Reflections on the Launch Conference

Below are some reflections from SOS's Executive Director, Philip Walkley, about a conference he recently attended.

“What kind of conference are you going to?”

That was a question I was asked several times leading up to my recent trip to Chicago for the first ever Launch Conference sponsored by Mission Year.

“I think it’s a conference about urban ministry internships and living in community…and…I’m not really sure.”

Even though I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into, I’m so thankful I came!

I am the Executive Director of Service Over Self (SOS) - an urban mission camp serving low income neighborhoods in Memphis, TN. One aspect of our ministry is The SOS Academy, a one-year internship that trains and equips 19-26 year-olds to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with their God in an urban context. I went to Launch primarily to learn more about how we could strengthen this internship. While I did walk away with lots of helpful tools to improve the SOS Academy, perhaps the biggest impact was much more personal.

Many truths that I know well from years working in urban ministry were made more clear and real to me at Launch. One in particular was the concept of listening and learning before leading. As the leader of an urban non-profit who did not grow up in the neighborhood we serve (or one like it for that matter!), I am often quick to charge ahead assuming I know the best, most effective, most strategic ways to love and serve our community. In doing this, without first seeking out leaders already in the community (and there are always leaders in every community), in a subtle way I am communicating that this under-served neighborhood doesn’t have anything to offer. It needs someone like me to come in from the outside to fix all the problems. How prideful is that!?

As Leroy Barber, President of Mission Year, shared these important truths, I began to think back to people I have met in the community who have much greater influence and experience in our neighborhood than I do. People like Dennis, the owner of DJ’s corner store who is known and respected by every single customer, Mr. Bowen, who distributes free books to kids every day after school, or Ms. Kitty, who waves at every passer-by from her front porch. These are the real leaders in our neighborhood. Not me.

Every Thursday morning I block of a couple of hours for strategic planning. Typically this means I go to a coffee shop and dream, pray, and plan for the future of SOS. But after attending Launch, I think I need a new strategy. Perhaps instead of sitting alone in a coffee shop, I need to visit Dennis, Mr. Bowen, Ms. Kitty, and others like them and listen to them as they dream, pray, and envision a brighter future for our community. And I hope in doing this, I will grow in humility as I look to the strengths of others and realize my own weaknesses and insufficiencies.  After all, isn't our weakness all God needs in order for his power to be seen most clearly (Romans 12:9)?