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Book review: Church Forsaken: Practicing Presence in Neglected Neighborhoods

Omar Miranda

 

Church Forsaken is the best book I have ever read on how a church needs to minister to their community.

The author, Pastor Jonathan Brooks, ministers in the same community he grew up in—and presently lives and raises his family in. What sets this book apart from all the others I have read is that Brooks writes from the perspective of a neighborhood resident to the actual community that he and his church are ministering in. Additionally, he tells of unique experiences in teaching youth and as an art and architecture teacher. He also shares insights from his master of divinity in Christian community development.

What I love most about this book is that Brooks powerfully challenges local churches to rediscover that ministering to their neighbors means loving their neighborhoods as well. Pastor Brooks skillfully unpacks, verse by verse, Jeremiah 29:4–7, 11 into seven different practices, which he covers more specifically in two chapters apiece:

  1. Reside where you don’t want to be: Place
  2. Return to previously forsaken places: Position
  3. Reconnect to the whole gospel: Plan
  4. Reestablish the value of place: Place
  5. Remember the poor and marginalized: People
  6. Remind one another of our collective power: Purpose
  7. Reorient our vision to see like God: Perspective

In the book, he skillfully weaves personal, neighborhood, and community stories and incidents of his own as examples of how to—and not to—be effective in ministering to our communities.

Finally, Pastor Brooks rounds out the book with examples of how other churches and ministries are revitalizing and investing in their communities with not just their money but their time, their hearts, and, most importantly, God’s love.

Brooks, in the introduction to his book, wrote about both how he came up with the title to his book and the reason why he wrote it: “Jon Fuller, while director of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, said, ‘There are no God-forsaken places, just church-forsaken places.’ While he was speaking of the church being absent in some of the remotest places in the world, I echo that sentiment for the neglected neighborhoods in cities right here in America. Don’t get me wrong: there is no shortage of established church buildings or new congregations being planted in these communities. However, there is a shortage of community ownership and genuine church partnership resulting in community transformation. The church often exists in these communities either as fortresses built to keep the struggles of the community on the outside or as patronizing social-service entities prescribing answers for a community without ever listening” (15). The author, over and over again, reminds the reader that trying to separate, ignore,or minister to the neighbor without ministering to their neighborhood is ultimately ineffective.

As I read this book, I was constantly reminded of the rebukes God, writing through the prophet Isaiah, wrote to God’s people—to all followers of Jesus: “ ‘Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow’” (Isa. 1:17, NIV).

Pastor Jonathan Brooks does an amazing and memorable job of reminding all of us, from professional ministers to new church members, that saying the words “I love you” means rolling up our sleeves by not just ministering to those in our churches but ministering to, investing in, and revitalizing our neighborhoods and communities as well.

Church Forsaken is a book that,if taken to heart, can be used to change, evangelize, and win the hearts and minds of an entire community to Christ!

—Reviewed by Omar Miranda, an author, lay pastor, and youth counselor residing in Plainville, Georgia, United States.

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