There’s no step-by-step playbook when it comes to engaging in ministry in an urban context. Engaging in the new urban means restoring dignity and making disciples in the density and diversity of the city. Over the last decade, I’ve pastored a church in Atlanta, led church planting efforts all over North America, and mentored ministry leaders in cities to bring holistic restoration. Through these experiences, these are some of the lessons I’ve learned.
1. Know Well to Love Well
There are plenty of resources out there that teach different methods, systems, and strategies for reaching urban contexts with the Gospel, and some of them are very helpful—but because every city, neighborhood, and street is different, there is no guaranteed, pre-packaged way to reach each one. Because of the transient nature of cities in America, your city and what it needs constantly changes. To engage in meaningful service, you have to actually know your context.
To fill this gap, become a student of your surroundings. Engage your neighbors and coworkers in meaningful conversation. Learn the history of your city or neighborhood. You will have no idea how to apply the Gospel to your context’s specific brokenness until you engage, learn, and address the brokenness firsthand. And without this firsthand understanding, your well-intended service may not actually do any good; or worse, you could unintentionally create more barriers to the Gospel by your ignorance. You can’t love something you don’t know—so learn your context well to love it well.
2. Develop Your Vision from Burden
Just like your city is unique and always changing, your gifts are unique. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy. Your experiences, successes and even your scars are meant to be used by God to advance his Kingdom right where you are—in your city, in your neighborhood, or on your street. Use these things to consider how God might be calling you to engage your community. The heart of God hurts over brokenness, and he often calls us to the places where our heartbreak and his align. Is there any need around you that particularly burdens you? Are there people or situations that you feel Godly compassion towards? These places of burden are where you will develop your most passionate vision for meeting the needs of your context.
When you feel the Godly burden of brokenness, resist the temptation to believe you have nothing to offer. In the parable of the talents, the Master of the House entrusted money to his servants: to the first, he gave 5 talents, to the second he gave 2, and to the other he gave 1. When the Master returned, it didn’t matter how much the servants made. Both the 5-talent servant and the 2-talent servant received the same blessing. The question from the Master was “What did you do with what I gave you?” At the end of our ministry, the measure of success won’t be about how many people came to Christ, or how many churches we planted, or how many people came to Bible study, but how we used what the Master gave us. It doesn’t matter what gifts you have. It matters how you use them.
3. Embrace the Ministry of Presence
In ministry, there is constant pressure to be all things to all people. Especially in urban contexts, the need can feel disproportional to your ability to fill it. There will always be someone else to engage, another need to fill, and another conversation to have, and it can feel overwhelming. Rather than trying to do and fix, focus on just being present. Being present is most of the “ministry” anyway—so wherever God has placed you, be all there. In the city, in your neighborhood, in your church, put down deep roots, and take ownership of what has been given to you. There will always be more “successful” churches, ministries, or non-profits. Trust God, lean in, and be faithful and present where you are.
4. Recapture the Art of Hospitality
In churches today, a common misconception is that “ministry” is reserved for people who hold a church or ministry office. Even for many pastors and ministry leaders, “ministry” is their job that lasts from Sunday morning until they get off of work, and it ends when they go home. The call to “ministry” applies to all believers, and it has no start and end time. Ephesians 4:11-12 says that God has tasked the Church with “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.” These “saints” aren’t just pastors and ministry leaders—it is a command to all believers. This “ministry” is your life’s calling.
Because this command is all-encompassing, it compels us to open up our lives. Until we are okay with welcoming the lost and broken into our lives, even into our physical homes, we can never love and serve them like we’re called to. There are times when boundaries and times of rest call us to close our doors, but these times should only allow us to be even more present when the Sabbath is over. The Gospel comes with an open door. 2 Thessalonians says it this way: “We cared for you so much that we were pleased to share with you not only the Gospel of God, but our own lives as well, because you had become dear to us” (2 Thess 2:8).
5. Stay Connected
The Church is a complicated, messy place. Some of the greatest joys and the deepest pains can happen within the four walls of a church. Depending on your experience, staying connected to the Church in an urban context can carry all kinds of baggage. However, no matter our experience, we were designed by God to rely on the body of Christ. As you engage your context, you need their support.
Urban contexts, and any context affected by sin, can feel hopeless at times. There are always days when it feels like no progress has been made, that darkness and evil are winning, and the Gospel is completely hindered. On these days, we desperately need the encouragement of other believers. And, not just believers that are far off, but believers who can physically show up for you with a word, a hug, or a meal. The body of Christ is not always metaphorical. There is power and grace in the physical presence of the Church, and God designed it that way. For the sake of the Gospel and your neighbor, stay connected to the Church.
Are you interested in this kind of ministry? Or, are you already engaged in this kind of ministry, and feeling isolated or unequipped for the task at hand? MyBLVD’s City Syllabus provides resources to come alongside you in the calling God has on your life to make you a more effective disciple-maker in your context. Join now to get access to encouraging community and effective content so you can thrive where you live, work and worship.