Making Neighborhoods Whole: a book review

I was privileged to meet John Perkins in the fall of 2004.  My wife were part of a year long urban mission  in Atlanta(creatively called Mission Year). Perkins was in town for a meeting regarding the upcoming CCDA conference when his flight out was canceled due to poor weather conditions.  Bob Lupton arranged for us Mission Year folks to spend an evening with Perkins. Before that evening, I knew of Perkins and was vaguely aware of CCDA (Christian Community Development Association). But that night he left an indelible mark on me. This was a man who had been the victim of abject racism during the Civil Rights era, but he exuded grace and humility and love.  A month later I attended the CCDA conference and was similarly impressed by Wayne “Coach” Gordon. And I began to devour many of the CCDA materials.

Gordon and Perkins new book, Making Neighborhoods Whole: A Handbook for Christian Community Development delineates CCDA’s approach to ministry and mission.  The first three chapters  summarize Gordon and Perkins call to ministry and early experiences in ministry, the development and early years of CCDA and its recent history. Chapters four through eleven describe the eight key components of Christian Community Development which CCDA is committed to. These include:

  1. Relocation (Relocaters, Returners and Remainers intentionally investing in a neighborhood).
  2. Reconciliation (bringing people together across racial and socio-economic divides).
  3. Redistribution ( through micro finance and economic development).
  4. Leadership development ( raising up indigenous leaders from the community).
  5. Commitment to listening to the community (not assuming you have all the answers and resources).
  6. Being church based (becoming a supportive spiritual community in the neighborhood).
  7. Holistic ministry (ministering to the whole person-spiritually, physically, emotionally, etc.).
  8. Empowerment (Not fostering dependence but allowing people to flourish from our humility and generosity).

These eight key components have served as the guiding principles of CCDA.  Gordon and Perkins punctuate these chapters with testimonies of other activists in the CCDA world. What should be apparent from this list, Perkins and Gordon do not prescribe a universal, detailed plan for reviving at-risk communities. Instead they share the wisdom of doing ministry ‘in place’ in a way that is empowering, communal and non-paternalistic. The goal of CCDA is to raise up  revive whole communities spiritually, socially and materially. They do not achieve this kind of transformation without empowering and working with a neighborhood’s residents.

There are no shortage of churches striving to reach out ‘missionally’ to their communities. Perkins and Gordon have been reaching out ‘incarnationally’ to communities since the 1970s. I find their perspective invaluable for seeing our cities and communities transformed.  If CCDA is new to you, this book will orient you on how to engage in holistic mission. That being said, if you have read Perkins Beyond Charity, or Restoring At-Risk Communities (Perkins, ed.) or Gordon’s Real Hope in Chicago,  I am not sure that this book will impart many new ideas.  This book has great stuff to say and says it well. These older books aremore in-depth, and still relevant.  But anything by Gordon and Perkins is worth reading.  They are ministry practitioners with a wealth of wisdom and experience. Get this book, and then get the others and read them all. And then do something.

I give this book 4 stars.

Thank you to InterVarsity Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review

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