The growing climate crisis hangs like a dark shadow over our collective planetary future. We can hear the rumblings of the storm, and its winds have already begun to pick up and blow things around in our present world. The global scientific community has said that 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels is the maximum global temperature rise we can accept if we are to avoid the most catastrophic scenarios of planetary climate unravelling. We are already at 1.1 C and in order to stay under 1.5 C, we must reduce global fossil fuel emissions in half by 2030 and get to net zero by 2050 at the very latest.
Human responses to these realities range from denialism, to anxiety, to despair, to urgent activism. What we know for certain is that extreme weather, droughts, flooding, sea level rise, and climate refugee crises will all increase in our future. What we do not know is how much they will increase, and we will be deciding this together right now through the degree to which we act or do not act.
The two core pillars of climate action we need are mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation is work that reduces our collective fossil fuel emissions so that the earth heats up less and the future impacts of global warming become less severe. Some examples of this are passing laws that regulate and reduce carbon emissions, switching power grids to clean energy, or planting trees on a large scale. Adaptation is work that makes communities more resilient in the face of the increasing regularity and severity of extreme weather that is coming (and indeed has already begun to arrive). Some examples of this are building sea walls around NYC, moving properties away from certain low-lying coasts, adjusting architectural designs to make buildings more capable of withstanding hurricane force winds, and building community cohesion and action plans in the face of extreme weather events, power outages, and flooding.
The climate crisis is overwhelming in scope. Because we are talking about the entire environmental system in which all of humanity lives, it touches everything–physical health, mental health, energy sources, economies, technologies, poverty, justice issues, natural spaces, political stability, and more. The scale of it is so vast that it can cause many of us to shut down. However, in this scale there is an opportunity. Because the causes and impacts of the climate crisis touch on so many different aspects of our life together, we have a chance to take historically siloed conversations and find their common themes. As we find these themes, we can get more at the heart of what is going on and develop more integrated approaches to restoring what is broken. There is a huge opportunity here for the church because the church, properly understood, is meant to be a holistic agent of Christ-led and Spirit-empowered Kingdom renewal. It’s very common to think of spiritual salvation in one framework, care for the poor in another, and environmental stewardship in another. Yet these categories of life are human constructs designed to create order for our minds. God’s actual world is far more integrated, and if we can allow ourselves to embrace this, we may find that the fruit we are longing to see is most powerfully borne through pathways we did not previously consider.
The comprehensive scope and integrated causes and impacts of the climate crisis provide the church with a window into a more holistic approach to ministry. This broader approach, in turn, can create new spaces to mix and mingle with the world in shared partnership. In typical redemptive fashion, God has taken something horrible that we have caused and continue to cause through our collective societal perversion and is using it as a way to invite us farther up and deeper into partnership with him in his healing work.
To engage this climate-crisis-inspired integration of ministry issues, I will use the Hunting Park Community Solar Initiative (HPCSI) as an example.1 Hunting Park is a low income black and brown community in North Philadelphia. It is predominantly Latino and African American and deals with all the standard challenges of low-income urban neighborhoods–home disrepair, lack of trees, litter and illegal dumping, drugs, violence, poor school environments, lack of advanced degrees, etc. It also has a great deal of cultural pride (particularly in the largely Puerto Rican community), as well as a lot of non-profits and neighbors who are organized in different active community groups.
I am the coordinator for HPCSI. We started the initiative back in the summer of 2020 and are now legally organized as a non-profit and waiting for our 501(c)(3) letter from the IRS. We are a team of three HP churches, two HP block captains, one HP Christian vocational school, four HP non-profits, one representative of the Philadelphia Office of Sustainability, solar installation partner Solar States,2 and potential solar partner Posigen.3 Our stated goal is to strengthen Hunting Park homes, jobs, and finances through energy efficiency and weatherization, solarization, and solar installation job training. Our pattern is to build partnerships with existing organizations, resources, and individuals who already have expertise in what they are doing. We have run two three-part series of neighborhood workshops designed to connect people with existing energy efficiency and weatherization programs, inform them of solar installation deals, guide them towards opportunities in the solar installation industry, and teach them about the impacts of climate change on their neighborhood. We applied for and received a PA DEP Environmental Education grant to build a solar installation training classroom at Vocatio Career Prep HS4 and began our first class on March 29, taught by our partner Kylonda Sanders, a NABCEP certified installer and owner of her own installation business. The grant was recently renewed for the new year to fund the continued teaching of classes. In addition to this, our two partnerships with solar installers (one confirmed and one likely) involve agreements that generate an income stream as we give them leads for installations. Our goal is to use this revenue stream to continue running the solar training classroom as well as to hire local labor to white coat roofs in the neighborhood, cooling homes, improving their energy efficiency, and reducing the overall ambient temperature in Hunting Park during heat waves.
