As told to Hasan James
There is a Jay-Z song that says “Aint no love in the heart of the city.”However, that song does not ring true for Pastor Eric Mason and Epiphany Fellowship, whose church is located in the heart of North Philly. Pastor E, as he is affectionately called,” talks about urban mission, Thriving Conference 2014 and why there is in fact love in the heart of the city.
Root: Tell us little bit about your Thriving Conference.
Pastor Eric Mason: This conference has actually been a merging of two. We did a Frequency Conference a couple of years ago and it was totally different. We were scared to death before the conference and after the conference we had to turn people away. We started it as a general training conference for regular believers. When we started “Thriving,” which is an organization serving ethnic minorities serving in complex cities around the world; we started this thing called “The Summit.” We wanted it to remain small, intimate and really this inspirational element to build momentum and relationships there. It went from that to people asking for more and more. We decided to merge Frequency and The Summit Conference to make the Frequency Conference. We didn’t want to use “Summit” because everyone uses that. “Frequency” is something that was birthed out of the scriptures to see Christ’s work that all things were made for him. We want to be tuned into the Frequency of all things being for him. Our moto for the Frequency Conference is “Setting our thoughts unto the Frequency of Christ on the urban frontier”. That’s huge for us.
We’re dealing with the book of Titus and everything from Titus 1, which talks about leadership. Titus 2 talks about Discipleship and the last chapter of Titus talks about Missions & Outreach. We wanted those to be three sectors that are continuously under the brand of Frequency so that it would not just be a brand, but biblically rooted. We want people from all minority and majority ethnicities to be trained in disciplining men, women and leaders. I get a lot of seasoned Pastors asking how we get so many young adults in these new churches. The answer is, we have someone doing a breakdown on the whole idea of engaging young adults. Even Philadelphia is made up of about 69% to 72% of young adults and the city is 95% unchurched, that means most of the 95% are probably young adults. If we are not transforming young adults, then the legacy of the city will not be transformed. It’s like that from here all the way to Boston. People are saying that we have too many churches, but we actually don’t have enough.
If every person out of 1.6 million people in Philadelphia, then that would mean that 1.2 million won’t be able to be in a local church. We want to make that opportunity possible through church planting and that’s where the mission work comes in. Church planting is missionary work as well as an apostolic venture. Then we deal with discipleship and how you grow people up from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity, because we are not called to make converts. Titus 2 deals with how to disciple youth, men, women and even homosexuality. How do we love, disciple and help the homosexual? We don’t condone their lifestyle, but we do want to connect and love them. We don’t want to condone or condemn, but see them be raised up in the image of Christ. We have multifaceted pieces to this conference that I think is going to be helpful. We want the pastors and the leaders, but we want to reach the regular parishioner because everyone is called to be a disciple.
Root: I am glad you brought up the homosexuality thing because there is a big stigma on the church at large regarding that. How do you deal with that, because they are going to come?
Pastor Eric Mason: I do believe in laying hands and all of that, but discipleship doesn’t happen at the altar. The altar is where submission can happen but there is life after the altar. When you look at Jesus, He did not have one altar call but He did more deliverance than any of us. He spent a lot of time with very broken men who had various issues. It may not have been homosexuality, but they had other issues. He walked with them and talked with them. What we do is, we treat homosexuality like any other sin. We treat it the same as the guy wilding out and sleeping with a bunch of women. We challenge them but we love them. I have guys that come to me and say, “Pastor, I want to let you know that I am wrestling with this.” Usually I am know when they are struggling so I sit them down, I’ll walk with them and work with them. I have a guy right now that I am working with and he is struggling with it deeply. We walk with them in the scripture, not just about that issue, but also about the root of the issue. We are big on viewing homosexuality like any other sin.
Root: Tell us about the Acts 29 Network
Pastor Eric Mason: Acts 29 Network is a network of churches that plant other churches. When people hear the word plant and not understanding that language; it means simply to just start a church. Based on the book of Acts the best methodology of evangelism is new churches. For the first three to four years of our church, 50% of it was new coverts. We grew from conversions, transferred growth and displaced Christians. We didn’t just try to make a better church so that people can come from their church, but we really wanted to put a dent into those people who are lost. Acts 29 Network is now a global network. We have churches in South Africa, Australia, throughout Europe, Canada, India, and of course the United States.
Root: What is a criterion for church planting?
Pastor Eric Mason: What’s very important to me is to find out where that person is in their walk as a Christian because that dictates God’s timeline in how he is going to use you. That is why we provide internships in the North America mission board, which is called “Send North America”. We do internships and residencies. Internships are for people who have never been in ministry and want to find out what they are gifted and not gifted to do. We’ll do either part time or full time internship and bring them on staff. Then if we see that the hand of God is on them, it being affirmed by the people around them, being submissive to authority and maximizing what God has given them, then we transition them into a residency. A residency is a preparatory process to launch a person into planting a church. It’s just like what a doctor’s residency would be and how they have to practice medicine. Our residency is practicing ministry.
Root: What are your thoughts on the church at large in 2014?
