Up the (Willow) Creek: Harvey Carey


harveyHarvey Carey is the Founder and Senior Pastor of the Citadel of Faith Covenant Church in Detroit, Michigan. Citadel of Faith is the fastest-growing multicultural church in the region. Carey’s lecture, Against All Odds, was, personally, one of the brightest spots of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.

Carey brought a very different flavor than everything that had come before. He preached, and he did it with passion and style.

It was awesome. In fact, along with Keller, Carey was one of the brightest spots for me in the entire conference.

Carey shared the story of starting Citadel of Faith and the challenges that he faced. Planting in the “poorest zip code of the poorest city of the poorest state” in the United States doesn’t seem like a winning strategy. Yet his church has seen phenomenal success, growing to 800 members in six years.

More importantly, the people are active in seeking both the redemption of their community and reconciliation between Caucasians and African-Americans. Ironically, because white people were returning to the neighborhood, nine churches called Carey to task, informing him that they were “going to collectively come against you.”  When faced with this level of opposition, Carey believes that you know that “God is getting ready to show up.”

One of the most interesting things Carey and his people do for their community is something called urban camping. The scenario is this:

Instead of camping out in the woods, singing “Kumbaya” and making smores, Carey and the men of his church do all of this camped out in front of a crack house. And because all this is going on, people don’t buy crack.

Through this kind of work, Carey’s seen no less than eight of Detroit’s worst crack houses close down. All because God’s people chose to do something, rather than nothing.

“The role of the leader is to equip. We’re not to staff [to do ministry]. We’re to staff those who are equipped to equip others… The members [of your church] need to have ownership and you do that by getting them into the work.”

And that’s the heart of Carey’s big idea: Get out of the huddle and get in the game. Stop going to conference after conference and actually do something! Stop collecting binders of information on ministry and start doing ministry.

“How many binders do you need to do ministry???” an exasperated Carey demands. “No more binders! It’s time to be the church and do the work of the kingdom! God has called us to play the game. Sunday morning is when we go out. The things we learn—we actually do them…”

But, Carey believes we’re caught in what he refers to the paralysis of analysis. We play the “what if” game so much that we get ourselves in a tizzy and end up doing absolutely nothing, when it would have been easier, and more honoring of God, to do something—even if it fails.

Harvey Carey’s message was powerful, to be sure. And while the crowd was eating it up, I can’t help but wonder—how many of us listening will actually get into the game? Will we continue to sit on the bench and think about doing the work of the kingdom (if we’re truly not), or will we stand up, suit up, and take a hit for Jesus?

Lots to think about.

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  • Pljenkens

    Can’t help but say that Harvey Carey does a great job of talking, and exaggerating the stories. Urban camping? Hasn’t been done by Carey in years, and even then it was done 3 times, maybe 4. 8 crack houses shut down? For about 24 hours, yes. And then, right back to where it was (+ a prostitution house). Equipping leaders? Don’t even get me started. However, if there is thing that Harvey is good at doing, it is this; he is an excellent speaker who constantly shares a very similar message to suburban churches so that they will give him money. Oh yeah, how do I know this? I live next next door to two of the crack houses that supposedly shut down. Harvey doesn’t live in the community where his church is (he lives in the wealthy Boston-Edison district), so he has no idea.

    White people are drinking the kool-aid. Good job.

  • Peter Walters

    I just saw this video for the first time last week. It was quite inspirational. I love his desire to equip for ministry and his desire to lead the church to make an impact in their community. I am often haunted by the statement, “If your church left town would anyone notice.” They would notice in his neighbourhood that’s for sure. Praying that our church will have that same type of impact.

    Thanks for the post.