Wednesday has become one of my favorite days of the week. A little over a year ago, I was invited to start attending the weekly pastoral staff meeting at the church my family attends. Pastor Phil felt that I had a unique “urban perspective,” given the amount of travelling I do. It is true that my job provides me with the opportunity to visit with many different urban pastors and church leaders every year.
To be perfectly honest I went to that first meeting thinking that I had something to contribute. Within 10 minutes those thoughts disappeared.
(Before I go further, I need to tell you about the church our family attends – His Love Fellowship. It is a Hispanic congregation of about 450 attendees with multi-cultural tendencies. It is located on Denver’s West Side and by every definition is an urban church. So it should come as no surprise that my Anglo family is in the minority.)
Before arriving at the first staff meeting I was feeling confident. After all I wasn’t new to the West Side. 15 years of working with DOOR had taught me a thing or two about the urban reality. My experience wasn’t just in Denver; I was (am) the National Director of an urban education program. In addition to Denver, DOOR also works in Hollywood, San Antonio, Chicago, Atlanta and Miami.
It was the 11 minute mark of my first staff meeting when it began to dawn on me. I wasn’t the one who was going to offer perspective but rather it was my pastors who were going to offer me perspective.
One of my most significant realizations in the past year has to do with a trap Anglos easily fall into – thinking we understand urban reality. In my case I thought that 15 years of urban ministry had transformed me into a “real” urban person. In some ways this is true. But in many other ways it isn’t. I will never know the pain of being looked down upon because of my skin color. I have never had to live with other folks thinking that I am needy, poor or uneducated simply because I am not white.
My reflections could go for quite a while. However, today I want to talk to other Anglos who have felt a call to urban ministry. One of the biggest temptations you will face is to start your own thing. We couch these temptations in all kinds of spiritual language.
“God has called me to plant an inner city church.”
“I have been lead to work among the urban poor.”
It is not my purpose to challenge that call. However, I want to offer some advice. I wish I could claim to have learned this the easy way. Before you can bring Jesus to the city, you first need to figure out where Jesus is working. One of the best ways that you can do this is to resist the temptation to start your own thing. Spend time getting to know the pastors and leaders who are already on the ground working and ministering. My guess is that they will not be doing things your way, but that is OK. Don’t even consider planting a new church until you have spent at least five years in a church that is already in the neighborhood.