For me, the founding and building of HPCSI has been a climate-crisis-based journey into the integrated and ultimately spiritual nature of environmental issues. I’ve also found it to open doors for meaningful partnership with non-Christians in a Jesus-impacted space.
First, there is the integration of previously segregated concerns into an integrated mission.
When I began work as a climate organizer in 2019 with the Christian Reformed Church’s Climate Witness Project (CWP), I held inside my heart three areas of important, but siloed concern. I had been connected with Spirit and Truth Fellowship in Hunting Park since 2002 and had been shaped by the pastoring of the late Rev. Dr. Manuel Ortiz to recognize God’s deep heart for people living in low-income communities. Because of STF’s presence in the HP community, this general concern in my heart found concrete rooting in that particular neighborhood. However, in all my years at STF, I never once heard anything about climate change.
Despite this, concern about climate change and humanity’s widespread environmental destruction had been steadily growing in my heart, though for entirely separate reasons. I grew up loving creation and living systems, and ultimately ended up majoring in biology in college. I was aware of the science and of the growing alarm over fossil fuel emissions, what they were steadily doing to our planet, and how projections for our future were becoming increasingly dire. I wanted to do whatever I could to help reduce emissions and renew environmentally devastated areas so that God’s beautiful creation might be restored as a healthy and sustaining home for future generations. As I understood it, the climate crisis called me to participate in global environmental healing–but it wasn’t clear to me at first what this might have to do with the healing and restoration of low-income urban communities. The two were separate lanes–both deeply important, but occupying different spaces in my heart and requiring different approaches and energies.
There was also a third lane for me–the discipleship of the church. When I began working for the CWP, I was coming off ten years pastoring a church plant in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of NW Philadelphia. During that season, I was immensely focused on evangelism and the spiritual growth and discipleship of the local Body of Christ. But again, this was a siloed category for me–something specific to the work of the church, more spiritual in nature, and ultimately a separate mission involving different focuses and energies than climate action or justice for low-income communities. It was for me a third segregated lane.
Yet in my work with HPCSI, I have been on a journey through which God has steadily been merging these three lanes together into a single path–and all of this in an urban context.
Through my journey in climate organizing God has steadily been merging concern for climate change, love for urban communities struggling with poverty, and discipleship of the Church–three lanes of concern that are too often siloed from one another.
HPCSI’s origins began in late 2019 with an HP collaboration I got involved in called Beat the Heat. A heat survey had been done in Philadelphia in 2018 that found that Hunting Park and several other low-income neighborhoods were an average of 15 F hotter than cooler parts of the city during the summer, and could get up to 22 F hotter during heat waves. This was for a number of reasons all related to systemic human injustices. Red-lining isolated predominantly black and brown communities like Hunting Park and kept property values down, reducing investment in the community. The many layers of American societal racism kept people who looked like those in HP out of jobs, incarcerated them more heavily than their white counterparts, and overlooked their communities again and again for public funding and development. Over time, these collective and normalized societal violences wore away at Hunting Park and other communities like theirs to result in local environments that had characteristics conducive to excessive heat. Trees died and were not replaced, removing the cooling effects of shading and evapotranspiration. Low-income families could not afford to white coat their old black roofs to reduce heat, increasing heat both in their own homes and in the ambient air. A lack of public investment and urban planning meant fewer trees and less green space in general throughout the neighborhood, again increasing heat. In light of all of these historic injustices, Beat the Heat was organized to work on cooling solutions for the neighborhood.
Zooming out to a planetary scale, one of the most common and lethal impacts of the global climate crisis is extreme heat. According to David Wallace-Wells in his book, The Uninhabitable Earth,5 under our current climate trajectories (assuming we continue to burn fossil fuels at the rate we are today without any changes) all major Middle Eastern cities will be unlivably hot during the summer by the end of the century. Cities, where more than half of the world’s population lives, will be more affected than suburban and rural areas because of the heat island created by the higher ratio of concrete to trees. But even more than this, the Beat the Heat program showed me that low-income communities in cities would be hit by extreme heat the hardest, for reasons directly related to poverty, racism, and historic disinvestment. In this way, global climate change came together with the challenges of poverty in the context of extreme heat. Furthermore, this was all the direct result of systemic societal injustice, which framed it within the core Christian concerns of justice and love of neighbor, which in turn made it a discipleship matter. For me, the siloed categories were starting to come together in the context of urban climate justice work.
Low-income communities in cities would be hit by extreme heat the hardest, for reasons directly related to poverty, racism, and historic disinvestment.
After about 9 months working with Beat the Heat, HPCSI began as a partnership between local solar installer Solar States and HP pastors Andy Kim, Matt Lin, and me. Our agreement established a fixed rate of savings of $200/kW of system installation size on HPCSI solar leads for all HP households or businesses. We also agreed that leads outside of Hunting Park would result, not in savings for the customer, but rather in a donation by Solar States at the same rate to HPCSI. Part of my role as a CWP organizer is to build climate engagement campaigns in regional church communities, and a stage of this process involves the invitation to decarbonize as a congregation. A natural (and financially beneficial) way for congregational members to do this is to get rooftop solar, and so my hope was that this ongoing congregational work would build a revenue stream for HPCSI that we could use for climate related work in the neighborhood.
But as we entered this project, the realities of climate injustice continued to develop for me.
On a global scale, the overwhelming majority of fossil fuel emissions are being burned (and continue to be burned) by wealthy individuals, communities, and nations to power their lives. And yet because they are wealthy, they are best situated to insulate themselves from the consequences of their own actions. Poor individuals, communities, and nations, have contributed the least emissions by far–because they have smaller houses, travel less, use less power, and often don’t own their own vehicles. And yet they are, because of poverty, the least able to bear the consequences caused by their rich neighbors.
Rooftop solar and energy burden are a perfect example of this. Rooftop solar is a highly effective way to decrease household carbon emissions and fight climate change. By powering your own home with clean energy, you directly reduce the amount of fossil fuels that your local energy grid has to burn to power the region. Rooftop solar is also an excellent financial investment–with the federal tax credit and home equity increase taken into account, the initial investment will come back to a homeowner 300-400% over the course of 25 years in Pennsylvania, which is a state with relatively poor clean energy policies and incentives. In friendlier states, the return is even more substantial.
The one problem is that rooftop solar takes a degree of upfront investment which most low-income families do not have, and even with very low interest loan options they usually do not want to take on debt. Because low-income families are low income, they can’t do something for themselves that will increase their long-term financial health–whereas higher income families can. Finding rooftop solar solutions for low-income families has been one of the core challenges of HPCSI, and so far we have found it to be doable only with public programs that cover the entire upfront costs, or with fixed-rate solar leasing programs, which are good for emissions reductions and generally an improvement for homeowners over paying the local utility but still not nearly as financially beneficial as owning. With rooftop solar, if you have more money, you are a bigger part of the climate problem, but you can also afford to own your own power and make your home more resilient. If you have less money, you are less a part of the problem, and yes you can’t afford to own your own power.
Energy burden is another major example of this. It is defined as the percentage of a household’s total annual income that goes towards their heating, cooling, and electricity. Low-income families in communities like HP tend to have very high energy burden and get caught in a vicious cycle. Because they are low income, they typically do not have the money to make the repairs and upgrades their home’s need over time. Because of this, their homes fall increasingly into disrepair and they become more and more energy inefficient, meaning that more of the heating and cooling they are paying for is lost through the walls of their homes. They then have to pay more for heating and cooling, which means they have less money to weatherize their homes, which means they fall into greater disrepair and become more inefficient in a horrible downward cycle. These cycles can often lead to families having to choose whether to buy food or pay for heat, and if they get too far into default on their energy bills, the utilities will shut them off, leaving them permanently camping in their own homes.
If you have money, you are most responsible for the global climate crisis and yet at the same time you are the most able to adapt to its growing impacts. If you don’t have money, you are least responsible and yet least able to adapt. This is one of the great human injustices of the climate crisis.
