I have now had three-and-a-half months to reflect on my 3-month sabbatical last fall. One of my main initiatives was to study and learn more about Urban Ministry. I think it was a success!
I love the city. I love the people of the city. And our nation is becoming increasingly more urban. It behooves those of us in ministry to learn how best to minister in an urban situation…like the one in which I find myself right now. Cities are getting bigger. The mission field is coming to us. Our nation is becoming more centralized.
As I have reflected on my experiences over the course of three months, I have come to the realization that really good urban ministry consists of Contextualization, Consistency, and Creativity.
If I were to go as a missionary to New Guinea, Africa, China, or India, the first thing I would do is learn the culture and determine the best way I could use the context of that culture to minister to the people there in the most effective manner; in a way that would speak to their “heart language.”
LINC ministries in Houston, under the direction of Rev. Mark Junkans, does it so well. They have ESL classes that draw people in to churches that use the Spanish language in their worship. They have an Indian (from India) ministry on the campus of The University of Houston that has a native Indian as its pastor. They use Spanish language Christian bookstores which also double as food banks and educational centers.
Peace Lutheran Church in Washington, D.C., under Pastor James Wiggins, uses both traditional and “urban contemporary” worship to reach those in the immediately surrounding community. There are those in that congregation who would never have been there had it not been for the “urban contemporary” service.
The Dream Center in Los Angeles (check it out at www.dreamcenter.org) is nothing if not consistent. Every Saturday they take panel trucks filled with creative children’s ministry teams into the parks in the worst neighborhoods of L.A. Each and every week they have teams and volunteers that adopt blocks in the most gang-infested areas of L.A. They simply go into the neighborhoods and care by providing food, furniture, clothing…whatever is needed. And they share the Gospel. It isn’t until the people of these neighborhoods realize that these people won’t quit…that they are more than consistent…that they finally begin to trust them. Through these consistent ministries many have come to know Christ.
I found numerous churches on my sabbatical that used both context and consistency in creative ways to share Jesus. Church For All Nations (LCMS) in Manhattan is right down the block from Carnegie Hall, and right in the midst of a neighborhood filled with musicians. So they have concert series’ that draw people from the uptown Manhattan into their church on a regular basis.
Emmanuel Reformed Church in Paramount, California, (a community similar to my own Sherman Park neighborhood in Milwaukee) fills the front of the church for every single service with a mass choir, and a 20 piece orchestra that would be the envy of most every congregation. Using creative themes, they draw all of their 1500 members into the message each week through song, preaching, and prayer. It is a sight to see!
Bridgeway Community Church in Columbia, Maryland, was a church planted to be intentionally multi-cultural. You should see the different “nations, tribes, people, and languages” used in the creative context of their worship.
4. ONE MORE “C”…
And lest you think I’ve forgotten…there is one last “C” that begins, ends, and permeates any discussion or attempt at Urban Ministry: Christ Himself. He “completes” Urban Ministry, “cares” for it, and went to the “cross” for all the people of every “city,” throughout the “country,” and across every “continent.”
Contextualization, consistency, and creativity are the three things I pray the Lord will use at Mt. Calvary to “bring hope to the heart of the city” of Milwaukee…and beyond.
Do you have any examples of contextualization, consistency, or creativity in ministry (urban or not) that you could share with me?