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Book Review of Jonathan E. L. Brooks Church Forsaken: Practicing Presence in Neglected Neighborhoods

Everyone ministers in communities, but are our methods most effective?

Jonathan E. L. Brooks in his book Church Forsaken: Practicing Presence in Neglected Neighborhoods argues that it is not enough to minister to people who live in particular neighborhoods or communities. In fact, he suggests that true and effective ministry can only happen when the church “moves into” the community. It is through their tangible investment within that transforms it from the inside out.

Title:                           Church Forsaken: Practicing Presence in Neglected Neighborhoods

Author:                      Jonathan E. L. Brooks

Publisher:                  InterVarsity Press, 2018

Reviewer:                   Omar Miranda, counselor and freelance writer

What are the main concerns being addressed?

Pastor Jonathan Brooks ministers in the same community he grew up in—and presently lives and raises his family in. I have read many books about this issue. However, what sets this book apart from all the others I’ve ever read is that Pastor Jonathan writes from the perspective of a resident living in the community that he and his church are ministering to. Additionally, he has unique experiences in both teaching youth, and as an art and architecture teacher. He also shares insights from his Master’s in 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 . 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.

Were the author’s concerns clearly stated?

Yes, the author is very effective in stating his concerns. He writes authoritatively about the topic with both conviction and a large knowledge base of the topic. 

What are the book’s strengths and contributions?

In the book he skillfully weaves personal and community stories throughout as examples of what to do and what not to do for effective ministry in neglected communities. Pastor Brooks rounds out the book with examples of how other churches and ministries are revitalizing and investing into their communities with not just their money, but their time, their hearts—and most importantly: God’s love.

What do you wish the author would have added?

I wish the author would have added some testimonials from individuals within the community. It would have been great to hear from their perspective how Pastor Brooks and his church have affected their community, their everyday lives, and ultimately their faith.

What do you wish the author would have left out?

The author has a section about the hip-hop movement and how it has affected urban neighborhoods and communities. I felt that this section was not needed and would have been more appropriate in a book on urban youth ministry.

What were some good conscience quickening quotes from the book?

“ . . . there is no shortage of established church building 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 reason I can’t . . . expect to change everybody to be like me is because diversity is important. God needs people with leaning porches and those with manicured lawns. He needs people with white skin and those with brown skin. He needs all of us to be included because diversity is a kingdom value” (36).

“Transformation does not happen through individuals alone; it happens through generations of individuals committing to a place, recognizing its value, and instilling that value in the next generation” (105).

“Every morning before our feet hit the floor, we must each put on our bifocals so that we are able to see the glory of God and brokenness of humanity in every situation. When we see in this way, we are freed to dream, even when things around us are not perfect” (213).

What was so liberating about the book?

Pastor Jonathan Brooks, 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. Pastor Brooks liberates the reader by reminding all of us – from professional ministers to new church members – that saying the words, “I love you” means rolling up your sleeves and revitalizing your community. Church Forsaken is a book that, if taken to heart, can be used to change, evangelize, but more importantly: win the hearts and minds of an entire community to Christ!

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