The urban centers of America are in dire need of answers which are ultimately found within the framework of Christianity. Marriages that hurt so badly divorce seems like the only option, a level of fatherlessness which continues to rise daily, and teenagers who have never been taught the beauty of manhood and womanhood are still issues plaguing our urban communities.
There can be no more important task for the churches that serve these communities, than to restore broken families. The reality is that these families have been torn apart by factors that seem beyond the control of the local church to solve. We become intimidated and fail to engage because we know the weight of doing so and the possibility of failure once we put ourselves out there.
Since no two city centers are the same, this calls for ministers who understand the unique needs of each of their specific contexts. In his book, Urban Apologetics, Pastor Chris Brooks says that “it takes at least a decade of intense, consistent, and strategic messaging to turn around in the disposition of a community toward family.”
He goes on to add;
“The pulpit is arguably the greatest platform for urban revolution and change. Therefore, persuading pastors of the necessity of preaching explicitly clear pro-marriage, pro-family sermons is crucial. The more a community hears a theme or topic reinforced through biblical sermons, the more open they will be to the significance of applying the message.”1
If the greatest platform for urban change and renewal is to be found in the lives of Christian men and women, what is it that needs to be done by them? Here are three things to think through as you build a strategy for reaching out and ministering to city centers across the nation.
What does Justice look like in those communities?
There are few sets of issues as intrinsic to the identity of minorities than those of liberty and freedom. Decades of wounds from discrimination have driven deep wedges into the hearts of these families. For that reason, the language of equality has made great inroads by leaders who sought the welfare of the city. (Jer. 29:7)
What does it look like practically, to “act justly and love mercy?” (Mic. 6:8) In the Bible we are commanded, more than once, to stand against all types of injustice while at the same time challenging us to look after the widows and care for the poor. As ministers of hope, things like being a voice for the marginalized should be an essential part of the church’s outreach.
What do urban families need the most?
We’ve already noted that fatherlessness is an issue which affects nearly every family. This is a trend which is being challenged by men who are stepping in where the father is absent in the home.
Recently a community in Dallas rallied around a school in need of volunteers. “More than 600 men showed up to a ‘Breakfast with Dads’ event, where students are encouraged to bring their fathers, or father figures in their lives, for breakfast.”2
The need was met by men who were willing to step into the lives of the 150 students who may not have had a “dad” to join them for breakfast. With a goal of only 50 volunteers, the event organizers were overwhelmed to witness the passion of more than 600 men who were willing to step in to meet the needs of an entire community.
How do these communities work with pluralism?
Not only must minister of Christ be exegetes of the Scriptures, they must be exegetes of culture. Furthermore, they need a working knowledge of other worldviews which have infiltrated cities at a rapid pace, including, worldviews like Secularism and Islam.
Only when we can be vulnerable enough to allow those from other faiths into our lives, will they see the Spirit of God working in and through our families. It is then we can begin to model for them what the gospel is and how it affects every area of life.
The city can be an overwhelming place. The multi-faceted and complex issues facing urban families need to be addressed winsomely and wisely. The outlook for families may seem bleak but the opportunities abound for the local church.
The most potent weapon we possess is an authentic life lived under the authority of God and founded on the Word of God. In the context of a Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered church this looks like a thriving community of healthy believers.
If we are to be change agents in the city, we must be willing to invite those people into our doors who may be outside the family of God. When a flourishing church reproduces mature believers, whole communities take notice of the lives compassionately lived out and poured out for the benefit of the city, to the glory of God.
1. Brooks, Chris. Urban Apologetics: Answering Challenges to Faith for Urban Believers. Kregel Publications: Grand Rapids, 2014, pp. 106.