Urban Leadership Collective: Belle Island
Adam Thomason is the Pastor of Damascus Road Church in Flint, Michigan and CEO of Collision Records.
Belle Island—literally The Most Beautiful Island—was the most enchanted place to go to in Detroit from the 70’s-90’s. The island itself was seen as perfection. It had wild animals you could show your children, a zoo (if you needed something tamer), a mini theme park, a kite flying area, a lush botanical garden and green house. Belle Island was considered by many to be practically flawless. To the average kid or adult though, no one really cared how this Garden-of-Eden-feel was accomplished. Most just thought it was magical, as if the island took care of itself. All the majority cared about was partaking in its benefits with no concern of how and why such a place got to the state of beauty that was so consistently enthralling to experience and take from.
Sadly enough, Pastors—specifically leading pastors—are seen as beauty islands. I’m using this in a sarcastic, oxymoron type way. There is no such thing as a beautiful island when it comes to Christendom. The beauty of sanctification and growth can’t happen on an island. Most would agree with that…until they think about the pastor. The pastor is seen as the embodiment of Christ (for good or bad reasons). When all within the subculture see him as The Most Beautiful Island, what naturally follows is the isolation of the pastor from his congregants, peers, and sometimes even family when it comes to day-to-day encouragement and life. They host a sinful man, in need of spurring on to love and good deeds, to a place of personal tri-une fellowship. Meaning the pastor has three parts to himself that are all sufficient to declare, love and empower all to himself in need of no man or things fellowship as if he is the God-head unto himself. Let me say it plainly, pastors NEED friends too. They need friends to let them know that they sin, that they say hurtful and harsh things, that they need to be hopeful and not cynical, that sometimes, though loving, they give bad advice, and that they don’t have great, godly opinions about EVERYTHING. Friends that will pray for them, friends that will sacrifice for them at 3 a.m. in the morning, friends that keep them from being an island of false beauty unto themselves. Sadly, I see pastors who fight against this give up and start thinking they are self-sufficient, and that road always leads to destruction. A man in isolation is a man set for temptation and fall. It doesn’t mean he will (Christ didn’t, though Satan was emboldened to attack him in isolation).
See, as I got older I realized that Belle Island needed workers and money—state money, local money, and private money—as this island had no entrance fee. There were a myriad of reasons for the deterioration of the island, but what’s important is that people were too clueless to care. There is no such thing as a beautiful island that just happens. It takes work, a lot of work from a lot of people. Detroit realized this too late, and many congregations still do. Nothing beautiful that we partake of happens by itself. It happens because there is a community that cares enough to sacrifice in the same way it receives what has been sacrificed to give.