The challenge of urban ministry
The past six months being the pastor at Mountair have been a whirlwind. I went into it primarily focused on building relationships with people and thinking about what we would need to do to turn around a dying church. Both of those things are happening, but what has come to the forefront of my work here that I wasn’t expecting to play such a significant role is how our church and I personally engage poverty, brokenness, and addiction around us.
Mountair is located in a lower/lower-middle class neighborhood. On the parks, in the streets, and at the cheap motels in the surrounding blocks there are scores of people who are homeless or dangling right on the edge. When I was working in suburban churches we’d sometimes have a couple people come in looking for some grocery assistance. Here we have five to thirty-five people a day coming in needing help. We’ve had people who need money for propane to heat their trailer in the middle of winter. Families who need a couple hundred dollars to pay for a cheap motel or their family will be on the street. We’ve had a homeless man come into the building while an irate young man outside tried to get in to beat him up. I’ve had numerous people confess that they are alcoholics (and usually they don’t need to tell me). Some who want to get better and some who have resigned themselves to being drunk for the rest of their lives. These are the things I wasn’t ready for when I came.
Please don’t take this as complaining, because it’s not. Just saying I wasn’t prepared. Not that I could have been totally prepared no matter what. Some of this has to be learned as you go. You can’t learn how to discern whether someone is manipulating money for booze or really needs to get to a job on the bus in a classroom or a book. Urban ministry, especially in poor areas, is extremely challenging. One of the sad things is that I know a number of people and ministries that struggle to get by financially as they try to engage the poor in urban areas. I don’t know the solution, just saying if we can build huge buildings and big productions in the suburbs but can’t fund ministries to the urban poor who get by on almost nothing it’s a problem.
So if you’re working in an urban/impoverished environment, keep going. If you need someone to share stories I’d be glad to do it. If you haven’t really had contact with ministry to the urban poor, take the time to get to know some people or ministries or both that are reaching them. After all, Jesus did say the poor would inherit the kingdom of God. There’s a lot we can learn from them and those who work with them. I’m in that process daily and am so thankful for the people who have been doing this a long time who have taken the time to talk me through some things.