Urban Ministry

The Wind City Is Primed For a God-Sized Movement


I love the term revival, but I am aware that the word can be loaded, with negative images of a departure from the focus of Jesus and his work of redemption to an overemphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Spiritual revivals must be centered on the work the Holy Spirit was charged to do, leading people to faith in Jesus as the means of their salvation.  With that being said, it is time for Chicago to have a good old fashioned revival.  A reconnection with the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, so that He can produce what the Holy Spirit was sent to do, create faith and change lives.

James Packer in his book, “Your Father Loves you” lays out a biblical three-step approach to revival.  Imagine what our urban centers could become if the Spirit of Pentecost could descend on them fresh in this manner.

The Explanation of Revival

Packer defines a revival as “the visitation of God which brings to life Christians who have been sleeping and restores a deep sense of God’s near presence and holiness. Thence springs a vivid sense of sin and a profound exercise of heart in repentance, praise, and love, with an evangelistic outflow.”

It is hard to argue with this description.  What Christian and nonbeliever alike would not benefit from gaining a deeper sense of God’s presence in their daily live?  Daily prayer and the study of God’s Word are two foundational ways to remain connected to the presence of God.  In our broken world, God’s holiness drives a wedge between God and us because of our sin.  God’s holiness shines brightly on our sins and reveals what perfection truly is, God.  Revival would cause those who are sleeping comfortably in their sin and unaware of their brokenness to awaken to the grace available through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for the restoration of their souls.  Repentance then allows believers to share the forgiveness of sins won for those seeking relief through faith in Jesus Christ.

Packer points out that while each revival movement has its distinctive features, the pattern is the same every time.

  1. God Comes First.

On New Year’s Eve 1739, John Wesley, George Whitefield, and some of their friends held a “love feast” which became a watch night of prayer to see the New Year in. At about 3 a.m., Wesley wrote, “the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground.” Revival always begins with a restorative presence, and a divine connection with the Ancient of Days, God.

Spiritual renewal in Chicago begins with prayer.  I am praying that God’s presence falls fresh on this great city.  God can use believers to create a spiritual movement among us that will transform Chicago.  Every day we hear stories of lives torn apart by gang-related violence, drug addiction, failing education systems, financial hardships, and community services cuts and this ongoing, consistent pain breaks my heart.   There are so many hurting people.  So many broken families and hopelessness in the human spirit. They are people hurt by life’s circumstances.  Families that are dealing with broken dreams, broken relationships, and broken systems.  We don’t need more taxes and government programs we need more of God’s presence among us, flowing through us, transforming us, making us reflect more the presence of our creator. Join with me in praying that God would come first and replace the hole in people’s hearts and lives in Chicagoland. Pray for people to desire God’s presence in their lives.

2.  That Jesus message of salvation is loved as never before.

When I was serving in a congregation in Milwaukee, the one thing that shocked me most was why new members joined our church.  People joined because they said, “your church preaches about salvation with a freshness that, I love like never before.”  We need to teach about Jesus, with such power that people sense God’s nearness.  Our preaching should create an overwhelming awareness of our sins and our sinful nature, and counter sin by preaching with equal boldness, the cleansing power of the blood of Christ.  We are always pointing the masses to the comfort and healing power of the cross of Jesus. People in Chicago need a real Jesus, with real power, which deals with the everyday disappointments and struggles of life.  Chicagoans need a king who powerfully sits on the throne. A king who conquered Satan, sin, and death.  The church proclaims that Jesus is greater than all the forces of darkness around us.  Let’s lift up that Jesus to the City and to the world.

3.  The Spirit’s works multiplication.

Finally, when the Spirit moves, godliness and multiplication happen.  Through the Spirit’s movement, Christians mature in their faith, and those disconnected masses discover the Savior.  Even though Paul was at Thessalonica for less than three weeks, God worked quickly, and Paul left a virile church behind him. The Christian movement is witnessing explosive growth at Pentecost.  This increase was not due to some programs or reproducible material but due to a work of the Holy Spirit.  If Chicago is to truly have a Pentecost movement it will be the work of God through ordinary believers doing extraordinary work. It is my prayer we can see that in my lifetime.  Wouldn’t it be great to see the Windy City on fire with Holy Spirit revival?  Join me in praying for a God-sized movement in the Windy City.

So, what is next?

Find the best and brightest people who have a passion for Chicago and form a task force to pray, dream, seek and execute God’s will for new and revitalize ministry in the Windy City. If you want to know what to specifically pray for pray for that next movement of God.

