Urban Ministry Strategies are how Christian leaders can make a positive change in the community they live and work in.
I. ANNUNCIATING GOD’S KINGDOM AND REVERSING MISERY, SUFFERING, AND INJUSTICE
When reading Mark R. Gornik’s book, To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City, I found what I believe to be the underlying purpose of the work he completed in Sandtown when he writes, “Annunciating the kingdom will mean that instead of accepting the inner city as it is and offering words of future consolation, Christians will work to reverse the misery, suffering, and injustice that too often grip it” (Mark R. Gornik, To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City, 29). This statement reflects what the true call to Christians should be when we enter into an inner city to serve.
A. Annunciating God’s Kingdom
Annunciating God’s kingdom means we seek to reverse the progress of most inner cities having more vacant homes, more crime, fewer job opportunities, and poorer education. I agree with Gornik that our response as Christians is to point toward God and the promise He gives to us. We are to find cutting edge ways and fresh solutions (not cookie cutter models) to serve communities and help them transform into a productive and enjoyable place to live.
B. Reversing Misery, Suffering, and Injustice
Gornik goes further in explaining his point of seeking to reverse misery, suffering, and injustice when he talks about the biblical theme and necessity for “shalom.” In seeking peace for their town, Gornick writes thta New Song Community Church’s “concern was not the delivery of social services. At best, that would address some of the consequences of exclusion; at worst, it would develop dependency. Instead, our goal was to strengthen both families and the community so that they could address their own needs in dignity and in mutuality” (p. 181). Gornik has a great perspective upon entering Sandtown because he knows New Song Community Church is there to provide help that will develop the families and the community in ways so they may address their own needs. This quote reminds me of Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life by Robert D. Lupton who believes in only helping communities who are active in the process because it preserves the human dignity of the people being served. Lupton would agree with Gornik that social service programs only develop dependency; they do not strengthen the community. Gornik did not have the false assumption that to help the community his church needed to provide services that would save the people from their misery, suffering, and injustice. Instead, he knew that his church needed to help the community develop systems that would allow change to take place.
II. TWO QUESTIONS FOR GORNIK
A. Did you know all this before starting ministry?
Reading Gornik’s book has inspired and encouraged me by seeing how much deep theological understanding and reflection he has on the necessity and biblical methods of serving inner cities. A question I have for him is, did you have this theological understanding before moving to Sandtown? Knowing what he knows seems to have helped him determine what New Song needed to focus on and dedicate its time and resources to. I would like to know how much of what Gornik writes in his book he actually knew before entering the community and what he had to learn along the way.
B. How do you create energy to do inner city ministry?
Another question I have for Gornik relates to his commentary on the book of Nehemiah in the chapter, “Out of the Ruins” when he observes, “Once this task of rebuilding the wall and the city has been clearly articulated, a challenging yet achievable project, it created its own energy, enabling people to do more than they thought they could. It would be the catalytic event of their new story” (Mark R. Gornik, To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City, 137). My question is, how do you create that “energy” the Israelites had after Nehemiah cast vision for the rebuilding of the wall? As inner city leaders we must not develop dependency in the neighborhoods we serve, but instead do things that help the people create their own energy.
While reading, A Heart for the Community I have enjoyed learning about the importance of listening, which many of the contributing writers emphasize in their work. As I have learned from one of my professors, “Nothing will work all the time, but something will work some of the time.” Listening seems to be the key component in every inner city neighborhood because it helps ministers learn and realize what the neighborhood needs.
An example is from the chapter, “’Exegeting’ Your Community: Using Ethnography to Diagnose Needs” where John Fuder uses the example of how Nehemiah “gets the news about the state of disrepair of Jerusalem, he goes out and conducts research, thoroughly ‘inspecting the walls’ (Neh. 2:13,15). He then [emphasis added] builds community” (John Fuder, A Heart for the Community, 72). Fuder helps us to realize that Nehemiah practices listening to and researching the community he is about to serve. He then begins to build the community only after he has done his research and listened.
B. Believe in Others
Another common attitude I have noticed is that the contributors of A Heart for the Community have a strong belief in the people who live in their communities to help fix problems. In the chapter, “New Wineskins: Paradigm Shifts for the Church,” the writers tell us that, “Every community, no matter how outwardly desperate, has assets and contributions” (Scott Clifton and Jacksons Crum, A Heart for the Community, 136). The writers continue, “Coaching is the process of coming alongside a person or team to help them discover God’s agenda for their life and ministry, and then cooperating with the Holy Spirit to see that agenda become a reality” (Scott Clifton and Jacksons Crum, A Heart for the Community, 136). This is great to read and see because, as the Bible tells us, out of our hearts come the words and actions we speak (Matthew 12:34-35). If we have views of the people in our neighborhood that they cannot do anything without us, it is going to show in what we say and do. Instead, the best and most effective way to help our neighborhoods is to express our belief in them and their ability to make change and be leaders.
