you’re doing it, then you can come hang out with us. You won’t have two pennies to rub together at the end of the year, but you’ll get to see and do some great things.

They are in the process of putting together a church-planting track in the program, so if you want to be an urban church planter, this could be a really great training opportunity for you, particularly if you have a heart for the city, but have grown up in a suburban, small town, or rural environment.

  • You could send people from your church to get ministry experience. Steven commented that, “there’s a lot going on in the city that I think the Vineyard needs as a movement. We’re not hugely diverse, and we are fairly middle-class. I would like to bring more Vineyard people in so they can pick up some of the things and urban setting has to offer and take them back with them. But I also think there are tools in the Vineyard toolbelt that would be powerful for ministry in this context. We are a small church, and most of the people are new to the Vineyard. I would love to see an exchange happen with Vineyard people coming to give and learn.
  • You could start to partner with other churches and organizations in your city. BUMP grew out of the specific circumstances in Buffalo. Steven advises that,

Working together with another church or organization can be painful and frustrating, but if it’s what’s in God’s heart, there is a lot of blessing that comes out of it. The biggest thing is looking for people and places that we can partner with, and taking time to listen.

Another part of it is being committed to a specific place—if you have a sense of call to your geography, then figure out who the believers are in your place. Even if they’re not a part of your church, maybe you can work with them in some way. Look to see where the Kingdom is happening around you, and then go hang out with those people.

If you want to pursue one of these courses of action, or if you just want to talk more about BUMP, you can check out the BUMP website, or you can email Steven.

An amazing thing about participating in God’s Kingdom is how endlessly creative God is and how creative we get to be in how we bring his rule and reign into our communities and to the rest of the world. Let’s keep our eyes and hearts open to the ways we could be working with the people around us to make that happen. What if things like BUMP were naturally growing up everywhere? In the midst of a culture that values striving to get your own way, unity and collaboration are a breath of fresh air, and a beautiful picture of God’s Kingdom.

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