Epiphany Fellowship Church hosted the second annual Thrive in the City Summit recently where urban church leaders and church planters nationwide convened to gain theological training, character development and ministry tools to better serve in urban ministry. One of the marquee preachers/teachers was the internationally famous Dr. Tony Evans, president of the Urban Alternative — a national broadcast ministry and senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas. Other notable conference speakers included Dr. Crawford Loritts, senior pastor of Fellowship Bible Church, Roswell, Ga.; and Dr. Carl Ellis, Jr., President of Project Joseph, a ministry devoted to equipping Christians to minister to Muslims and Dean of Intercultural Studies at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside.
The Rev. Blake Wilson, 43, is vice president of educational services and a board member for the Thriving ministry. He traveled from his home town of Houston, Texas to participate in the summit.
“Over the last two days, we’re focusing on reconciling all things,” said Wilson. “In particular, Dr. Tony Evans will be speaking about reconciling the kingdom, the whole goal is to focus on urban church planters and urban missionaries that are going into the city, trying to shed light in darkness.”
Wilson, the pastor of Crossover Bible Fellowship in Houston, is well known for a class he teaches entitled “The Biblical View of Sex,” which he has taught to NBA players and at student camps and retreats.
The Rev. Lawrence Smith was quite elated about the robust participant turnout of participants for the summit.
“It’s an incredible event of pastors from around the country, and not just pastors, but urban church workers who want to make a difference in urban communities around the country, coming together, and learning from one another about different strategies to grow churches to reach people in the inner city, for Jesus Christ,” he said.
Smith, 50, is community life pastor at Epiphany Fellowship.
“I work with people in the congregation to really connect them together in meaningful ways to grow in Christ and community,” he said.
Smith said he’s responsible for organizing life groups which are small groups, “that meet in homes, all around the city, as well as on campuses at several different schools,” and help members grow together in community for Jesus Christ.
Smith has been involved in urban multi-cultural ministry for more than 25 years. He and his wife Harriette have four children and one grandchild.
“Thrive in the City is an opportunity for church planters from across the nation, as well as urban missionaries that have a heart to reach some of the under-engaged populations within the city, coming together, convening to resource, to network, to hear the heart of Christ, and to find encouragement,” said Tommy Forester, 31, a campus evangelist in Philadelphia. Forester and his wife are both active members of Cru, formerly Campus Crusade for Christ.
“One of the things in North Philadelphia that we’re learning is the dynamics in the relationship between students moving in, as well as the indigenous community here. So, there’s a lot of tension, so a lot of the outreach that we do” [engages both indigenous residents and collegians residing in the neighborhood], said Forester.
His outreach efforts challenges “students to be good neighbors, which Christ calls us to [be].” Forester said indigenous residents and students “need to come to Christ, and see the transformational power, thereby allowing them to be good neighbors.”
“There are some systemic realities that are affecting our communities as well, due to structural evil, whether it’s racial or whether it’s insensitivity to the poor,” said Evans. “But if you don’t reinvigorate the family, anything you do outside of it is only patchwork.”
Evans strongly believes that the churches can take on such greater roles in serving their respective communities.
“Our churches are going to have to step up to the plate,” he said. “I use the analogy of officials on the football field, who are designed to bring order to the midst of chaos and conflict. Well, the church is going to have to decide that it’s not only a gathering place spiritually, for the benefit of the saints, but it’s an impactful place for the improvement of the community. And when we see [the church] adopt that as part of its job description, then we can see transformation take place, from God’s point of view.”
Evans is arguably one of the most respected preachers in America and abroad. He is the first African-American to graduate with a doctoral degree from the internationally famed Dallas Theological Seminary, in Dallas, Texas; his church and school outreach philosophy has been credited as the catalyst for former President George W. Bush’s Faith Based Initiative, which was his first formal Presidential act of office; he can be heard on more than 850 radio stations throughout America and in more than 80 countries; he’s the author of numerous books, most notably “Kingdom Man;” for more than 30 years, he has served as chaplain for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks; he is the former chaplain for the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys; and as the senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship for more than 36 years. Evans has grown the ministry from ten people in 1976, to currently over 8,500 members with 100-plus active ministries.
Evans had a special reason for supporting the summit. One of his ministry sons, the Rev. Dr. Eric Mason, is the founder and organizer of the event.
“[Eric] came up under our ministry, and now I want to support him in his,” Evans said.
Said Mason: “Thrive in the City is a ministry that was birthed out of the need [to serve and support] urban missionaries.”
Mason is the co-founder and lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship, located at 1632 W. Diamond St. Epiphany has the distinct reputation and character of attracting many young and racially diverse congregants. The majority of his congregation is under the age of 40. The church is only six-years-old but has several hundred faithful members committed to urban outreach in serving the local communities.
“We wanted to see ministry in the city to go from surviving to thriving, based on 1 Corinthians 15:58, ‘Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord,’” said Mason, who with his wife Yvette, has two sons, Immanuel and Nehemiah.
Mason’s desire is that urban ministries cease just, “hanging on by a thread, but actually doing vibrant Kingdom ministry, helping usher people from spiritual infancy to spiritual and natural maturity.”
For more information about the church or its ministry outreach, call (888) 848-8721.