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  • Writer's pictureRandy Nabors


If we want to be effective among the poor we need to be in pursuit of relationships, structure, and purpose; with the personnel to work, build, and direct each one and the resources to oil the flow. One of the fundamental aspects of inner city ministry is being able to meet people in their need and love them into positive solutions. As a local church is built that seeks to minister to the poor it will need to remember each of these aspects, and work to maintain them in strength.

A lady comes into the church office and meets the Deacon. He interviews her and finds out about her life, her present need, and hears her request. He begins to speak to her of life changing and life time solutions, of coming to Christ, of coming to and becoming part of the church. He is speaking to a young mother with a bunch of children, several different fathers and all the dads in prison.

She seems to be interested, she says she wants to come to church, and asks for someone to come and pick her and her children up. This is the place where the Deacon comes up short, and it is a moment of frustration.

When inner city ministry begins, with someone who decides he or she will minster to those in poverty, they begin to form relationships. Often these relationships grow into extended families; one sibling, one parent, grandparent, one child, one cousin after another as the web of friendships develop. Some of these relationships will end in a ride to court or prison, some will end in the funeral home, some will carry on for years and decades, and some will produce disciples of Jesus who will live out their lives in faith.

Some of these friendships will carry with them discouragement and despair as young girls get pregnant and keep the poverty cycle going, teens drop out of school, fall into gangs and thug life. Some of these friendships begin with children who are bright eyed and full of promise, moldable, eager to learn new things. Some of these same children will grow into young adults that become truculent, distant, caught up in a world of easy sex, crime, drugs, and instability and no longer responsive to the friends that once carried them here and there and told them of Jesus.

Many inner city ministries begin with one person or one family beginning, developing, and building intense relationships with inner city residents. When one is a Gospel minister this situation can make the servant of God feel extremely important to that particular person and family. There are temptations in this relationship; to feel like a hero, indispensable, messianic. Another temptation is to think that these intense relationships are the be all and end all of ministry. It can often lead to anger and burn out as the needs of even a few close friendships of the poor can be overwhelming. The urban worker resents the fact that no one else sees how important this work is and won’t come and help them.

Sometimes, in the hubris of good work and the feeling that no one can do it like them, the urban worker can resist building a team, or even more strategic, a church. Sometimes when a church is begun it never grows further than the few intense relationships that the urban pastor or church planter can maintain. Sometimes when a church is built the development of intense relationships with the urban poor is abandoned for programs and activities, which don’t always maintain the momentum of relationships in the same intimate way. There is loss in either direction.

This is why it is so important that the workers be increased so that relationships can be maintained, and begun with new people. It is also important that the number of workers be increased so that effective structure can be established for the programs, ministries, and services that enable what happens in relationships to evolve into the personal development of those the urban minister is seeking to love. Without an overall purpose to the ministry, without structure to take people beyond what a friendship can provide, we are left with relationships and friendships which are meaningful, but don’t produce long term community change.

Recruiting, training, and deploying effective urban ministry workers is something the urban pastor has to have constantly in mind. He can raise his own through discipleship of indigenous folk, and this should be his highest goal. He can also seek to “radicalize” the middle class, teaching them cross cultural skills, and along with indigenous folk, teaching them to develop a humble servant like Jesus attitude.

This is what the Deacon needed to help the single parent mom. If he only had one family to help maybe he could give all his time to help her, to provide the transportation she needed. Since he has many to help he needs someone else, or better yet, a team of folks to come alongside that woman. Her needs are immense, and a ride to church won’t get it done. Yet, a ride to church is a beginning and someone to do it faithfully would have been a blessing. A church bus with a faithful driver would have been a blessing. Yet without building a structure to have those resources ready the Deacon is left frustrated.

The resources to have a full time Deacon, to have a church bus, to pay a driver are all needed. The resources to supplement this woman in her rent, utilities, food, etc. are all going to be needed over time. Men to mentor and coach her children will be needed. Older women to counsel, coach, and encourage her are going to be needed. Job training, job placement, job creation or whatever it takes to give her a new life and new direction are going to take people, programs, and money. Inner city churches need an army of saints recruited, trained, and deployed to effectively minister in a place of great need.

In spite of all that the Deacon doesn’t have, or doesn’t have yet, he still has the hope that the Gospel is powerful. That a single parent mom coming to faith can experience the powerful work of the Holy Spirit in her life, and give her the tenacity and hope to rise above the hole she is already in is surely a miracle, but one that has happened many times, and by the grace of God will happen again.

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