Empowering Urban Leaders to Go and Make Disciples

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. — Matthew 28:19-20

Post Resurrection we read the story of Jesus speaking to his disciples. Many doubted that he had actually risen. The gospel writer in Matthew states that the guards and the disciples doubted. Much doubt was clouding the faith of the followers and non-followers of Christ. Before the end of the book of Matthew Jesus appears before his disciples and tells them to “Go and make disciples.”


When you are doubtful or fearful it can cause you to be paralyzed in your actions. In the bible, we read that Jesus insists that his disciples go! As they go he says, “make disciples” which can also be interpreted as learners. Another words, go and make disciples/learners of all nations.

If the church is going to be relevant with a voice of authority in our current culture (millennials) we must continue with what Jesus has commanded. We are in a time when a generation has lost its understanding of deep biblical truths. We have a generation of biblically illiterate Christians when it comes to the understanding of scriptures.

We have an up-and-coming generation that rejects the historical traditions and institutions of the church. Therefore, there is a temptation for preachers to proclaim a gospel that really is not gospel at all. Unfortunately, people who attend these churches regularly don’t know the difference.

Could there be a time in our history where the church is positioned to retake territory from the enemy by way of strong discipleship for community transformation through a partnership between the church and the school?

Let’s face it, America is one of the strongest nations in the world, yet we are one of the least educated. According to the PISA results, which measures global K-12 educational rankings, the U.S. is trailing far behind. Singapore ranks No. 1 while the U.S. ranks 24th in reading scores.

We build laws around the separation between church and state that pit great academic education against great theological truths. Ironically, the church has historically always been at the forefront of pioneering educational efforts in our country. In the early 1800s’ it was the hospitality of the church in Atlanta (Friendship Baptist Church) that housed the beginnings of Morehouse and Spelman College. The Reformers in the 15-16th century were all about the educational empowerment of the masses. When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Whittenberg church it was in protest of the establishment being the only one with access to real power, the power of reading for one’s own understanding.

“The Reformation has been an extraordinary force for global education. The Middle Ages gave birth to the first European universities that trained a select cadre of scholars. But in the Protestant Reformation, the quest for universal education was unleashed. Martin Luther, a professor at the University of Wittenberg, early on called for the magistrates to establish schools so that children could learn to read the newly translated Scriptures and benefit from the learning of the ages. Later, John Calvin, in the French context, established the Academy of Geneva that became the center of Reformed theology”.

Fast forward to the 21st Century and we have a huge gap. There is a gap in our public educational system where the dropout rate is alarming nationwide for children of color. If we are really going to engage our communities again we’ll need to ensure that we make education a priority in our urban churches.

I believe that the church has the answer for the breaking of the school-to-prison pipeline. I believe the church has the answer to teacher retention, positive culture and climates on campuses, as well as raising up emerging leaders for the transformation of communities we serve.

My experience as a church planter/pastor and educator has brought me to a place where God has allowed me to operate in my sweet spot. 2018 will make 21 years in public education as a teacher, principal, and district administrator. 2018 also makes 17 years in ministry as a preacher, church planter, pastor and apostolic leader. These two worlds have collided not by accident but by design. God has used me in a unique way in which he has gifted me with this uncanny ability of bridging these two worlds that historically has always overlapped. Historically, the church has been invested in the education of its population. Today, I call it empowering emerging leaders for the transformation for thriving communities.

What would it look like for the church to partner with schools in our neighborhoods by way of afterschool programming, tutoring, mentorship, parent advocacy and even site based instruction?

I was a charter school principal for 5 years. I had the the opportunity to found and run a charter middle school in South Los Angeles. More specifically my school was a block away from the University of Southern California. At the same time, I had the opportunity to plant a church in Los Angeles as well. We were able to do both because we understood that the school was our mission field not for proselytizing but for discipleship for the purpose of community transformation.

In other words, our goal was not to plant a church, but to plant a transformational community. As a result our church exploded in growth and influence. The neighborhood changed. The graffiti on the buildings didn’t exist anymore. The elderly in the community volunteered and the Sunday school teachers became the 6th grade teachers. My school was unique in that every employee that worked for me had a heart for their community and was committed to seeing it transformed through the gospel.

In the early days of the charter school movement in Los Angeles, the church played a vital role in its survival. As a matter of fact, I would argue that if it weren’t for the black church the charter school movement would not have lasted past 5 years of it inception. It was the black church that found itself as the midwife for the birth of the educational movement we see today. When start-up educational entrepreneurs wanted to open schools they didn’t have property. They went around neighborhoods looking at community centers, abandoned buildings and the local YMCA’s for space. Then something interesting happened. They found that the church was present, but during the day it sat empty. These pastors opened their doors and so began the incubation for a beginning movement that today is here to stay.

I think we are still on the verge of a next wave between educational institutions and the church. I think we are going to re-engage this new generation. It will be about the church going back to its roots. The first wave of the charter movement was missing the church’s meaningful involvement in the discipleship of emerging leaders. The church collected rent and made accommodations to many operators but that was it. The laws of the state prevented churches from being involved in any substantial way which lead to the lack of discipled emerging leaders for communities of color. As a result you had young people graduating from these schools, going on to college, but never returning back to their neighborhoods. What would it look like if the church had an important part to play in helping to shape the minds of young people? What would it look like if there was an integrated curriculum around the theology of social justice and liberation for the purpose of community transformation. What would it look like if the church became relevant again to this emerging generation by painting a vision for school leaders around leadership development. I believe that would compel those students who “make it out” to return back because of the deep desire and obligation to their community to be a part of transforming it.

If the urban church is going to be relevant in this 21st Century we have to be able to understand what’s happening around us. Our young people are showing up to our churches not only with the inability to read Dr. Seuss but also unable to read or understand the gospel of John. They are showing up wondering what happened to the prophetic voice of the church.

This mandate and mantle is not for everyone. I believe that there is a remnant remaining who understand the call that Jesus is giving in this season which is to “make learners” of all nations, TEACHING them to obey.

Rev. Pete Watts oversees World Impact’s mission for all of Los Angeles and its surrounding communities. Born and raised in Southern California, Pete holds a Masters in Communication and Education. After serving as an elementary school teacher, he opened the Thurgood Marshall Entrepreneurial Academy Charter Middle School in 2007. Pete has also felt God’s calling him to preach. After being ordained by Missionary Baptist Church in Compton, he and his wife Didi launched The R.O.C.K. Church in 2008.

To find out more about Rev. Pete Watts, check out his blog.

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