Urundi Knox, Bishop of Ebenezer Ministries, believes his job is to break down the walls of denomination and tradition and empower the people of his church.
He believes that will help open the doors for change in Flint.
When people attend church they don’t need to sit in the seats being entertained, he says. Instead they should learn how to spread the gospel to others, rather than just sit and listen to him preach.
“The ministry is the people,” he says. “They may not be licensed or ordained, but they are the ones who touch far more people than I ever could.”
He says his job is to help people find their passion and purpose in how they, as individuals, believe Jesus Christ can work, live and breathe through their lives.
A humble man, Knox is concerned that, too many times, people put the onus strictly on the pastor. When this happens, he warns, the pastor can, in some cases, become like a “little god” to people, instead of the people recognizing they are just as powerful as the pastor.
Countless lives are touched by people who attend the church and participate in its various ministries – lives he will never directly influence. The way to reach them, he says, is to empower the congregation with the word of God so they can share it with someone in their family, their friends or the community.
“My responsibility as pastor is to empower the people,” says Knox.
One way he is empowering the congregation is to make changes in the church services.
Altar calls are no longer done at Ebenezer Ministries. Instead, people in the church are permitted to come to the altar to praise God or pray at any time during the service – even when he’s preaching.
Knox wants people to know the scriptures and pray according to the word of God rather than by emotionalism, pointing out God isn’t moved by emotions, but by his word. Therefore, he tries to teach people the word and asks them to pray according to it.
He also wants people to come as they are to church. At Ebenezer Ministries it is not uncommon to see blue jeans, shorts, athletic shoes, sandals, and even jogging suits.
He says too often people come to church dressed in their best clothes as a way of keeping up with expectations placed on them by the secular society.
“The problem within the culture of the African American community, which we have embraced for too long, is that we dress to impress others, instead of being concerned about what’s on the inside of our hearts and within our minds,” says Knox.
That’s why he removed the dress code. There was resistance and some people left the church. But for every person who left 10 new people came.
Knox says at least 60 percent of the people in the church today are single women raising children and living in an economy that has gotten worse every year in Flint. They just cannot afford new dress clothes simply to keep up with an unfair expectation to dress a certain way to attend church. All week long that mother is struggling to keep the lights on and to keep food in the bellies of her children. She has no capacity to buy her child a suit for church.
More importantly, that child should not be made to feel he or she must look the part to be accepted in the church, he says.
Knox further questions why some parents dress their children in expensive shoes or the latest or newest designer wear to go to school yet don’t attend the school board meetings or find out what’s going on with their children’s education.
“By the time our children graduate, we won’t have to worry about where we are going to get the money for college, because the money would already have been set aside, if we abandon the obsession with materialism and preoccupation with keeping up with the Joneses,” he says.
He encourages parishioners to purchase bonds or set up an educational fund for their child, instead of going into debt buying designer clothes or purchasing expensive Christmas gifts.
“When we take off the shackles to a denomination, we are free to show loyalty to God alone and accept people as they are,” says Knox. “Let’s break down our personal beliefs and focus on the first thing we are supposed to do, which is to love one another.”
It is understanding God’s love that will give Flint’s residents the common ground needed to get along regardless of race or culture, he says.
He points out African Americans have been underdogs in Flint for a long time and face very unique challenges. That has an impact on the culture of the church.
Growing up as child in the city, he came to understand how it feels to be discriminated against in every area. He saw how every time African Americans reached a bar, another one or another level would be put in front of them.
The first thing they had to do was graduate from high school, he says. Then the bar was raised. They had to get a bachelor’s degree. Then they needed to get a master’s degree and then work toward a doctorate.
Finally, even with all that education, he says they make what someone from another culture would be able to make with a high school diploma or bachelor’s degree.
A 2017 study by the Economic Policy Institute shows pay gaps between white and black workers have grown since 1979, even after controlling for education, experience and location. Those racial pay gaps have expanded the most for college graduates. Last year black college graduates earned about 21 percent less per hour on average than white college graduates, the study says. The gap was 13 percent in 1979.
For African Americans every step of the way has been a struggle and that, Knox says, has had a profound impact on the culture of most churches.
“As a black man who understands discrimination at its core, I am not going to discriminate against anyone,” says Knox. “What I am going to do is preach the gospel.”
Regardless of a person’s background, all are welcome at Ebenezer. He says he doesn’t believe in telling anyone there isn’t room for them in the church.
Knox has helped create a culture at Ebenezer Ministries where everyone is welcome to come and cast their cares upon Jesus without any concern about how they are looked upon by the person sitting next to them.
That, in itself, is a freedom that gives the heavy soul rest and empowers the congregation.
Editor’s Note: Ebenezer Ministries is located at 2130 South Center Road in Burton, MI (48519). To learn more call 810-744-4484 or visit EbenezerMinistries.com
See more of TheHUB’s coverage of Flint’s faithful: