Monday, October 3, 2016

A Black Fundamentalist’s Viewpoint

Urban Ministry 3

NOTE: Today’s blog is a guest post from Pastor Courtney Lewis of the Cornerstone Baptist Church here in Chicago. In my 13 years in the city he is the only independent Baptist church planter to successfully plant a church in Chicago’s inner city. His perspective on urban ministry is worth your attention. 

And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth(Chicago; other urban areas)? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.  John 1:45

The Courtney Lewis Family
I was born and raised in the city of Chicago, and lived the majority of my childhood in one of the roughest housing projects in the city. About the only thing I know for certain about my father is his name.  If I saw him in Walmart tonight I would not recognize him. He met my mother while he worked as a security guard at the old Chicago Stadium where Michael Jordan made his NBA debut.  When I came along they were in the process of ending their relationship for good.  We had a phone number for him, but rarely did my mom use it.  She dialed the number for me on my 6th birthday, and when my father answered I told him who it was and that it was my birthday---click!  I was hung up on by my father. 

That occurrence grew into a deep seeded anger. I gained an unquenchable desire to grow up and kill the man that forsook me. Reader, I can promise you that was my plan.  Although he had apartment buildings all around the city, and was seen as he collected rent and drove very fancy cars, he did nothing to assist with my support. My mother took him to court and we had to take a blood test.  The courts discovered that day that Herman Johnson was my father.  For his day in court, my father purposely wore dirty, old, tattered clothes—convincing the authorities that he had nothing. The judge literally told my mom “if he ever wins the lottery, we will let you know." That was the last time I saw my father.

Hence, I understand the fatherless generation well.  For me, it is not a movie or sitcom, but reality. Fathers today in the inner-city are better escape artists than Harry Houdini ever was.  Statistics can be wearisome to the eye and ear, but nonetheless, 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes, 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes, 80% of rapes motivated by displaced anger come from fatherless homes, 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes, and 85% of all youths sitting in prisons grew up in a fatherless home. 

My father destroyed my future in a human sense. That should have been the end of my story right there. I didn’t ask to be born. I craved a father and without one I was becoming a monstrosity. The plight of paternal absenteeism is crippling, and Jesse Jackson did not come to my rescue. How many of our Bible hero’s have deadbeat dads?  Not too many great men in history had deadbeat dads.  Before I could walk, I was half an orphan.
The anger against my father fostered greatly. My mother determined to raise me to the best of her ability, but I seriously lacked the male influence that every child so desperately needs. As a direct result of this lacking, coupled with my own sinful heart, I found myself expelled from 5th grade at Hearst Elementary for fighting and disrespect to authority.  I was sent to Edwards School and expelled again for the same reasons.  I was sent to Mark Twain Elementary School and was soon expelled again. The school officials spoke to my mother and told her that I was suffering from a so called “behavior disorder.” I was then sent as a last resort to a special school for juvenile delinquents.

The mercy of God followed me as I in ignorance followed my sin. It was there at St. Joseph’s Corondelet Child Center that I rode the "short yellow bus" with a student who was a Christian and happened to belong to a Bible-believing Independent Baptist church.  The student was persistent in inviting me to attend his church. I was equally persistent in saying "no". He invited us all to his house for a birthday party, and the bus driver just dropped the entire route off at his house. After the cake and ice cream, the boy’s mother got us all together and said, “Our church is having VBS, and you are all welcome to come; call your parents and get permission.” My teacher during that Vacation Bible School was the assistant pastor of Garfield Ridge Baptist Church in Chicago, and a Fairhaven Baptist College graduate. I even managed to get tossed out of class on my first visit to the Vacation Bible School! Pastor Gary Zdziarski literally invested thousands of hours of his time into my life as I rode the bus to church each week.

In 1993 I had been attending church there for 2 1/2 years, only missing one Sunday, and although it was good to be in church, I was not yet in Christ.  What I wanted was assurance that if I were to die, I would be in Heaven. On April 22, 1993, I settled all my doubts and received Jesus Christ as my own personal Savior. On that day, I literally felt the burden of my sin lifted off my chest, and I've known no other peace like the peace I knew that day. 

I soon followed the Lord in Believer’s baptism.  God began to work on my heart about preaching.  It was nothing short of a Divine call to the ministry. My mother Lois was the daughter of Mississippi sharecroppers and came to Chicago during the great migration. My mother loved me. She read me Bible stories, sang to me the songs of the south, and tried to take up the slack.  Because I was her baby boy she defended me too much. I saw her faults, but she allowed me to ride the bus every Sunday with a white man to a white church where I got saved!  Who cares what color the people are if they can keep you out of hell and off the streets!  My mother supported my desire to go to a Christian school. For this endeavor she paid $75 a month and I sold candy bars for the rest. 