IV. TWO MORE QUESTIONS
A. How do you know when you have listened enough?
One question I have for the contributors of A Heart for the Community is, when working in a neighborhood how do you know when you have listened enough to start to organize people around a vision or a problem? If all we do is go into a community to listen to the needs and problems, then we are not ministers, we are researchers. My question is how, do we gauge the community and sense when we have listened to them to the point that we are ready and they are ready to start organizing the community together to make change?
B. How do we encourage people to act on the assets that they already have?
Another question I have for these contributors is, if we are going to believe that our community has “assets and contributions” (Scott Clifton and Jacksons Crum, A Heart for the Community, 136) that will help improve their neighborhood, how do we encourage and motivate the community to act on those assets and contributions? I can easily see communities and neighborhoods who do not care very much about where they live and how it is. Yes, the people there have many assets and contributions they can share, but what if they are not willing to share them? I remember an instance at United Way of Stanislaus County where one of our funding committees were meeting talking about how we could improve the Airport District in Modesto which is known as one of the two “ghetto” areas of our city. Members of our community brainstormed ideas and ways we wanted to help the Airport District. But the reality is that no one on our committee was from that part of the city, and the people who work and live there do not care very much. They have been content with the way things are and there has not been much desire for them to improve their neighborhood. I know and others know that the people living in that area have tremendous potential to change where they live, but how do we get the people living and working in that area to see potential they have and act on it?
V. MOBILIZING VOLUNTEERS AND STEWARDING YOUR TIME
A. Mobilize Volunteers
While reading, A Heart for the Community seeking to learn about urban ministry, the two most impactful statements/thoughts both came from the chapter, “Mobilizing the Suburban Church: Moving Toward a Lifestyle of Compassion” (Alvin C. Bibbs Sr., A Heart for the Community, 326-335). In that chapter Alvin Bibbs is sharing why it is important to mobilize volunteers when he writes, “The first thing that needs to happen before a church attempts to mobilize volunteers is to be clear on the mission. Tell the church why it is important” (Ibid., 328). I believe Bibbs is right: we need to tell potential volunteers why it is important that they volunteer. There might be many reasons that a church wants its volunteers to be locally vested into their community, and it is up to the church to be clear on that mission by sharing it with the people on a regular basis. Additionally, people are extremely busy and they must know why the call for volunteers at church is more important than the Rotary Club fundraiser, their favorite TV show (heaven forbid they would miss TV!), or invitations from Christian friends for activities. When a church communicates what its mission is for mobilizing volunteers and why it is important, that is key to starting it well and being focused on doing the most good in their community.
B. Steward Your Time
Another statement that has resonated with me from this book is when Bibbs states, “God’s Kingdom is expanded as people steward their time, spiritual gifts, and material resources toward initiatives to ease the suffering of people who have tremendous needs” (Ibid., 334). This is very true for the simple fact that the poor, disabled, and disenfranchised are often forgotten about. This is no one’s fault, it is a simple fact of how a society operates within a capitalistic economy where everything functions around the bottom line and making money. People who are poor, disabled, and disenfranchised do not have extra money to spend on extra “stuff”. Thus they are often not solicited for their time or money. This means that when we as Christians reach out to these groups we are reaching people who are not touched as much as others. When we spend our time, use our spiritual gifts, and material resources to help others it helps to expand God’s kingdom to others who might not be as reached as others in our community.
VI. TWO QUESTIONS
A. How do you equip people for projects?
A question I have for Bibbs is, how do you help people volunteer for projects that serve others in ways that (as Lupton would say) develop them?[ref]Robert D. Lupton, Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2007).[/ref] In other words, how do we keep people from volunteering for projects that create dependency among the people being served and belittle the person receiving services? Robert Lupton talks about this being an important element in positively changing communities and I think that if we are going to mobilize people to volunteer from our churches, we need to make sure that those people are actually helping the issue by developing others through their service, not be creating dependency (Ibid., 38-51). But, how do we do that?
B. How many niche ministries are not being filled?
Another question I have is, how many other “niche” ministries are there that are not being filled? This question steps from John Green’s chapter, “Loving the Sexually Broken: The World of Male Prostitution (Emmaus Ministries)” (John Green, A Heart for the Community, 388-400). I am surprised about how common male prostitution is. I would never have guessed that 42 percent of prostitution arrests are male (Ibid., 393). The thought I am wrestling with is if this is such a dramatic problem that is so common yet I have never thought about it, what other issues and problems are there that need to be addressed? What other “niche” ministers need to be created to specific people in specific situations in a similar way to male prostitution?