The injustices of poverty on housing and energy burden are devastating for the people involved–they make for unhealthy home environments, increased vulnerability to extreme heat and cold, and the draining of their finances. They also increase roadblocks for the collective emissions reductions we all need to achieve in order to meet our planetary 1.5 C goal–because countless low-income people who would love to do work on their homes that would save them money while reducing emissions and fighting climate change, simply can’t afford it.
Once again, in our world if you have money, you are most responsible for the global climate crisis and yet at the same time you are the most able to adapt to its growing impacts. If you don’t have money, you are least responsible and yet least able to adapt. This is one of the great human injustices of the climate crisis.
As these realities started to come together for me, I began to imagine a different trajectory. If a restorative process could be pursued that would enable Hunting Park homeowners to have their homes repaired, weatherized, white coated, and solarized, it would have benefits for both human families and God’s broader creation. Families would have healthier environments in which to live, would save a great deal of energy annually, would be cooler during summer heat waves, and would own their own power thus building financial strength steadily over the years. The broader creation would be cared for because energy efficiency and clean energy production both reduce the greenhouse gas emissions those families’ lives produced, fighting climate change. A trajectory of justice for people could dovetail with a trajectory of justice for the global climate. God’s heart for the poor and God’s heart for creation could both be engaged in a single holistic redemptive process.
This process could be further strengthened through clean energy jobs, which our solar training class (begun March 29, 2022) is meant to engage. The class meets two nights a week in the evenings (to accommodate working adults) and is designed to make graduates OSHA 10 certified and job site ready to join a solar installation crew. We have relationships with two solar installation companies and hope to develop more, and we intend to use these relationships to help our solar graduates get employment with those various companies. The solar industry is growing rapidly, and will continue to do so as the world transitions away from fossil fuels. As we build a pathway between HP residents and an expanding industry, we hope to help facilitate meaningful careers with family-sustaining wages for the community, while at the same time partnering in the global transition to clean energy.
In the work of HPCSI, our vision has become to bring together local kitchen table issues (like homes, jobs, finances, and relief from extreme heat) with the global movement to rapidly reduce fossil fuel emissions. It is to bring together local adaptation to growing climate impacts with global mitigation to reduce the scale of those impacts. It is also to bring together justice for human beings with justice for God’s broader creation; to bring two siloed conversations together into an integrated and mutually strengthening strategy. And ultimately, it’s to bring them both into the one grand orientation that all Christians are called to, which is to pursue Kingdom restoration, also known as Shalom, in our broken world.
In this way, our third silo of Christian discipleship–which is no silo at all–was brought to bear for me.
Christian discipleship has too often been overly individualized and spiritualized. These are both forms of artificial, and (I will argue) unbiblical siloing of the Christian path away from the broader concerns of the world.
A Christian whose faith is overly individualized tends to limit the scope of Jesus’ calling to personal piety. Concerns like daily Bible reading, sexual purity, theological knowledge, regular prayer, evangelizing, and individual moral choices become the center of gravity for their journey of faith. While these concerns are all very important, they miss the constant collective calling found in Jesus’ invitation to participate in his church, his people, his Kingdom, and his movement. When there is too much “I” in a Christian’s understanding of discipleship and not enough “we,” he or she doesn’t have a good framework for engaging Kingdom work collectively–and pursuits like communal repentance, political advocacy, systemic justice, or climate-oriented societal solutions can often feel as though they are outside the Church’s calling.
In a different, but no less silo-ing way, discipleship that is overly spiritualized divides reality into a worldview that is more Greek than Judeo-Christian. For the Christian on this path, the physical world of flesh and blood is separated from the spiritual world of heaven and souls. The physical world is of lesser value, and is more of a muddy, imperfect staging ground through which the greater spiritual stories of faith, salvation, prayer, and miracles play out. The ultimate goal of this Christian disciple is to be saved, escape this world, and spend eternity in an immaterial spiritual existence in heaven with Jesus, while the earth falls into increasing disrepair, catastrophe, and destruction. This form of discipleship is genuinely oriented towards the worship of God, but it downgrades the value of our physical, emotional, sexual, cultural, political, and social world and all its collective issues–things like systemic injustices, societal sins, unfair laws, racism, physical health, and the climate crisis.
