When it comes to ministering to the needs of their community, Bishop Van Moody and his Birmingham, Alabama church have a lot on their plate—two specialized learning programs, a counseling center and a community development corporation, among other projects.
But The Worship Center Christian Church’s plate just got fuller—fittingly enough, with the addition of a healthy-menu café.
While it’s not unusual for churches to run food services on-site or even provide them as outreach centers elsewhere, the Moody-led initiative is distinctive in that it involves the purchase of an established commercial Kale Me Crazy franchise in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. The fast-casual eatery specializes in healthy dishes, which Moody says are critically needed in what he calls a food desert.
Not only will the store provide jobs, but proceeds from the for-profit business’s sales of smoothies, juices and wraps will also be used by the church to further its wide range of community development initiatives.
“I know that the way that I see ministry and see life is different than a lot of people of faith,” Moody says. He attributes that worldview to the influencers who surrounded him along the way. One of them was Rick Cook, a Christian and serial entrepreneur.
“If you really want to impact the kingdom, you need to be not just a great preacher, you need to be a great leader and you need to be a great business person,” Moody recalls Cook coaching him. “He took me under his wing and began to mentor me… It really opened up another world for me.”
The Kale Me Crazy endeavor is an expression not just of what Moody has learned from his mentors, but also part of his family’s heritage. His maternal grandfather was a preacher, while his paternal lineage consisted of entrepreneurs and church planters.
“All of the people that really impacted my life growing up were wired this way, from my mother to my father to mentors to even individuals that I’ve met along the way,” says Moody, who started in ministry as a 16-year-old youth elder. “It just all kind of came together to create a vision for ministry that I think is necessary in today’s time but also I think was uniquely designed for me to walk in.”
Adding Kale Me Crazy to the church’s ministry arsenal seems a natural fit. Moody and his wife, Dr. Ty, are both vegans. Even from childhood Moody says he was committed to a healthy lifestyle, taking to heart the Scripture calling our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). Doing so, Moody says is a “form of stewardship and also worship to God.”
“I grew up around business leaders and ministry leaders who were incredible thinkers,” he says, “but I saw them waste away because they didn’t take care of themselves.”
Even as a child, Moody says he wrestled with the inconsistency of the gospel message and the health habits of those around him.
“We serve a God that’s a healer but, at times, we will live lifestyles that are antithetical to God’s healing power being evident in our lives,” says Moody. “Growing up, I always felt like the church had a responsibility to not only teach about this healing power, and the ability for us to live our best life through Jesus, but we had to model it. We also had to give people tangible opportunities to experience it.
“That’s why Kale Me Crazy is a big deal. That’s why the other things that we do are also very important because it’s one thing for me to make sure that people are saved. But if they don’t have access to adequate homes, if they don’t have a place to live, then we got to address that. When you see Jesus doing ministry, he met needs.”
Moody—who holds a Master of Divinity degree in ethics from Interdenominational Theological Center and a doctorate in spiritual formation and apologetics from Biola University—says his ministry philosophy stems from the Greek word soteria, which means salvation and in a broader sense includes the themes of safety, rescue and health.
“Soteria actually speaks to complete or total salvation,” the bishop says. “When you really study that word out, what you find is that God’s intent from the very beginning was the whole person to be transformed. But in the local church, historically, we’ve only thought about salvation from a spiritual aspect.”
But, if the church can meet needs beyond its exterior walls, Moody believes a congregation “will always be relevant and I think that that’s a part of the purpose of ministry.”
While the restaurant venture is the congregation’s first for-profit venture, its ministry thumbprint is not new to the community. In 2014, The Worship Center opened up campus space for Einstein’s Playground, an independent nonprofit child-development center launched and directed by his wife. The congregation also operates a Freedom School, part of a national program to counter summer learning loss prevalent in communities of color.
“If you want to see real change, the shot-in-the-arm approach often doesn’t provide that,” he says. Other community outreaches include the Hope Counseling Center, an annual Financial Literacy Conference and federal housing programs.
“Kale Me Crazy is how we’re making a difference in terms of healthy food options,” the spiritual leader says. “Einstein’s and Freedom School is how we’re making a difference in education. Our community development initiatives are how we’re making a difference with housing, transforming communities.”
As Moody looks to the future, he can’t help but reflect on the past and the legacy of nurturing, encouragement and inspiration that formed his foundation.
“They encouraged us to dream big,” he says. “They encouraged us to take the road less traveled and to be confident in what God gave us and what God called us to do. I’ve just had to learn over the years, honestly, to become more and more comfortable in it because I think early on in life, we want the approval of other people but to be an entrepreneur and to be a pioneer means that you have to learn how to be comfortable going it alone.”
Along the way, Moody admits there have been mistakes, but he looks to the example of Abraham, the Bible’s first patriarch.
“You do see stumbling along the way and it doesn’t disqualify him or derail him,” Moody shares. “I think God shapes us for our purpose and I think God gives us a grace for our purpose. Earlier in my life I always struggled with the way that I was shaped because I wanted to try to fit in to what was traditional, and I never could. Later in life, I learned to really appreciate the way that God shaped me because I was shaped for these kinds of things.”