Urban ministry

Urban ministry: an overlooked mission field?

The gospel has the power to transform the lonely, the aimless, and the dying in the inner cities. Have we given this ministry our support?

Angela Elwell Hunt, a free-lance writer, lives in Largo, Florida. One of her latest books, If God Is Real, Where on Earth Is He? is published by Here's Life.

Estelle took a few hesitant steps toward Scott Reese and decided to reveal what she had done. "I don't want to live," she said slowly, tears streaming down her face. "Last night I took an overdose of drugs, and I wanted so bad to die. I don't know why I'm alive today."

"She honestly thought no one cared," says Reese. "I told her that there was purpose for her life, and that I could introduce her to a Friend who would never leave her."

Today Estelle is a faithful member of Scott Reese's church. Scott is a young White man with, as his members describe it, a "Black heart." By choice he lives in an apartment in the poorest city in America. He has seen destruction and death flash before his eyes, but he continues his work, sharing his small apartment with the homeless or addicts, secure in the knowledge that God is protecting and providing for him.

"The inner-city is overlooked by most Bible college graduates," says Scott, "and I felt led to minister here." Scott pastors the New Life Baptist Church. His salary comes from suburban churches that consider him an inner-city missionary. "Just as churches support mission work in foreign countries, they ought to consider helping inner-city work," says Scott. "There's a real need."

Junious Blake pastors the Jackson Memorial Church of God and Christ in San Diego. One night he received a phone call from a young woman in his church.

"I've just got to get away from here," she cried. "How can I get off drugs if I can't get away from this place where every body is doing them?"

Drug addicts were on the street and in his church, and not many months ago Blake discovered that his own son was a drug user and pusher. But where could Blake send these people for help? His congregation is now struggling to build a drug rehabilitation center to meet the physical needs of the people who surround the church.

In the inner cities of America, where poverty, drug abuse, and crime are as bedrock as the endless rivers of asphalt and cement that connect house to apartment and storefront to bar, there are many needs crying out for answers. Suburban churches are far removed from the realities of urban life, so what can they do to help?

Survey your area

Your church might consider the following: First, take a good look around your locality. If you live in a metropolitan area, investigate what churches exist in the inner-city. If you are a rural church consult a phone book or ask other pastors to recommend an inner-city church or ministry. Adopt an inner-city ministry as a sister church, and take the pastor out to lunch. In humility and respect, suggest that you minister to each other.

"If my church were White and in suburbia, we would have a $5 million budget and about 100 staff members," says E. V. Hill, pastor of the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church of Los Angeles. "We are at a $500,000 budget and have only seven full-time staff members.

I hope in five years that our church could be a model for other inner-city churches, but I could cut that five-year goal to two years if I could borrow 10 staff members from suburban churches. I don't have a director of Christian education, youth, visitation, children's work, or evangelism. We have only two and a half secretaries.

"Our hope is that White seminarians will come to the inner city. They'll have to be a peculiar breed, without paternal ism and without a patronizing attitude. They'll have to be humble servants. They'll have to have the same attitude they would have if they were going to a foreign country."

Share staff members. If a large suburban church has associate pastors of youth, evangelism, seniors, missions, Christian education, single adults, or visitation, encourage them to donate one day a week in service and duty to an inner-city church. Feature a sign-up table in the suburban church lobby where church members can donate time for visitation, secretarial work, or child care.

Consider taking on an inner-city church as a mission. Give a regular monthly financial gift either to support the pastor's salary or to meet a particular need the church can't afford. Offer to support the salary of another staff member. Encourage your young people and laypersons to volunteer weekends, summers, and holidays as "interim" workers at the sister church.

Dave Scott, a former professional football player who now works for Liberty University, grew up on the streets of Paterson, New Jersey. Once a downtown shoeshine boy, Scott knows how boredom easily leads to trouble. "Urban kids simply need someone who will be there for them," he says. "The local church should provide role models, and teachers need to provide a good example. At my school some of the teachers were pimps. Without sports groups, my pastor, and my church, boredom would have driven me crazy."

Provide creative outlets

Your church can provide an outlet for young people. Most inner-city churches do not have a gymnasium or skating rink or large auditorium, so make your facilities available when needed. Plan joint youth functions for both churches and provide transportation for the young people of your sister church.

Lem Tucker works with Voice of Calvary Ministries, an organization that combines evangelical faith and social action. In addition to programs in the ministry' s hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, VOC operates a national network to assist other churches in improving their communities.