An individualistic and spiritualized path of faith doesn’t know what to do with something like the climate crisis. Global warming is a huge systemic issue requiring collective action, while this path is a journey of individual choices. Addressing the climate crisis is to be concerned with the physical world, whereas this path of faith believes that Earth is not our true home and is ultimately destined for destruction anyway.
In these ways, overly individualistic and spiritual forms of Christian discipleship can silo the Church away from many of the core concerns and challenges of our world. This, in turn, can keep the church on the sidelines in some important spaces and prevent her from meeting the suffering in those spaces with the hope of the gospel.
However, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus confronts both of these misguided approaches to discipleship with a far more holistic Kingdom calling. As an answer to the tendency of overly individualizing our faith, the Bible presents us with the Church. The most fundamental metaphysical expression of Christian faith is not an individual’s commitment to Jesus, but rather his incorporation by the Holy Spirit into the single collective human experience of the risen Christ which we call the “Body of Christ,” the Church. The Church is called to live out, together, the ongoing life and ministry of Jesus in this world. This ministry certainly involves a personal journey of piety, but it is much more fundamentally a participation in the communal life of Jesus.
Furthermore, this community is fundamentally political, which is another expression of collective rather than individual living. It is not in any way partisan in the sense of aligning with human political parties, but it is very deeply concerned with the question, “In light of the arrival of the Messiah, how shall we live together as a people?” Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is in many ways an answer to this question–even a sort of Constitution for his new Kingdom. Jesus is a King. His movement is a Kingdom. It’s a Kingdom that organizes personal and collective life according to the rule of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit working in the hearts and minds of its people. It was Jesus’ political claim to be Lord over a Kingdom that rivaled Caesar’s and the Pharisees’ that ultimately got him killed–not his invitation for people to have a personal spiritual relationship with him. The life of the Church is therefore fundamentally political.
Jesus also says that while the Greatest Commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, the second is inseparable from it–to love your neighbor as yourself. “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commands,” he says, and this call to love your neighbor is again the invitation away from a siloed individual faith and into a broader collective engagement.
In this way, the movement of Jesus is fundamentally communal and oriented towards Jesus-led and Spirit-empowered collective societal change. Individualistic Christian faith is common in an individualistic society like the United States, but it misses the greater calling and power into which the Church is invited.
With regard to our tendency to overly spiritualize Christian discipleship, the entire arc of the Bible, from start to finish, challenges this. In the beginning, God created this world and called everything “good, good, good.” In Genesis 2:15, he set human beings in creation to serve it (avad) and watch over it (shamar). A creation care Bible study produced by Young Evangelicals for Climate Action points out that avad is used in Joshua 24:15, where he says, “As for me and my household, we will serve (avad) the LORD.” Furthermore, shamar is used again and again in Psalm 121 when God speaks of “watching over” Israel. In the cultural mandate’s call to rule over creation (which has often been perverted to justify environmental degradation), the call was to rule not as oppressors, but as bearers of the image of God, who had just shown His loving orientation towards creation with great clarity in Genesis 1.
Journey forward in Scripture, and you have a God who sticks with humanity at great personal cost, even as they break trust with him again and again and continue to damage their relationships with one another. He raises up a people and gives them laws designed to govern how they live together and with him in this world. In his Sabbath Command he requires that animals be given rest along with people. In his Levitical laws he requires that the land be given periodic rest to restore itself. Psalms like 19 and 104 and passages like Job 38-41 are all love letters from God towards creation. As his people continue to fail in their calling, he sends person after person, despite many of them being ignored, rejected, abused, and even killed. Finally, because he loves his world so much (John 3:16), he takes on the blood and bone of the world himself as the man Jesus in the mystery we call the incarnation.
As Jesus begins his ministry, his good news is constantly the good news of the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom plays out in healing of the sick, sight restored to the blind, feeding of the hungry, fish where there were no fish, wine where a party had run dry, calming of storms, humbling of the proud, and lifting up of the broken. Even death itself is overturned, first with several people Jesus ministers to, and then in Jesus’ own body. Healing, restoration, and abundance pour out of his ministry. There is also a constant rebalancing of the scales. Powerful religious leaders are challenged and humbled regularly. Broken lives are lifted up and empowered. As Isaiah prophesied in 40:4, the mountains are brought low, and the valleys lifted up, and all is made a plain.
