First up, just so you know–I am no expert on this topic.
I am, however, blessed by being surrounded by folks who are on the front lines of urban outreach.
My church has a dedicated group of men and women who give so much of themselves in serving the urban neighborhoods which surround our campus. River City Ministry is not far away. They do an incredible job in the inner city of North Little Rock, Arkansas–as does the Silver City church. I praise God for them all. Their vision and passion is unstoppable. I hang out on the edges of these ministries. Occasionally I assist them in small ways, but mostly I observe their tremendous work. And here are some of those observations:
- The poor will always be with us. Well obviously, this is not an original observation (Matthew 26:11). The plight of poverty will never totally be solved. We can move away from it. We can pretend it does not exist. We can insulate ourselves from it, but it remains. What also remains is our divinely mandated call to respond to it. If we truly want our churches to look like Christ, then embedded in our outreach must be the preaching of the good news to the poor (Matthew 11:5) as well as the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the naked, and the care of the needy (Matthew 25:31-46). If we are the hands and feet of Jesus this is among what those hands and feet will be doing.
- There are no quick fixes. This is a long-haul ministry. It is hard work. It is full of disappointments. No way to sugar coat it with pithy platitudes. Helping people who struggle with not only poverty, but with its underlying causes takes lasting commitment and a huge servant’s heart.
- It goes beyond handouts. Handouts are immediate needs-based responses that sometimes are absolutely necessary, but healthy urban ministry approaches have a larger vision. The goal is to attack poverty by helping those in it, begin moving beyond it. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways centered in relationship building. but is a crucial component of urban outreach. Two books detail a vision for this– When Helping Hurts and Toxic Charity. If you are considering become involved in urban ministry, I suggest you check those two books out.
- Be careful of burnout. In such a ministry that demands so much, burnout can beckon. Those on the front lines of urban ministry need our prayers, support, help, and encouragement.
- It is a transformative ministry. Earlier I mentioned disappointments, but there are also triumphs. Lives are changed–sometimes dramatically. Not just talking about finding homes or jobs, but finding Christ and being totally transformed by his grace. This is at the heart of urban ministry. Christ does change everything! This can be true of churches also. Stagnant, self-absorbed churches can be transformed into vibrant, others-minded servant churches through the difference making of urban ministry.
It is easy to become hardened and cynical toward poverty and those in it. Try seeing them as Jesus does. This is the vision that drives urban ministry.
I thank God for those with this vision.