One program at Voice of Calvary combines youth groups from inner-city churches with youth groups from suburban churches. The young people establish friendships and learn from one an other. In 1986 two churches from Waco, Texas, worked together in Jackson under the direction of VOC. A youth group from the First United Methodist Church, a White suburban congregation, and the Mount Zion Methodist Church, a Black urban church, traveled to Jackson and participated in a work camp. They worked together in a depressed area, cleaning yards, repairing houses, and doing general handiwork. When the work was done, the kids from both groups remained friends and shared in youth activities.

It is important to reach the youth of the inner city, for often up to 43 percent of the population of an urban city is less than 18 years of age. Tony Evans, who pastors Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship Church in a suburb of Dallas, cites grim statistics: "More than 50 percent of our children will be born to unwed teenagers. Sixty percent of our children are growing up without a father in the home. Eighty-five percent of our children are born to unmarried parents.

"The Black community is only 12 percent of the United States population, yet our prison population is 47 percent Black. Most Black males who die be tween the ages of 15 and 24 will have been victims of Black-On-Black crime."

Lem Tucker describes inner-city youth as "a crucible of unrest for the future," and warns that if the church doesn't deal with the problem, there will be no hope for the soul of the city.

Above all, caring!

Young people need recreation and a meaningful way to spend their time. Most of all, they need the gospel. Lewis Lampley, pastor of Southside Tabernacle Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, Florida, says, "We've got to take the gospel to their hangouts, where young people gather to participate in their habits. We're going to have to precisely and aggressively develop youth rallies and youth retreats, which would be relatively new to the inner city.

"Politicians and the recreation department leaders don't know about that God-shaped vacuum inside every person," Lampley continues. "They try to take care of the physical and emotional needs of the young people, but they are neglecting the spiritual needs."

Your church can establish a job registry. If a Christian employer in your church needs to hire someone, have him ask the inner-city pastor for a recommendation before placing a "help-wanted" ad in the local newspaper. If an applicant's skills aren't up to par, have someone in your church train him or her.

Consider establishing programs similar to the Big Brother programs, food banks, job banks, and tutoring and/or vocational classes. This not only will help members of the inner-city church but will provide an outlet for your members to serve and minister to others.

Encourage Sabbath school classes and youth departments to engage in service activities to fill needs in the inner city. Perhaps your sister church has a member whose house badly needs painting or repair. Perhaps some mother's child is in the hospital and there is not money for a doctor. Perhaps some man's son is in jail and needs a visitor. There may be a young lady who has never eaten in a restaurant.

What can individuals do to help churches in the inner city? You can do more with others' help, so first try to encourage fellow church members to join you in an effort. If you find yourself quite alone, find an inner-city church you can support, and call the pastor. Tell him or her you would like to pray for his or her ministry, and if there are any needs, you would like to know about them. You can be the bridge that brings individuals from your church together with the needs of the inner-city church.

Can you drive a bus? Play the piano? Repair a car? Paint a sign? Buy sports equipment? Give canned foods? Teach a Bible lesson? Maintain a computer mailing list? Pay a city kid's way to summer camp?

Churches as individuals

Hamon Cross pastors Rosedale Park Baptist Church in Detroit. He feels the most important things are accomplished when suburban churches act as individuals, not corporate bodies. "There is going to come a time when the inner-city body of Christ will need your gifts and abilities. God will provide the opportunity, whether it is to move down there and work or to pray or give money or help us plan. It is not a question of 'Can I be used?' It is a question of 'What do I have?' Whatever you have, God has given it to you to use."

You can consider moving into the inner city and serving as a missionary yourself. John Perkins and his wife settled in one of the worst neighborhoods in Pasadena, California, and established the Harabee Christian Family Center. The center, its name coming from a Swahili cry meaning "Let' s get together and push," offers a school of business for children in grades 5 through 12, Bible clubs, boys' and girls' clubs, and tutoring for adults and children. "Education and success help people get out of the ghetto," Perkins says, "but no one is trained to live in the ghetto and change it."

Paul Parr lives and pastors in the inner city of Philadelphia, and he describes the people of the inner city as being young colts, "Getting to their feet is a struggle. As soon as you think they are up, they are down. You have to be forgiving and loving, and you have to be there with outstretched aims. They have been rejected by everyone who has ever loved them, and to tell them that the love of Christ is different demands that we be different."

And Scott Reese chose to live in the poorest city of America. Whatever you do, remember to have an attitude of humility and love. Suburban churches are not necessarily better; they do not some how have it all together while inner city churches do not. The pastors who live and give their lives downtown deserve our love and respect, and the people who live there cannot be overlooked.

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Angela Elwell Hunt, a free-lance writer, lives in Largo, Florida. One of her latest books, If God Is Real, Where on Earth Is He? is published by Here's Life.

September 1992

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