Finally, with the resurrection of Jesus something new breaks into the world. Jesus’ risen body has continuity with the past. People recognize him as being him, and they see the nail marks in his hands and spear wound in his side. But there is also something different about him. People often don’t recognize him at first, and he does different kinds of things like walking through walls and suddenly appearing and disappearing. In the risen Jesus, we see a fully-merged physical and spiritual human being, and in this we are given a first taste of the world that is coming.
The world that is coming is shown to us in Revelation 21 and 22 when the Apostle John sees a vision of a “new heavens and a new earth.” In Rev 21:1-4, he speaks of a “New Jerusalem” coming down out of heaven and joining with earth, making one new physical and spiritual completely merged reality. In this new heaven and new earth, God lives with human beings, and the picture we get in Revelation 22 is one of a great city with a clean river running through it surrounded by trees producing abundant fruits that are “for the healing of the nations.”
The future presented in Revelation 21-22 is the coming together of physical and spiritual, heaven and earth, and it will not be somewhere else–but rather here on this earth. This world will be restored–and there is a very important word that is used in the original Greek that points to the nature of this restoration. The YECA climate Bible study points out that there are two Greek words that can be translated “new”–neos and kainos. Neos means brand new, as in something that did not exist before and was made from scratch. Kainos means renewed, as in something that was deeply run down and broken but has been rebuilt and restored so that it is like new. Wherever we see references in the Bible to “new creation” or “new earth,” the Greek word that is used is always kainos and never neos. This means that the future the Apostle John is seeing in Revelation is not one of a completely new world (meaning that this world is utterly destroyed and gone). Rather, it is a renewed version of this world, united in deep and undivided fellowship with heaven in a reality that is the fulfillment of the biblical concept of shalom – or complete peace, beauty, health, and flourishing.
Wherever we see references in the Bible to “new creation” or “new earth,” we are to understand a renewed creation, not a brand new creation that replaces a destroyed old one.
This future vision for our world fits the reality of the risen Jesus. His body is not brand new, but renewed. It has continuity with the old, but has become something even better, more beautiful, and more powerful. The risen Jesus is our first taste of where the world is going – towards a restoration and a resurrection. This is why the Apostle Paul refers to Jesus in 1 Cor. 15 as the “firstfruits” of the resurrection. He’s the first taste of a new creation.
The risen Jesus, then, is the incarnated reality of the future restored new brought into our present suffering world. This means that when we participate in his life, death, and resurrection as the church, we become a gateway, by the Spirit, through which the Rev. 21-22 new heaven and new earth works its way into our present suffering and broken world, just as yeast works through dough.
The entire story of the Bible presents us with a creator God who is immensely focused on and committed to this physical created world–so much so that he has poured himself out again and again and even entered it, bled for it, died for it, and was raised for it. Christian discipleship, then, cannot be oriented away from this world and towards “spiritual things in heaven.” Rather, it must be oriented towards bringing the healing and restoration of this world’s future into this world’s present, Jesus as Jesus has already done and continues to do in and through us.
Christian discipleship is therefore deeply collective, and deeply world-focused. When it is understood in this way, suddenly the global climate crisis and the injustices playing out in a local low-income urban community become immensely important. Furthermore, they can be brought together naturally as an integrated expression of the Church’s call to participate in Christ’s ongoing ministry of Kingdom restoration here on earth. Three traditionally siloed missions become fused into an integrated mission.
When the siloed conversations are merged, two benefits arise. First, they each inform one another and through this become more powerful. For example, engaging emissions reductions from a purely global and environmental standpoint honors God’s call to be good stewards over creation, broadly speaking. But this movement has too often focused on preserving natural parks and spaces to which low-income urban communities don’t have practical access. Furthermore, in its prioritization of regional and global clean energy transition solutions, it can push strategies that leave poor communities behind even as emissions go down. There are blind spots to a siloed environmental movement.
