He (Jesus)will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:41–46 (ESV)
Almost the moment I unpacked my boxes and set up my office in my first urban congregation in Detroit the verse above tormented me. It felt like Jesus was walking up and down the streets of my Detroit neighborhood and reporting what He saw that often I wanted to ignore. I was called to pastor this church not the community, right? Jesus sees the hurt, the pain, the broken lives, I was safe and secure in my office. I could spend hours crafting that awesome sermon and worship experience for Sunday. But this verse kept haunting me. Adding clarity to this verse. Jesus is informing His followers that your actions are evidence of a life of devotion to him. Matthew is not preaching works righteousness here. It is a mistake to read the text that people who do good things will punch their ticket to heaven. Quite the opposite, he is telling us that good works of service are an evidence of true discipleship and authentic faith. This is the kicker, those who are saved by faith are judged by their works. Our works show how much they will deny ourselves and take up our cross in the service of God and others. This is our starting point today.
What is one of the main challenges of the urban ministry? Poverty!
Poverty is a central issue plaguing most cities.
For the church to witness in urban areas, it must address the poverty issues in your neighborhood. The difficulty rests in the reality that poverty is complex. Poverty’s issues are various and interrelated. Many experts list sixteen areas of life that must be covered in depth. Those areas are:
drug and alcohol addiction,
underemployment and unemployment rates higher than the national average,
financial planning and management,
immigration issues legal and undocumented,
recreation opportunities for children,
healthy stable relationships,
a safe sanctuary to escape crime,
and reliable transportation.
The problem is widespread, but we can develop a strategy to solve it. To truly make an impact in the life of each individual you must assess each situation to determine what help they need in those sixteen crucial areas of life.
As churches, we can usually meet spiritual needs, but as you can see with all the other factors working against us, how effective is our witness? It may seem like we are just putting our finger in a dam to plug a hole while the dam is leaking is a thousand other places. Drug and other addictions are prevalent in the urban context. People experience the devastating effects of crime on a regular basis in their daily lives. And try as you might to overcome the streets the unemployment rate in the inner city is above the national average. In part due, poor education systems that fail to provide students with marketable skills and adequate jobs preparation. All of the this creates a failed system that lacks sufficient employment opportunities to break the cycle of dependence on the government assistance to rescue the next generation. The failed system creates the never ending cycle where to residents cannot produce adequate finance resources to improve their impoverished communities. That leads to a sort of black market system of bartering in the inner city culture. EBT cards and other resources are used like currency and exchanged for cash, shoes, and other items. That is the system we are forced to operate in to share Christ with a broken and failing system.
How do we fix this?
If the church takes the words of Jesus in Matthew 25 to heart we must address the issues facing our cities face in a holistic way. Community Development is the key. This development processes by which local partners are identified and mobilized to transform the community into what God intends it to be a place where we clothed the naked, feed the hungry, welcome the immigrant stranger, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner.
According to Bob Lupton, our focus should not be on charity, which he calls betterment, but, on development. “Betterment does for others; development enables others to do for themselves.” How this plays out in our witness to those in need is that urban churches and ministries are concerned and aware of what is happening in the community. Then the churches take the next step and develop ways with other partners in the community to create solutions to the problems in their community.
I will leave you with these as idea starters. More on this next week. Please share your thought and stay tuned as we go deeper.
Key Elements of Community Development:
Christian Community Development, according to John Perkins, consists of ministries to the poor that:
- Begin with felt needs of the people in the community.
- Respond to those needs in a holistic way
- Are based on clear biblical principles
- Are “time-tested”
- Develop and utilize leaders from within the community
- Encourage relocation – living among the poor
- Demand reconciliation – people to God and people to people
- Empower the poor through redistribution – all community members
- Sharing their skills, talents, education, and resources to help each other
When our faith moves us action it manifests itself in what Matthew describes in the first half of the opening verse.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’- Matthew 25:34–40 (ESV)
This example is the of faith that proves to be a strong witness to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. More on urban ministry next Tuesday.
More on urban ministry in the weeks ahead. Check in on Tuesday’s: