A Place for Pastors: Urban Church Leadership Center Provides a Purposeful Space for Pastors to Find Peace of Mind and Rest for Their Soul in the Journey


by Tiffany Kreh (B.A. ’07)

Pastoral experiences vary widely across cultures. A range of socioeconomic factors as well as cultural differences can combine to make the urban pastor's job unique, and at times, challenging.

In 2006 and 2007, 583 churches responded to the Kent County Congregations Study by research groups from Calvin College, Grand Valley State University and the Douglas & Maria DeVos Foundation. The resulting report founded Gatherings of Hope, with a mission to help churches strengthen families in their congregations.

The primary area of study was the central Grand Rapids metro area. Researchers collected demographic and contextual information about religious leaders and their community engagement as well as how they provide social services.

Aerial view of adult working on a laptop

Understanding the Urban Church Context

Historically, the context in which urban black and Hispanic churches function is different than most white churches.

Many white churches operate with a full-time paid pastor. Pastors support their congregations with spiritual direction. Congregants visit a doctor for health issues. They visit websites or employment agencies to find jobs. A counselor helps with psychological or marriage issues.

Many urban church pastors have a separate full-time job, and the church is either a part-time position or unpaid. Churches serve a different societal role in the urban community. They often function as a hub for social services—providing physical, social and financial support as well as pastors meeting spiritual needs.

As a result, many urban pastors are looking for additional support systems and more opportunities to think about rest and renewal. To help develop strong communities, Gatherings of Hope invests in the lives of urban pastors through the Urban Church Leadership Center (UCLC).

"When it comes to interacting with communities, we need our pastors to be healthy," said Julián Guzmán (M.A. ’12), director of the Urban Church Leadership Center.

Male counselor with a female client in a counseling session

Providing Support

After studying the data and listening to pastor focus groups, the UCLC was created in partnership with Gatherings of Hope, Cornerstone University and Grand Rapids Theological Seminary (GRTS). The center is located on the second floor of the Leon J. Wood Seminary Building.

"Pastors in the Latino and black communities want to have more theological education and training in ministry areas, but because of cultural factors and affordability they do not have typical access to higher education," said Guzmán.

The Spanish-English bilingual center provides free tools, resources and training for pastors to increase their theological knowledge and offers support through no-cost counseling services and professional coaching. The UCLC hopes to provide future retreats and networking opportunities for urban pastors to share ideas and resources with each other.

"GRTS has partnered with the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation since 2008 to provide graduate-level theological education to urban pastors through our Urban Cohort program. It was an easy decision to say yes to host the UCLC within the seminary," said Dr. John VerBerkmoes, executive vice president for academics and dean of GRTS.

Adults meeting in front of a fireplace

Filling a Community Need

White, black and Hispanic congregations have different theological perspectives. Because each culture views the gospel through its own historical lens, experiences combine to shape each group's frame of reference regarding topics such as morality and social justice.

"We truly understand the intricacies of cultures that urban churches are working within. We can discuss certain biblical truths in a theological frame for the black and Hispanic communities," said Khary Bridgewater, senior program officer for Gatherings of Hope.

The UCLC aims to be a place of connection and renewal, as well as a support system for education and networking. Pastors can study preaching, teaching and worship, pastoral care, church administration, personal development, public engagement and leadership development.

"Different kinds of pastors have different needs that the UCLC can fill: Either learn something new, solve a problem or connect with others," said Bridgewater.

Learn More

To learn more about the UCLC's mission or to connect with resources, visit urbanchurchcenter.org.