Engaging the challenges that face low-income urban communities honors Jesus’ call to love our neighbors as ourselves and to pursue justice. But if it ignores the climate crisis and other environmental injustices, it will keep dealing with worsening symptoms because it is not engaging a major and growing root disease. This is like taking care of people who are getting sick downstream from a toxic pollution source without dealing with the source. The impacts of the climate on low-income communities are unjust and massive, so trying to engage low-income issues without engaging climate again leaves blind spots.
Finally, embracing a call to discipleship that remains overly individual and spiritual recognizes an important aspect of discipleship, but it misses the fact that individual spiritual issues are deeply interconnected with systemic, societal, and collective challenges–like what is found in the climate crisis and the challenges of low-income urban communities.
However, when the three are brought together, they can each inform the other and work together on creative solutions that meet all their concerns at the same time. This makes their work more effective, more efficient, and ultimately more powerful.
The second benefit of merging siloed missions–specifically when the church is involved and a holistic missional Kingdom framework is at play–is that it offers more pathways for people to find their way into partnership together that is impacted by Jesus.
Take HPCSI as an example. In the particular fusion of silos found here, people living with three different core missional frameworks can be drawn to the movement for their separate reasons. Then, because their framework has been integrated with another in the context of an integrated Kingdom movement, they are exposed to other aspects of the Kingdom and of the issues at hand than they might have otherwise experienced. Environmentalists might be drawn to HPCSI because of their concern for reducing emissions, but then find out that there are major human justice issues connected to the transition to clean energy of which they weren’t aware, and that these things in turn matter to Christians. People concerned about the challenges of low-income urban communities (whether they belong to one or simply care about them) might come to HPCSI and learn that justice-oriented global climate solutions can actually have a positive impact on the daily realities of disinvested communities. They might also learn something about the Christian basis for human justice and creation stewardship. Finally, Christians concerned with following Jesus might connect with HPCSI because they see there are churches involved and they hear some compelling biblical framing for why we are doing what we are doing. Then, in joining, they might gain a bigger picture for what the Kingdom of God is, what the Christian calling is, and why climate issues and housing issues can be important areas of ministry for followers of Jesus. Kingdom-based integration of missional silos creates more pathways for people in different lanes to find their way to partnership and an expanded vision for the pursuit of shalom.
Furthermore, it is important to note that this expanded vision applies to Christians and non-Christians alike. We all, whether we are followers of Jesus or not, learn from this shared space. As a climate organizer, I have learned immense amounts from partnering with people who are not Christians. As a follower of Jesus, I am not the answer to the world’s questions–I have my own ignorance, just like everyone else. Jesus is the answer–he is the one who moves his Kingdom, brings healing and restoration, and shows himself to people’s hearts. When Nathanael asks Philip if “anything good can come out of Nazareth,” his response is, “Come and see.” Philip knows he is not the answer–he has encountered someone who is more than he can explain. He just invites the questioner to come and see.
In the un-siloing of Kingdom mission, the work of Jesus is allowed to become bigger and broader, growing the space where we can all “come and see” what he is up to. The Kingdom’s fingers start to reach into places we wouldn’t have previously called religious at all–much in the way that Jesus wandered into spaces with which the religious leaders of his time had problems. As Christians, by allowing “religious” and “non-religious” silos to integrate in shared Kingdom work made up of Christian and non-Christian partners, we give up our control over Jesus’ witness. We will often find that we have much more to learn than to teach. We will be humbled and begin a journey of discovery of our own. Yet as we are humbled, and learn from others who are not followers of Jesus, Jesus will still be there, and we will have the opportunity to grow in partnership with others in a collective work that is very much in line with Jesus’ heart. And in this space, we all get to see what Jesus is up, as he ministers to all of us.
The climate crisis is truly a crisis, and on a scale for which we have no previous categories. People are already suffering, dying, and being displaced because of humanity’s collective and continued sins of environmental degradation and the burning of fossil fuels. Yet, as is so often God’s way, in this self-induced crisis he offers us a redemptive olive branch. He offers the church an opportunity to be humbled, to embrace a posture of learning, and to have its view of Christian discipleship and the Kingdom of God expand more into the holistic space where it belongs. He offers environmentalists and human justice advocates an opportunity to see their missions fuse and become more powerful, and to see this fusion play out in fellowship with a powerful and biblical spiritual calling. And he offers all of us an opportunity to learn from one another, and from him, as we participate together, whether wittingly or unwittingly, in the restorative work that he is driving.
