The Intersection of Faith, Work and Economics in Memphis

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Several years ago, I developed a vision for ways we, as a faith community, are called to be intentionally engaged throughout all sectors of the city in order to love our neighbors as Jesus calls us.

The Vision

I hoped and prayed for a unified faith community to rebuild a city spiritually, socially and economically. God used Jeremiah’s writing in Nehemiah to influence my thinking. Jeremiah said that if you seek the welfare of the city, your welfare will be taken care of, along with the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem. These concepts became more concrete as I neared the end of my theological studies at Asbury Theological Seminary and was selected to participate in “Oikonomia” (economy). This two-semester internship, sponsored by the Kern Family Foundation’s Oikonomia Network, focused on the intersection of faith, work and economics.

This introduction into ways in which the faith community can be engaged in ministry through the private sector, along with my previous experience in commercial real estate, led to a series of conversations with real estate professionals in Lexington, Ky., and Memphis. Upon my return to Memphis, I visited with Larry Jensen, President and CEO of Cushman & Wakefield/Commercial Advisors LLC, regarding a real estate services/development platform. This platform focused on core city neighborhoods where blight and disinvestment describe the primary trajectory of all properties including residential, multi-family, commercial and industrial.

Proposal for Reconciliation and Transformation Through Real Estate

I prepared, at Mr. Jensen’s request, a concept proposal outlining an endeavor that sought reconciliation and transformation through real estate services/development. The outline included these points:

  • Prayerfully consider specific neighborhood communities (there are 126 definable neighborhoods in the Memphis metro.) within which to develop strong relationships and sharpen the process for gathering knowledge of assets relative to particular community needs.
  • Identify stakeholders living in the neighborhood community (long-term residents, pastors, business owners, etc.).
  • Catalogue properties (current use vs. highest and best economic/community use).
  • Establish consistent touchpoints (people, events, worship communities, etc.) where presence will begin to form relationship and trust.
  • Seek collaborative partners with a holistic vision for the spiritual, cultural and economic flourishing of the city (city leaders, banks, contractors, architects, pastors, non-profit ministry directors, etc.).

This commercial real estate team focused on the city core, especially under-served and blighted neighborhoods. The team worked with passion, thoughtfulness and entrepreneurship to bring revitalization to communities throughout Memphis in relationship with the larger faith community already actively engaged at the neighborhood level.

Built within this plan was the core belief that spiritual and economic flourishing is possible and can be nurtured across the neighborhoods of Memphis through an ‘asset based’ restoration plan involving commercial and residential properties. The holistic nature of this approach recognizes that specific needs, including safety/security, personal health, education, family health, and community connection, vary in degree throughout the city and can be addressed by creatively utilizing assets already existing within the neighborhood. This new service line represents a social entrepreneurship model that brings life to this envisioned concept through a leading commercial real estate platform that is well connected to the private, public and faith community leadership of the city.

This new opportunity represents a shift of focus to pastoral ministry in the marketplace that will hopefully be viewed as an extension ministry of the Church where God has matured our faith into action.

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Greg Spillyards entered a career in commercial real estate with CBRE Memphis immediately following college in 2001. After 9 years in project management and commercial brokerage, Greg responded to a call to seminary by first enrolling in the online program at Asbury Theological Seminary. Greg and his family relocated to Wilmore, KY in Fall 2011 to complete the Masters of Divinity degree as a full time resident student at Asbury. Greg recently graduated with his MDiv and has returned home with his wife and three daughters to Memphis.

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