A Prayer of Intercession for Mayor Tony Yarber and Jackson, MS

Prayer for Yarber

Courtesy of Jay Johnson.

The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live. I Timothy 2:1-3 (The Message)

It was my honor to have been asked to offer the invocation at the swearing-in ceremony for Mayor Tony T. Yarber. It was a powerful service, and Mayor Yarber shared a dynamic message to us about his servant leadership and the future of our capital city. 

The prayer follows in its entirety. 



You are Alpha and Omega. And the government rests upon Your shoulders.

For the revolutionary love and legacy of our late mayor, Chokwe Lumumba, and for the sage and quiet leadership of Acting Mayor Charles Tillman, we give You thanks and praise.

And now, O Lord, we praise You that by Your grace we have seen another peaceful transfer of executive power. Everyday people throughout our city have called upon Tony T. Yarber to serve and lead us as our next Mayor. We thank You that this educator and motivator has been chosen to lead the City with Soul at such a time as this. In days and years to come, guide Tony as he initiates progressive infrastructure improvements, promotes an aggressive approach to crime reduction, and innovates in order to support economic stability downtown and around town.

We intercede for Tony and for the noble task that is before him. Grant him Abraham’s faith, Joseph’s integrity, Joshua’s courage, David’s heart, Solomon’s wisdom, and Peter’s boldness. Grant him spiritual wisdom and supernatural insights beyond his 36 years. Show forth Your glory through his administration and help him shepherd Jackson with excellence so that peace and prosperity will be our portion.

Bless also our First Lady Rosalind, and Carmen, Cameron, and Toni Michelle. Envelope the First Family with Your protection and care.

As we move Jackson ahead together, let Your favor radiate over every ward and every sub, every business and every home, every church and every school. Unite us across gender and generation, colors and creeds, so that we will be one city, with one aim, moving toward one destiny, for Your glory and the good of our city.

Bless Tony and bless Jackson, our capital city.

In Your Name we pray,





Why I Still Believe in Jackson

The following post was originally published in the Jackson Free Press under the title “Jackson: A Beloved Community.”

Thy Kingdom Come

“The end is reconciliation, the end is redemption, the end is the creation of the beloved community.” —Martin Luther King Jr.

In 2009 I returned to the City with Soul on a mission. My theological vision of a better world was affirmed during my three years at Duke Divinity School, and I was ready to put my faith to work in Jackson. Call me crazy, but I believed that God was up to something in our capital, and I wanted to be a part of it.

When I shared with family and friends my desire to return to Mississippi and to participate is something great here, I was understandably greeted with their skepticism. How they yearned for me to be successful in some cosmopolitan Promised Land far away from the land of my birth. Too many years of backward thinking, racial politics and status quo leadership convinced them that if I moved back home, my vision would soon become a nightmare. But I came home anyway, being led by the Spirit to a place that shaped me more than I desired to admit.

My dream was neither deferred nor denied, thank God. I arrived to a Jackson that was being blessed by a kind providence. A lot of good was happening, and a discernable excitement abounded in the streets and in hushed conversations around the city. There were many problems still plaguing the capital city, to be sure, but I sensed the Lord was up to something marvelous.

I still believe that. The city’s urban renaissance and beautiful people of good will have granted me sustained hope in that not-yet-seen something that compelled me to return nearly[five] years ago. Jackson is changing, being renewed day-by-day, and I’m humbled to say I’m here at such a time as this. And though this chocolate-vanilla swirled city has the usual litany of problems of comparable metropolises, too many of us have an indefatigable faith, hope and love for Jackson to be great. We have glorious days ahead. We will see the best of Jackson.

But before we pour the celebratory wine (or grape juice, for the prohibitionists out there), we must understand that there are things that could indeed defer our dream of a better, more blessed Jackson. I am admittedly afraid that all our development will make us blind to the need for us to cultivate community—beloved community. The only way to sustain our growth is to make Jackson increasingly safe for dreamers of a better world.