Congregational Life and Ministry, Urban Ministry, Videos That Will Make you Think

TED Talk: Reimagining Chicago


Theaster Gates, a potter by training and a social activist by calling, wanted to do something about the sorry state of his neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. So he did, transforming abandoned buildings to create community hubs that connect and inspire those who still live there (and draw in those who don’t). In this passionate talk, Gates describes his efforts to build a “miniature Versailles” in Chicago, and he shares his fervent belief that culture can be a catalyst for social transformation in any city, anywhere.

Urban Ministry

Urban Ministry: Are You In This for the Long Haul?


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.

Other posts on Urban Ministry:



Urban Ministry

In Urban Ministry Is Compassion Alone Enough?


Urban Ministry is messy. It involves loving all people. Some come into our stream of consciousness with messy and broken lives. Because of the struggles their lives have gone through that makes our ministry with them will look messy. Our need to include others makes our partnerships with community leaders and congregations outside the comfort zone of our tribe look messy. But our message is unchanged. Our purpose is clear. We preach Christ and Him Crucified! – Keith Haney

I need to begin this discovery process to figure out how we witness to those in our cities. I want you to know my roots. Honest reflection is good for the soul and transparency. I did not grow up in the bright lights of the city. I grew up in a medium size southern city. We had only one tall building in my town and no downtown area. When I graduated from the seminary, I had no desire to do urban ministry. My intern year in Detroit was more than enough of the big city. To be clear, it is not that I was afraid of urban ministry. I know some who are just terrified of being in the city. There are reasons to be fearful or at the very least cautious. Urban pastor’s and congregation on a daily basis face real life and death issues right outside your door. If were to ask those who do ministry in the city they could share stories of real human hurt and pain.

That one story that remains frozen in my memory bank took place over ten years ago. In one parish I served, about twenty minutes after our elementary school’s spring musical there was a drive-by shooting on the steps of our church. I came back the next day and saw the bullet holes. Left in the aftermath was a twenty-four-year-old man whose life was snuffed out and the funeral was at our church. A funeral attended by his fellow gang members. His life shortened and his toddler daughter and unwed mother left with an uncertain future. He had big plans to move to Atlanta and start fresh. The city streets have a way of changing dreams in an instant. Two minutes changed the course of their history in the blink of an eye. I don’t write this post to come off as some know-it-all expert in urban ministry because I am not. It was thirteen years of mistakes and a lot of on the job training. You can check my head for the bumps of experience. If you asked me about how to do ministry in the Deep South that would be an area I could talk about with some level of confidence. Or if you wanted to talk about doing ministry with college students, that was where my passion was, but that door never opened. God placed me in the city centers of Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee and now near Chicago and God said: “Go!” My answer was, “Who me and are You sure?”

So, this is the beginning of a deeper discussion. There are my impression of the challenges and the opportunities the church has to make a positive impact on the city. As Reformed Pastor Tim Keller points out, “It is imperative that the Church understands how to reach out to the expanding cities of the 21st century.” We have to figure this out because studies show that half of the population of the world lives in cities of one million or more. If we don’t reach and disciple this community, our churches will continue to decline, and our pastoral ranks will be diminished.

The needs are great, the resources limited but we are called to help.

I am not a big fan of the writings of James the brother of Jesus. He is a little too blunt at times for my taste. For example, the way he talks about faith in chapter 2. Just read this.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; (ESV) James 2:14–22

People often ask me as a former urban pastor isn’t ministry in the burbs the same as in the city? Don’t all people have “stuff” to deal with in their lives? Isn’t there brokenness all over? Don’t all people need the same, Jesus? The answer to all those questions is a big “YES!” And here it comes, “But” poverty is a major problem in most cities. You cannot do effective urban ministry outreach without addressing the felt needs of the people struggling our communities. Our connecting point with people are the services or ministries our congregations provides to the urban poor under-resourced. There is a collaborative relationship between outreach to the poor and needy and an urban church. As James points out in the verse above it is hard to connect someone to a church who is struggling with the daily concern of having their necessities met. Just saying, Jesus, loves you does not address their needs. Faith is active. The probing theological question asked by James gets right to the heart of the question urban ministry must seek to answer. And this is not only an urban ministry question it is a question the church doing ministry among all people must struggle with as well.  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? James 2:15-16. This post is the starting point of this conversation. It is too big and too important not to give it several weeks to review, discuss, and dream of ways we can make a difference in the lives of those living in our urban backyards. I pray it will generate discussion and maybe together we can explore solutions and brainstorm ministry partnerships to reach those struggling in our cities.

Other posts in this series.