Thursday, July 01, 2004

Urban Ministry - Communicating Contextually

I one time asked someone if they had a book on urban ministry. I was taking a course on urban ministry and was required to read a certain number of pages. It was funny that the person thought I was using the phrase as a euphemism for Afro-American ministry. Perhaps he was thinking of Tony Evans' radio show, the Urban Alternative, which by the way I recommend. But what I really meant was a book about ministry in the city. The city is where most people live today, but we are resistant to embrace the city. New Yorkers are probably the only people I see saying they love their city. Movies like "You've Got Mail" can idealize New York, but Dallas is idealized by living several miles away on a big ranch. By the way, a lot of people have contrasted the suburban and urban experience. I've come to the conclusion that there is no need to do so. America has a romance with the outdoors, but really lives in the city. Our lives are disconnected from our idealized life we wish we had. The suburbs are an attempt at a meaningful middle ground, city and rural. If a pastor today is going to embrace the city, they do so to embrace the people. Isn't that what cities are all about, people?

The lectures by Glenn Smith were formative in my own ideas about urban ministry. He works in a ministry, Christian Direction Inc., Montreal, Quebec. The "big take away" from the course was that we need to understand our context by studying it. Then pray and adjust our strategy for ministry on the community needs. I have come to discern a slight error in how the call from ministry as I understood it growing up. Growing up we talked a great deal about a sense of call from God. There is another part to the call that is important, a sense of need to do God's work, regardless of talent, and the need in the community. I'm not discounting that subjective experience totally, but subordinating it to the need for people to hear from God.

The city is a place where there is a mixture of many messages and needs. To adequately address the needs in the church needs a clear understanding of the message and plan how to get that message out. We need to counter the false messages that are going out which actually put people in bondage. Referring to yesterdays posting here, we need a full spectrum communication: mercy ministry, apologetics, personal proclamation, media and the arts. This strategy must never try to replace preaching, but all should re-enforce the preaching of the Word.
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