Shootin’ Pool

The “guys on the corner” have a special place in the heart of our church.

When my church first purchased the building it’s in now, it specifically chose the corner it is on because of the drugs and gang violence that was prevalent in the area.  Since then, however, the area has changed and settle down a lot, and the urban problems, while certainly still present, are a lot less visible in our part of Rogers Park than they used to be.

Our church still uses the catchphrase “Called to the Corner,” and still seeks out ways to be a positive, Spirit-filled presence in our neighborhood.  One of the areas that our church cares about is the youth in the neighborhood, as exemplified in our after school programs.  A very visible example of the work to be done, however, are the guys on the corner.

These guys (occasionally girls) are mostly high school or recently post-high school, black, and often have little else to do besides hang out on the corner just opposite our meetinghouse.  Conveniently, it’s also just in front of a small housing project.  A few of them are usually there even before school gets out, the police frequently scares these guys off or stop to hassle them, and drug activity and the occasional violent act has been witnessed there.   Because they are constantly there, and they can be seen from the meetinghouse and several people’s homes, they have often become the very symbol of the people my church wants to reach.

The problem?  For the most part, the “Guys on the Corner” are nothing more than that.  Very few people, if anyone, know these guys as anything else.  Most of the congregation doesn’t feel comfortable talking to them, and those of us who have talked to them don’t have any relationship with them, or interact with them frequently enough, to have an actual conversation.   Unfortunately, a couple white people walking up to a group of black youth is NOT an easy or effective way to get to know them or be able to minister to them, especially if you do it so infrequently that you rarely remember their names.

Hence, the “Guys on the Corner” are only that… a group to be passionate about, but not people with names to love and care for.

When I was hired as the youth pastor at my church, I was pretty explicit about wanting to be more than just the pastor to kids in my church; I wanted to look to my “parish”, and try to care for the youth in my surrounding neighborhood.  My biggest expected battles?  First, figuring out how the heck I can build a relationship with a group that my church has no real foundation with (none of my youth group kids go to local schools anymore, except for maybe one).  Second, encouraging and empowering the people in my church to do the same, so hopefully relationships will continue after I have left in a few years.

Step 1… figure out how to build a relationship with youth.  For this to happen, I need proximity and consistency.  I need to be around them frequently, and it needs to be in a context that, hopefully, can quickly diffuse any suspicion.  Approaching them on the street certainly doesn’t work; attempts to get into the school haven’t been successful; they won’t come to the church programs already in place; and we don’t have the energy or manpower to start another program that might attract them.

Then I realized… just because I’m the youth pastor, doesn’t mean that building bridges has to be done strictly in an official “pastor” context.  There’s a big community organization with a after school program and drop in center for high schoolers just a few blocks away.  The lightbulb goes off in my head (my wife’s head, too, we talked about this a lot…)… why struggle to start relationships from scratch, when I could just volunteer at the other program and use those youth workers’ relationships as a starting point for my own?

Yesterday, I did just that, and had my first day volunteering at the youth drop-in center.  Hence, I spent most of my time shooting pool and hanging out with a lot of the teenage guys from the neighborhood.

And yes, many of those guys are the “Guys on the Corner”.

Pray, oh pray that something comes from this.

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~ by Peter on November 20, 2007.

One Response to “Shootin’ Pool”

  1. Good post. Man could you image if we could actually hang with the guys on the corner?
    Could you imagine if it wasn’t you as the “youth pastor” but others who actually did the work?

    Right now I am in a small town ministering to students, I have access to the schools etc… and try to spend time there every week hanging with “our” students and their friends. My philosophy about “our” student is that every one of them in our county are ours, no just the ones who’s parents attend our church. Amazing hen you can actually start reaching the guys on the corner.

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