I am very interested in urban mission. I think we have far too little of it, and I am very glad to see a resurgence in it in a number of different groups. I want to peck out some quick thoughts on urban ministry and urban mission, and as always, welcome the input of those who have experience or thoughts about it.
I think there are three key components in urban mission.
Presence Ministry – I think you have to live where you are trying to minister. If you are unwilling to live in the community with the people, the people will probably sniff you out pretty quickly as an outsider. I think your ministry will be hindered by that. Yes, it can be scary to live in some areas. But that’s life. To be able to walk out your front door and point to your meeting place is of inestimable benefit. To say to the people you are talking to, “Yes, I live three blocks that way,” is of inestimable benefit. Living in an upper middle class community while trying to minister in a lower middle class or poverty stricken community can be done, but I think it will be hard.
Social Ministry – I think you have to some sort of social presence that is, for the most part, disconnected from the gospel. What I mean by that is that social presence (whether with a food pantry, a second hand clothing store, house renovation, medical services, etc) is not to be a means of buying a hearing for the gospel. We help people with these things because they are people in the image of God who are suffering the effects of brokenness in a way that immediately impacts their physical lives. Failing to minister to that will hamper people’s willingness to believe that you care about them. I think 1 John 3:17-18 and James 2:14-16 makes this explicitly clear, and neither connects them with evangelism, but with true Christianity. We do not necessarily have to keep them completely separate from gospel proclamation. They may in fact open the doors to gospel proclamation. But we need to be careful about mixing the two in a way that dehumanizes needy people because they do not share our faith.
Proclamation Ministry – I think you actually have to minister the word to people. Being there and being nice is not sufficient. Disciple-making is the goal. You can’t do that without the word. There are a variety of contexts in which this can be done. I have a few views of it, which primarily involve not transporting your paradigm for ministry wholesale into a community. Start organically by evangelizing and teaching the Word and then build as necessary. Don’t build the church structure and then try to fill it. Build it as you need it. Be intentional about what you are doing.