What Does "On The Block" Mean?
Visibly Displaying the Gospel, Vocalizing the Gospel, and Vehemently Defending the Gospel
When I sit on my stoop in Camden, NJ, one of the worst neighborhoods in America, I see a people marked by brokenness and abandonment. I see the pains of a city formed from the long term neglect of people, agencies and sadly even the Church.
I grew up loving the block. I love the people and the family dynamic that included all races that dwelled there. The corner store owner, the Barber, the garbage man, the drunk dude who everyone knew. All were ingredients of this imperfect, perfect community.
The block was a place for impromptu water-hydrant pool parties and creatively invented inner/city games like “freeze-tag” and “hot-peas & butter.” It was here that we discovered hope. The surprising joy of being united with neighbors in prayer for the community. The benefactors of grace when a few people stepped in with resources and events to raise the morals in the poverty stricken streets that often turned to violence. It’s the block that I came to love and call home.
That atmosphere of hope was largely from the investment and commitment of a few to infuse and instill hope in future success and joy through suffering as Block dwellers journeyed to the future with dreams and ideas of making it.
For me On the Block is a concept that embodies the "hope in despair" motif that I often experienced on the Block, not just with the success of making it out of the Ghetto but seeing the block transformed by the Grace of Christ. My ministry in places like Kensington, North Philadelphia, and presently Camden NJ we have sought to be on the block as a team of urban missionaries embodying a community atmosphere centered in sharing, standing on, and showing off Jesus in the context of the hopelessness of the inner/city.
Visibly Displaying the Gospel
The Gospel is the message of Jesus perfectly lived life, sacrificial death on a rugged cross and rose triumphant over the natural laws of death. This is the message we proclaim in life and lips.
For us on the Block is a constant and clear commitment to visibly display the Gospel of Jesus in both proclamation and practice. We show the love of God in our commitment to love the folk on the block unconditionally. We don’t agree with illegal drug use and sales--at all. We are not advocates for posting fights on World Star Hip Hop and nor do we find it amusing or entertaining. We are not Universalist that say we all worship the same God. We love the people on the Block and we live out the Gospel missionally on the Block that we might be in position to lead someone to the saving Knowledge of Jesus. We are at the mercy of the sovereignty of God in salvation and yet we want to do our part by, as the Apostle Paul says in 1st Corinthians 9:22-23, “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”
Visible in our love and sharing of the gospel to our neighbors on the Block. Visible at our cookouts, basketball playing, pictures we take, and music we pump at the Block party. We want Jesus to be seen in our theology and our hugs.
"We speak lovingly yet with spiritual and theological depth in the midst of violent attacks on Christ and the Bible."
Vocalizing the Gospel
The block is a loud place for music, sports, and all types of discussions. People on the block love to vocalize their point passionately so everyone can hear. So it is with us as we share the gospel and make it a point to communicate through the scriptures and stories of how God did some stuff for undeserving people like us. I know Christian leaders say stuff like “preach the Gospel and when necessary use words”, but we just disagree. In the words of Ed Stetzer in an article he wrote for Christianity today, “The gospel is the declaration of something that actually happened. And since the gospel is the saving work of Jesus, it isn't something we can do, but it is something we must announce. We do live out its implications, but if we are to make the gospel known, we will do so through words.” so right a true it is. So we vocalize the Gospel through prayer over the food at the cookout. We vocalize the gospel at the repast after the funeral when someone from the block was killed in a shoot-out. We are not afraid to tell it like it “T”, “I”, “is”. We sometimes get loud and passionate. We sometimes are more private with folk and personal but none the less we make it clear that Jesus is the way, the Gospel is message and there is present hope in His salvation. We scream come to Jesus and be saved without apology on the block.
Vehemently Defending the Gospel
Not only do we vocalize and visibly display the Gospel on the Block, but we humbly and winsomely defend the beauty and truth of the Gospel. The Block is jam packed loaded with passionate people who often live in a community well but paradoxically walk in profound and radical individualism. That individualism often is encapsulated in home-made, religious gumbo philosophies of God and Christ. So as we do love the block and do live as missionaries there, we also defend the person and work of Jesus and the authority and validity of the Holy Scriptures. We speak lovingly yet with spiritual and theological depth in the midst of violent attacks on Christ and the Bible. We trust a real God to stand up in us, speak when we are weak, and to help us make it plain how we ought to speak (Col 4). G.K Chesterton put it like this, ““Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”
What does on the Block mean? That we as followers of Christ engage the people of the block with the gospel of Christ. We declare to Block dwellers the life of love of Jesus and the message of the gospel. Jesus lived a perfect life, which I could not live, and died a death, in my place that I deserved. Jesus rose from a death that was impossible for me to overcome and through repentance and faith in Christ grace makes us new creations.