Urban Ministry 2
|The corner where I live my life|
Along with all of that, through the years I have also learned a couple approaches that will not reach this city. Each of these approaches has much to recommend it. Each of them are performed diligently by sincere men and women who want to reach people for Christ. Each of them largely fail at reaching the men and women of this city.
First, you will not reach America's big cities by moving your church out of the city to the suburbs. In the 1970s a demographic shift and a crime wave pushed hundreds of independent Baptist churches all across America out of the city toward a better neighborhood in the suburbs. I understand it. I really do. The folks of that generation thought they could not continue to keep their churches afloat in neighborhoods that were no longer the same majority ethnicity as the church. Not to mention, of course, that it is difficult to get middle class white people to attend a church in a bad neighborhood.
Their chosen solution, however, left much to be desired. One of the scriptural definitions of a church is the body of Christ. Shortly after my arrival in Chicago I was feeling overwhelmed. I explained a bit about our church's situation to Clarence Sexton and asked for his advice. (He had previously pastored in an urban environment in New Jersey.) He looked at me and said simply, "Go be Jesus in your neighborhood." That statement has helped me numerous times. In this context I propose a question: would Jesus move out of a decaying inner city environment in order to be more comfortable? The answer surely is a resounding, "No." Then why do churches do it? See, the answer is not for a church to run for the closest city border; the answer is for the church to meet the shifting needs of the shifting neighborhood around it. Such a church will not stay predominantly white, but why should it? When neighborhoods change churches should not flee; if they instead focus on effective ministry they will find they will change to reflect the neighborhood around them.
In short, don't run; minister where you are. Stars shine constantly but we see them much better when the sky is dark. Your church has a chance to stand out, to be unique, to be what Jesus would be and to do what Jesus would do in your neighborhood. At the very least, if you feel you must move your church, keep your old building in the old neighborhood and immediately restart another independent Baptist church in it. Do not abandon the neighborhood because it has changed; such neighborhoods need Jesus more than ever.
Secondly, you will not reach the great American cities with the bus ministry. I must stress here that I am not against the bus ministry; I am for it. I worked in it in one capacity or another for fifteen years. I have nothing but respect for those who put in long hours on Saturday visiting, and who faithfully pick children up every week. The churches that have bus ministries are warm churches, compassionate churches, dedicated to reaching people no one else wants.
All of this is good but one stubborn fact remains: you will not reach a large urban center with a bus ministry. I know; I live in the city that has had more church buses run in it than any other city in America. And it is not reached.
|The fathers in our church singing on Father's Day|
God's plan is always best, and God's plan for the evangelization and edification of humanity is the local church. Occasionally I hear of some church that takes a missions trip to some big city, spends a few days passing out thousands of tracts, and packs up and goes home. That is a good thing; I am glad they do it. But if they want to reach the city they need to partner with someone in planting a church there.
I know my city. I am grateful for every church who does any kind of temporary, short term evangelism in the city, especially on a regular basis. But such things leave no more long term effect than poking your finger into a glass of water and then pulling it out. If you were to send me fifty church planters into my city I could find a reasonable spot for each of them where they would not trip over each other. And you would do more good over the long term by this route than any other ministry you can contemplate.
Beloved, go cry to the city. But do not do it from the outside shouting in. Plant yourself inside, start a church, and grub out a work for God.