Finally, as our missional pathways converge in Kingdom restoration partnership, one final piece comes into play–the prayers of the Church. These cannot be forgotten, because in the end they are at the very heart of how meaningful change happens in our world. In the Feeding of the 5,000, the disciples look out at a crowd of people that is impossible to feed. The task is simply too great for them to manage without sending everyone home. I believe the speed, scope, and severity of the growing climate crisis is like the 5,000 hungry families. Within a closed system of natural law, the math simply does not play out in our favor.
Thinking within that system, the disciples do the natural thing and ask Jesus to send them all home to get themselves food. However, Jesus replies, “You give them something to eat.” They reply, naturally, that there is not enough food around and they do not have nearly enough money to feed 5,000 families. Jesus doesn’t argue with this–he knows that the math in a closed system does not work out. But then he says, “What do you have–go and see.” They wander through the crowd and find a boy with a lunch of five loaves and two fish. This boy is surely hungry himself, he sees that no one else has food, and he knows that his lunch cannot get anywhere near to feeding the crowd. Yet he still gives it up to the disciples with the hope that it might do some good. The disciples then bring the small lunch to Jesus, Jesus prays, and then the math changes. Everyone is fed–and not just barely, but with an abundance that satisfies every person so completely that there are twelve basketfuls left over.
This story is striking and miraculous, but it is also a typical example of God’s normal way of bringing restoration into our world. He rarely takes care of our problems on his own. Instead, he invites us to take action. We often don’t have what is needed–and sometimes we have nowhere near what is needed. Yet God invites us to offer what we do have to him by faith, and in partnership with him the math can change.
As the church un-siloes its mission and joins non-church people around a common missional table, it cannot forget the heart of what changes the world. It is partnership with God. The math of global fossil fuel emissions, human injustices, and the suffering of the poor is overwhelming and beyond our strength to restore. Yet God is looking at us and saying, “What do you have?” If we pull together a team and with that team we manage to generate five loaves and two fish, that will not bring the healing we need. But if we hold that small offering up to Jesus, we do not know what might happen–and the math may change. The prayers of the church, and deliberately holding whatever Kingdom work we are doing before Jesus as an offering, are at the heart of what makes change happen in our world. Without this piece, all we will have is five loaves and two fish.
Right now, I see HPCSI as five loaves and two fish. We are a small team from a lot of different perspectives partnering in a small neighborhood without a lot of power. We’ve run a few workshops that have been attended by a cumulative total of perhaps thirty people. We’ve started our first solar classroom and we have five steady students of a maximum class size of eight. We have a good new partnership that will give ten low-income HP residents free solar installation, home repair, and weatherization – and we have a budding relationship that will hopefully be able to grow this impact. But in the grand scheme of things, this is so small–it is just five loaves and two fish. Yet my hope and my prayer is that if we continue to offer this to Jesus, God’s math will come to bear and we will be drawn increasingly into the deep redemptive biblical story that culminates in Revelation 21.
The climate crisis presents a powerful invitation to the church. It is so massive in scope, so systemic in both causes and impacts, so integrated with human justice issues, and so moral in quality that it presses the church to reimagine the scope of her calling. The climate crisis impacts everyone–and will grow in impact as the years go by. A siloed church that continues to say, “that’s not our lane,” will become increasingly irrelevant to the world. Yet a church that recognizes her collective and earthly Kingdom mission will hear Jesus calling her into restorative partnerships that surprise her. – As she allows previously siloed missions to come together in new and creative ways, she will find that the silos are informed and empowered by one another, creating work that is wiser and more impactful. As she allows church silos to partner with non-church silos, she will lose some of her control, but if she can partner humbly and listen, she will learn from her partners, even as they learn from her. Her role as the church will become more holistic and biblical as it expands into traditionally “secular” spaces. Furthermore, “secular” missions will have the opportunity to merge into greater partnership with the Kingdom of God and encounter Jesus in their shared work and fellowship. And if the church continues to offer up the five loaves and two fish of her new integrated partnerships to Jesus, God’s math can bend our collective arc towards justice and change our suffering world.
1 See www.hpsolar.org.
2 See www.solar-states.com.
3 See www.Posigen.com.
5 David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (New York, NY: Tim Duggan Books, 2019).