My junior year in high school she developed cancer.  At the end of my senior year she died. Still a minor at age 17, I was now full-fledged orphan. The closest bonds of earthly authority were removed.  Three months later, I graduated from Southside Baptist School in Oak Lawn, Illinois, and moved that very night into the dorm at Fairhaven Baptist College to prepare for my freshman year of training. Praise God for an urban church that ran a bus to pick me up in the projects!!! This was not a church in the suburbs sending a bus into the city to give me a hot dog, baptize me without my mother's permission, brag on numbers, and disappear for 12 months until the next big promotion.  This was a city church reaching rejects like me.

I graduated four years later and decided to stay for the Master’s program offered by Fairhaven.  My wife Portia was also a bus kid from Oceanside, California.  We met there at Fairhaven and were married in 2004. 

2015-06-17 CornerStone 2-00071
Cornerstone Baptist Church, Chicago
God called me to go back to Chicago to start a church!  I am thrilled because I can say with full assurance that God called us to start an independent Baptist church on the south side of the city.  During my early days of Bible college God made it crystal clear to me that I should serve Him full-time in inner city work.   He led me to start in an area known as the Kenwood/Hyde Park neighborhood.  The vicinity is filled with blue collar workers who live just north of the University of Chicago. 

We started the church in March, 2008. The faithful financial support from other independent Baptist churches has allowed us to plant a growing church for Christ in one of the nation’s most troubled cities and in what is, perhaps, its hardest neighborhood.

After much prayer, we have come to the place where we feel it is God’s timing for Cornerstone Baptist Church to become financially independent.  This transition from missionary support to salaried pastor will begin in February 2017.  We are not busting at the seams as a church.  Currently, we are averaging 120 on Sunday mornings.  As you can imagine, this is a huge step for a young inner-city work, but God has blessed us with a good group of members that agree with this monumental decision. The church plans to give me a considerable raise equal to the amount of support we currently receive. This is a step of faith, and we ask you to pray that God would provide what is needed for us to continue ministering in Chicago.

Friend, we must not neglect the cities in our church planting endeavors.  There are others like me in the "hood" that need a gospel preaching church.  Where would I be if not for a church in the city?  I read in a periodical that every day IN AMERICA 11 Baptist church close their doors permanently, 3 Baptist preachers quit the ministry, 6 teens commit suicide, and over 1,100 girls have an abortion. If we don’t start churches here, who will we have to send to Africa, China?  Actually, the Free Presbyterians (once led by Ian Paisley) are sending missionaries to reach America! 

While I do not claim to be an expert, I do have a burden to see new Independent, fundamental, Baptist, separated, soul winning churches started in America, particularly in urban  areas.  If your church has this interest and vision, I would be honored to share some methods and experiences.


  1. I pastor in the St. Louis area, just a few miles from the city. These were encouraging words to me.

  2. It is so awesome to read about men who endured hardships and have not forsaken the faith. We here at Harvest Baptist Church in Blue Springs Missouri encourages you pastor Lewis to keep serving the Lord and to live out His Eternal Purpose. Would like to know more about what you believe.

  3. Praise the Lord! The answer is and always has been Christ! Thank you Pastor Lewis for your testimony of God's work in your life. The answer for urban America is Christ, and strong independent Baptist churches like yours. God bless you and your family.

    1. “Hence, I understand the fatherless generation well. For me, it is not a movie or sitcom, but reality…”
      Pastor Courtney
      Thank you for sharing your story, I am deeply moved both emotionally and spiritually, it’s very painful for me to read, and at the same time I’m entirely uplifted in the ways of God. In my generation, the 1960’s civil rights era, arguments for single-motherhood, as a framework for promoting women’s equality, first began to take shape as an acceptable alternative to marriage. Daniel Patrick Monyhan’s report warning against the dangers he saw for black inner-city communities in the rise of unwed pregnancies was criticized as racist, and “blaming the victim” during my college days. What we had been taught concerning sex before marriage growing up, was now morphed into a simple matter for anti-poverty, social welfare programs. Meanwhile at the same time, more and more Judeo-Christian morality was being criticized in general as racist, and fostering sexist treatment of women. Five decades later, I believe that empirical experience has proved the folly of blanketly applying the concept of “equality” in disregard for the Bible’s teachings concerning human relations. ( No matter how well intended our motives may have been at the time.)
      Now that we’re coming into our elder-years, it’s way past time for us to repent and confess before God and you in the generations behind us, that we have rejected the Lord’s authority over us. And doing so has rendered our moral authority severely compromised, if not altogether absent, when it comes to fulfilling the crucial role that elders have always performed in passing down God’s wisdom, the knowledge & values which overarch contemporary issues. Without which we’re sorely lacking in the only moral glue capable of bonding families, communities and nations together over time.
      May the Lord have mercy upon us. You and the family are in my prayers, along with Cornerstone, I look forward to worshipping with you all again, and supporting the great work your’re accomplishing for Christ as He leads and guides.
      Vashti Varnado

  4. Praise God! Keep up the good work! Praying for you as you transition.