Why I Want Christians to Move to the Inner City
My wife and I were talking before bed a few nights ago. We were reminiscing about the day and she told me about one of the neighborhood kids that had come to our house. Now, it’s not unusual for a neighborhood kid to have made their way into our house. But today, there were several. So, we have a rule at our house: we read before we get any screen time. And because we treat the kids that come over the same as our kids, they were reading with her too.
The short version of this story is one of the kids that was over was the same age as one of our kids. As she read reading with him it became obvious he was significantly behind in his reading skills. SIGNIFICANTLY. Then she moved on to another great ministry opportunity that our daughter had as she walked one of the kids from our house back to theirs. It was obvious that the day was full of both need and ministry opportunities.
And that’s what got us talking. I stood their, almost in shock. I’ve told many friends about the ministry opportunities we see in our lower income, struggling neighborhood. They always seem blown away by how many opportunities we have to serve and love people. And yet, at the end of this day, I was blown away that people could be surprised either at the need or the amount of opportunities. Having lived in this neighborhood for almost a decade, both realities had finally sunk in.
I turned to my wife and said, “You know, if the Lord hadn’t called us to plant churches, I could easily spend the rest of my life going around recruiting believers and teaching them how to do ministry in an inner city context.” And we talked. We talked about how serving in our neighborhood is really easy. We just live life and love people along the way. We open our hearts and our homes. Needs naturally show up and we meet them where God gives us the ability.
We talked about the ministry that many try to do in our neighborhood. We talked about how Christians come to our neighborhood to serve and then leave. We’re thankful for their heart, but we know how they don’t really touch the true need here. How they don’t provide male role models for the boys that don’t have any. How they don’t teach the kids that don’t know how to read. How they don’t mentor the single mom who is stressed from working a job how to love and care for her kids. How they can’t show and sow the Gospel in a way that relates to the people, mostly because they can’t earn trust in such a short amount of time.
I’m not claiming to be an expert. I’ve had a ridiculously poor success rate at reaching people in my neighborhood. But I do see the need. And I’ve learned that I have more opportunities when I’m here more. The more I become part of this neighborhood, the more opportunities I have.
So I dreamed with my wife. I talked about going around to many of the other churches in my city and maybe even other cities to tell them about what I see: about the epidemic fatherlessness that is plaguing our inner cities; about the power that love and faithfulness can have on small children when they see it regularly and not once or twice or even 12 times a year; about how believers in Jesus can help. And then I would call them to come and live there. Notice I didn’t say do something. I would call them to come and live.
And as they live and experience life and pray about what they see, they would be able to respond to the Holy Spirit and meet needs where they could. They could become the guy that reads with a seven year old who should be farther along. They could work with the guy struggling to get off drugs or teach the 19-year-old who was never parented well how to drive her first car. And before they knew it, they would be sharing life and sowing the Gospel.
That’s when reality hit. As weird as it may sound, recruiting people to live in the inner city is not my calling. Planting house churches that embody apostolic Christianity is. So while I can do my part with those around me, spending my life recruiting others to live and serve the inner city would be stepping out of God’s will for my life. I can’t afford to do that.
But what I can do is say this: Some of you this will resonate with this. Some of you reading this will sense the Holy Spirit tapping you on the shoulder as I describe the need. Some of you already know that Jesus has been talking to you about this very subject. If that’s you, then my advice to you is to give in to Him. For most, that will mean selling your current house and moving to a needier neighborhood to do what I’ve described. I say “most” because the kind of ministry I’m describing is not a drive-by type of ministry. It’s not something you can do one Saturday afternoon a month. For most it will involve leaving one place and joining another. It’s a costly and time consuming process.
This is where many will start to argue with me. Having nodded your head through the entire post, you’ll immediately begin to defend your status quo. You could be right, God could be wanting you to be where you are to do ministry there. If so, let this spur you toward be awakened to the need around you. But be very clear that the Lord has called you in this direction. It’s always tempting to play it safe and call that decision “the Lord’s,” but my experience has been safety and the Lord’s calling rarely go hand in hand.
For those who have heard the Lord clearly enough to surrender the arguments, come join me, not in my city, but in the context of need that plagues our inner cities. God will meet us there.
I leave you with a quote from Theresa of Calcutta (better known as Mother Theresa):
Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering, and the lonely right where you are…You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society – completely forgotten, completely left alone.