But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7
How would our attitude toward urban ministry change if we got a letter like the exiles received in Jeremiah 29? Here is the letter God sent to His people.
“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” Jeremiah 29:10–14.
In Jeremiah 29 there is a conflict brewing between Jeremiah and the religious leaders. Jeremiah had written a letter to the exiles in Babylonia, encouraging them to abandon any false hopes that this exile will be short-lived (verses 1–9). In fact, this punishment would last seventy years before the Lord would restore His people.
Urban ministry is about having a settled-in mindset.
If Christians go into urban ministry thinking that they are in it for a season and not in this for the long haul they will struggle to be effective. As we have discussed in the previous post, the challenges facing the urban centers of our world are not easily solved. The problems are complex. Those challenges have formed over decades of failure and abandonment, so to think you can solve them quickly is a bit naïve. It is also insensitive and destructive to people’s hope to start something, lift expectations, give them a glimpse of glory and then pull the rug out from under them before any lasting change is in place. For them, they would rather you not try than to promise something you can’t deliver. Hope is fragile in the city. Many ministry servants have made promises, many dreams have been dashed in the past. What the residents cannot stomach is another fly-by-night promise maker.
What is needed in urban ministry is a commitment to stick it out. A determination that through hell or high water this leader is planning to ride this through to the bitter end. You are committed to working through the frustrations, have the ability to overcome disappointment, settle for small wins and huge defeats. That you have the spiritual capacity to point hurting people to the only true source of strength, our Lord, and Savior Jesus Christ. The work days will be long and the pathway ahead filled with potholes. And in the end, you may never get praise or a pat on the back for your efforts. On the contrary, people will most likely be suspicious of you and question your methods and your motives. Welcome to urban ministry. Are you ready to sign up? There is not a long waiting list of volunteers, the burbs are much more in demand.
Calling all courageous leaders with integrity!
In order to be a leader, a man must have followers. And to have followers, a man must have their confidence. Hence the supreme quality of a leader is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, on a football field, in an army, or in an office. If a man’s associates find him guilty of phoniness, if they find that he lacks forthright integrity, he will fail. His teachings and actions must square with each other. The first great need, therefore, is integrity and high purpose. – Dwight D. Eisenhower, Bits & Pieces, September 15, 1994, p. 4.
To borrow and alter a quote from my favorite leadership guru, Rev. John Maxwell, urban ministry rises and falls on leadership. The better the leader the greater the needs you will be tested to solve. As your competency level grows the demand will rise up to meet that growth.
As we bring this discussion to a close here are some qualities an urban leader needs to meet the opportunities before the ministry.
Spiritual Gift Awareness
Because the leader will be tempted to try and be all things to all people, it is imperative that the leader is able to discern his/her gifts for ministry. This is deeply rooted in the belief that each of us is uniquely gifted by the Holy Spirit for ministry. Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
This helps define the areas where the individual might be best suited to lead in the church and focus on achieving the plan God has laid out for the ministry.
Spiritual gifts paired with the passion for ministry help provide the fuel leaders need to develop into high-impact leaders. Spiritual gifts without God-directed passion are simply gifts. When gifts are united with passion, people move toward their dreams of becoming impactful leaders.
Once the gifting and passion for ministry are in place now comes the hard part, seeing the vision through. Tying this into the opening the leaders needs to be willing and determined to commit to following the vision through to completion. This does not discount the possibilities that other commitments such as family, professional, or personal can prevent someone from staying until the mission is complete. What I am saying is that often we leave right before God’s blessings come from all the hard work that was laid before. Unless God clearly is moving on to a new challenge, give it your best. Your work in the Lord is not done in vain.
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