As a Christian preacher, I am always concerned about the least of these, those whose backs are against the walls. I’m concerned about absolute gentrification that treats poor brothers and sisters like lepers needing to be quarantined. I’m concerned with sinful racism, sexism and classism continuing to limit our collective vision of the somebody-ness of all God’s children. I’m concerned with the dearth of visionary, moral leaders who will inspire diverse peoples to imagine together a just and open society for everyone who will call our city and our state home.

This isn’t liberal romanticism, a utopian dream. The hope for a beloved community is the solution to preventable but potential chaos. Love, truth and justice are as important—no, more important—than rehabilitated houses and new businesses downtown. We need our tribalism to give way to a deep sense of interdependence, a sense that we need each other to survive and thrive.

This new way of living together as strangers-turned-friends will come about not by sheer inevitability but though sincere intentionality. We have to be co-creators of the community we want to see in Jackson. God willing, we’ll do just that. If we don’t, the City with Soul just may lose its soul.

My prayer is that all of us, especially those of us in religious communities, will see the greater need for a human renaissance in Jackson. My prayer is that we will lead with civility, compassion and courage toward a more perfect union, starting in our own backyards. May God hasten the day when all God’s children will dwell together in unity, in the bond of peaceful sibling-hood. On that day, the world will look upon Jackson and see the kin-dom come to earth. They will see, in flesh and blood reality, the beloved community.


Pastor Lionel J. Traylor and me following a “Thy Kingdom Come: Reflections on Pastoral and Prophetic Ministry” book signing at The Epicenter Church.


Love. Truth. Integrity: The Definition of Sound Leadership

Rhodes Mic


Love and truth form a good leader; sound leadership is founded on loving integrity. Proverbs 20:28 (The Message)

Last night I had the honor of keynoting the second annual Resurrection Gala and Anchor Community Awards, hosted by Mt Helm Baptist Church. It was the second time I publicly addressed Jackson’s oldest black congregation since becoming Rector of Oakland Chapel at Alcorn State University.

My friend Jason Thompson was slated to introduce me, and he uncontestably offered the best introduction I’ve received in my nearly fourteen years of ministry. Jason is a gifted orator and as PyInfamous, his hip hop doppelganger, he is used to exploring the revolutionary aims of the English language. Yet I was moved by the way he narrated my life through the lens of leadership.

Jason became a member of Mt Helm not long after I began my pastorate there, but we knew each other long before that. We both grew up in small towns in Copiah County, Mississippi. Last night, he swore that my hometown (Hazlehurst) was a suburb of his hometown (Crystal Springs). Of course, I had to remind him that Hazlehurst was the county seat of Copiah County, thus making H-town more important than the tomato capital of the world. It was a humorous exchange that nevertheless reminded me of our upbringings in small town Mississippi and how we both employ those rich experiences in what we do now.

Jason continued to share how our paths again crossed at the University of Mississippi, where we both attended and were involved in student leadership. Later, we connected again once I finished my graduate studies at Duke and returned to Jackson to make a difference. At wonderful points in our lives, our leadership seemed to intersect, and Jason demonstrated that perfectly.

But the best part of his introduction was his use of Proverbs 20:28. Jason opened up with that verse, read from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. At each moment of his introduction that powerful word jump out. Leadership is about love, truth, and integrity. It has been my hope that all that I do is defined by those three virtues, and Jason shared with such profound simplicity the ingredients all leaders should live by.




May every step and breath I take in marriage and ministry be saturated in love of God and neighbor; the truth of God and truth about the human condition; and integrity in my private and public life.

And may these three abide in your life, too.


To Serve this Present Age: Political Service as Servant Leadership

Mayors Race


The impending mayoral special election should remind many pastors and churches of the importance of being civically informed and engaged. During every election cycle candidates for whatever office visit our churches and appeal to potential voters. Car windshields in the parking lots are covered with campaign literature or propaganda against contenders. Sometimes it feels as if churches are taken for granted…until election time. The fault lies not just with politicos; it also lies at the feet of pastors who don’t demand more from those offering themselves for elected office. Pastors are courted for their special prayers, votes, and full throated endorsements without promised accountability. Few pastors weigh the candidates’ visions, strategies, and histories before backing the man or woman of their choice.

I think it’s time for a paradigm shift here in Jackson. Not just in this special election, but for all future elections and the “in-between” times. Pastors and the people of God must demand more of ourselves and politicians so that persistent, measureable progress can be attained with moral convictions.

As a Christian leader, I am well aware that when we go to the polls we are not electing a pastor or bishop or denominational leader. I also know that pastoral involvement should in no way hinder the democratic expressions of candidates and our fellow citizens. Whoever our elected officials are, they must represent all Jacksonians regardless of color, class or creed. Nonetheless the Church is to be salt and light and seek the common good for all the city. In many ways we preachers and parishioners have failed to be that both in the past and presently. We must confess our sins and seek the Lord’s mercy.

My prayer is that pastors going forward will seek candidates who will represent and be accountable to more than a popularity vote or to assurances of prestige and political access. Pastors and politicians who desire to serve the capital city must be held to high standards of transformational servant leadership. This means that we must love the people more than we love position and power, and that we must lead them from a place of service and not selfish gain. Since the mayoral election is coming up April 8, I think it’s fitting to offer how I think each candidate in this and future races should align themselves to virtues essential to public servanthood.

Integrity and Independence
Our next mayor must be a man or woman with deep moral conviction, unbought and unbossed by idolatrous corporate and/or political interests, and whose personal and professional life will not come to bring reproach and shame on our city. He or she must be a principled servant leader and have a trustworthy track record of doing the right thing, even when it costs them transient pleasure or power. They must answer ultimately to the higher power and a higher good, thereby not betraying the people she or he is privileged to serve.

Imagination and Innovation
Our next mayor must be maladjusted with the status quo of previous generations, possess the capacity for long range strategic visioning, and be daring enough to take necessary calculated risks that will bless every ward of our city. He or she must demonstrate an ability to communicate compelling vision where average citizens are central and excellence is always the minimum standard; and have the innovative perception to collaboratively realize such visions through corresponding policies, programs, and practices that support and sustain equitable economic growth and opportunity for everyone.

Intelligence and Insight
Our next mayor must be well read and well informed both of comprehensive city affairs and of state, national and global opportunities and threats. He or she must have considerable business acumen, fiscal dexterity, and a depth of knowledge concerning the dynamic functions of government and how efficiency and progressive public policies can improve our citizens’ quality of life. But he or she mustn’t simply accumulate information— she or he must know how to interpret and glean wisdom from it. Lastly, he or she must already show he or she can surround himself or herself with a competent team of wise and just advisors, while also being humble enough to actively listen to dissenting voices and disinherited citizens.

Inspiration and Industriousness
Our next mayor must be an ambassador and champion able to inspire citizens to civic hope and action both in his or her word and deed. They must already have put some work in, demonstrating they rallied diverse and dedicated coalitions that get righteous things done. Additionally, they must be capable of brokering the necessary yet virtuous partnerships within and beyond the city that will be catalytic for further positive movement and development throughout Jackson.

Inclusion and Impartiality
Our next mayor must be confident in his or her values system representing the concerns and yearnings of a religiously, racially, economically, ideologically, and politically diverse city. She or he must be aware of the enduring legacy of racial and economic injustice and hold precious the concerns of the materially and spiritually impoverished. They must be fair and just in their decisions and visioning so that all Jacksonians— especially the least of these— can flourish.


The man or woman who possesses these qualities is best prepared to progressively lead our city; best able to cast an aspirational vision through whose fulfillment all wards prosper; and best accountable to the people she or he serves and not the vices of power, privilege, and position.

May the Lord lead us in our discernment and may God grant us the right leader for such a time as this.

Now unto Him who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above all we can ask or think according to the power at work in us, be glory in the Church and in our capital city. Amen!