I have always been fascinated with new church starts. There is something special about individuals and groups of people who feel called to birth a new faith community. Last week on my way to church I noticed a sign advertising the location, website and worship times for a new church start. By the time I arrived at church I was checking out the website on my phone. The first place I always go is to the staffing section. In this particular case there was a team of four couples. Everyone was young and had a real cool bio. Each of them was called by God to serve in the inner city. They were committed to racial and economic diversity. Just based on the web site this new church was full of possibility.
Every year I meet with folks who feel called by God to serve the city. I have been around just long enough that occasionally I get asked for advice. If I were to give the leaders of this new church some advice here are two things I would tell them:
1. Be present. The best advice I ever received came during my first week at DOOR. “Don’t tell us how to do anything until you have been here 10 years.” I have a friend who likes to tell visitors that when he first came to Denver’s Westside in 1965 he figured it would take two, maybe three, years to “fix” the poverty issue and then he would move on to another poor community. It is 2012 and he is still on the Westside. You see, when we choose to stay in a neighborhood the “issues” quickly fade into the background and the people become important. When people trump issues it becomes very difficult to impose institutional solutions on friends.
I very rarely find myself thinking about the poverty on Denver’s Westside. It is true that my friends have less financial resources than many suburbanites but their commitments to family, food, and fellowship have changed how I view poverty. This would have never happened if I had not been told to “hang out for 10 years and get to know us.”
Church leaders would do well to spend more time hanging out and less time preaching sermons!
2. If it isn’t mutual it isn’t ministry. I was first drawn to urban ministry because I wanted to make a difference. Secretly I really wanted to be the urban hero. Over the years I have spoken to countless people who feel called to urban ministry. In every one of these conversations we eventually end up talking about the “needs” of the city and how they feel called to help make a difference.
I am the first one to admit that there are needs in the city. Violence and drugs are but two obvious concerns. What is so often overlooked in many people’s rush into urban ministry is the call of God on the lives of the people from the city. I am so grateful to the urban men and women who have invested into the lives of my boys. They have helped to guide my wife and me through the difficult maze of parenting. They have stood by us and offered encouragement, love and acceptance even when we have felt like failures.