Pastor Eric Mason: I think the church at large, by God’s grace, is bigger than it’s ever been in the history of humanity. On one hand that encourages me, but I think it’s more splintered than ever because of the Internet and social media. There is so much that we put out on one another in terms of fighting on the Internet. I am really discouraged about how we deal with that versus us going to each other and talking through some things. One of the things that I am excited about doing is making sure people are clear on the Gospel. How does a person become a believer? How does the Gospel continue to grow a person by the power of the spirt and take them to glory? There are many people who divorce the Gospel. That’s why Paul said in Romans 16: 25, “May my God establish you according to the preaching of the Gospel,” he’s talking to believers not unbelievers. That means believers grows from the Gospel, not just get saved. Also you look at Romans 1:16 “The Gospel is unto the power of salvation,” but in verse 15 it says “I long to preach the Gospel to you.” Why do we long to preach the Gospel to Christians? He’s not just saying let me check to see if you’re saved, but he’s saying that same Gospel continues to do that. So we don’t do any work without faith in the Gospel, because we are empowered by the Gospel. I would love to see us continue to provide the philosophy of grace through the Gospel.
Root: You are the Pastor at Epiphany Fellowship. Is Epiphany connected to any denomination?
Pastor Eric Mason: It is and it isn’t. We’re connected to Send North America, which is technically connected to the Southern Baptist, but it’s more of a connection of churches versus a denomination. Also we are connected to Acts 29. Those are our main associations in term of churches we’re amongst. My spiritual father is Dr. Tony Evans, so we’re a part of his network of churches and we love being a part of that. He has been a blessing to me in ministry and also gave me my first job in ministry. We don’t want to have to be in a denomination, we want to be where we want to be. The good thing about the different associations that we have is everybody wants to be together but not have to be together. We’re together and submissive to one another by choice.
Root: You grew up in the Baptist Church, right?
Pastor Eric Mason: I actually didn’t really grow up in the church, but I once I began attending, I started going to the Methodist church. When I got saved in college, I actually was disciple by Pentecostals then ended up getting into the Baptist church while I was in college. From there I went to Oakley Bible Fellowship church which is a non-denominational church.
Root: There are millions of people who pretty much attend church over the Internet. What do you think about this “New Age church?”
Pastor Eric Mason: Biblically in Hebrews 3:13-16 and Hebrews 10: 25 & 26… Many people don’t realize that the book of Hebrews is about being with the body through Christ being preeminent over everything. When you look at Hebrews 3:13-16, it’s the challenge of the face to face interaction with the believer and engaging with one another while it’s still day. Throughout the New Testament, the “One anothers” assumes that people are going to be with one another. Am I against live streaming or podcasting? No I am not. However, I will challenge people to be in biblical community being equally yoked with believers by being present.
For example, I hate it when someone sends me an e-mail to convey their frustration with me. I would rather them be in front of me, because email doesn’t convey their heart. However, when you know a person by talking or engaging with them, it’s just different. Some things can be lost in the world of technology when you’re not engaging regularly. Is it a sin to watch live steam? No. However, that needs to be done as a supplement just in case you can’t make it church for whatever reason.
Root: What are your musical tastes?
Pastor Eric Mason: I’m a conglomerate of it all. My favorite is 70’s Soul and Gospel. I like some older Gospel and some newer Gospel. I like CCM because of its content. Hillsong’s content is just great. I like Israel because he’s a hybrid. He can stand in the CCM world and he stand in the Gospel world. He’s one of my favorites because of that. I also love Mali Music, Fred Hammond, Commissioned and Dawkins and Dawkins. Outside of what we call sacred music, I really love 70’s music.
Root: Do you think by Epiphany being in the heart of the city that it is making an impact on the community?
Pastor Eric Mason: We definitely hope that we are a help to the community. There’s a school down the street that was not able to get dictionaries for their students so we just took an offering and bought dictionaries for the students. We partnered with them because they didn’t have a sports program so we started a basketball league here and that became the sports program for that school. We do Christian Relief with another school once a week with about 30 children. We spend time and talk to them about the Word of God. We also have a Christmas store where Instead of giving the toys away, we empower families who have economic issues. The members of our church buy very expensive gifts and sell them for less than 10% of the actual cost. We make them available at a low price so they are not coming home with gifts that were given to them, but they’re empowered in giving gifts to their children. God has been really gracious to us to be able to do. We also have a foreign missions program. God has allowed us to be a help to our neighborhood that we have received a placard from our neighborhood thanking us for our work in the community.
Root: Do you find that there are influxes of people from the neighborhood who have become members of Epiphany Fellowship?
Pastor Eric Mason: A city like Boston, Philadelphia, DC and New York (Brooklyn and old Harlem), they’re old church cities. Even though they are unchurched it’s old church. Their relationship is of the hyper traditional high church. When we came along practicing the same principles of the old church, but gift wrapped differently, the people were confused. I’ll come preaching in a hoodie. It took time for people in the neighborhood to realize that they can come as they are and we’ll still preach the bible while exalting Jesus, but bring it street level for them. It took time for people to adjust. People say they want that, but they say it betting that God would do it. After eight years of being here, God has done some miraculous things. We have grandmothers bringing their grand kids, dudes bringing their baby mama’s and married people from their neighborhood. Then we have people that aren’t Christians. They are just coming and haven’t yet made the decision, but we are just patently waiting. What I love about it is there is clarity of who is a believer and who is not versus cultural Christianity.