Four Postures to Avoid when Working in an Urban Center
1. Assume you are the only one.
We live in a city! There are hundreds or even thousands of others who care about the city and want to make a difference. Of course we bring our unique personalities, talents, experiences and organizational cultures, but there are probably others who have a similar philosophy of ministry or are attempting to do similar things like us. Assume there are other churches, ministries and individuals working or praying for what we’d like to see. Seek them out, learn from their experience and assume there are others until we are proven wrong.
2. Think that you have THE solution.
Urban centers are, by their nature, complex and dynamic. The solutions that lead to positive change will also be multi-faceted. However, when we are drawn to work in an urban center, we often view the challenges too simplistically in an effort to make the problem more manageable. Then we position ourselves to solve the problem. We would not say it out loud (who claims they can single-handedly meet the physical or spiritual needs of mega-cities like Tokyo or Mexico City?), but our actions reveal that we have ignored the complexity of the city. In essence, we have positioned ourselves—or our form of ministry—as the solution.
An over-inflated view of our approach to ministry can be particularly acute when fundraising. We can feel the need to overemphasize how valuable or effective our particular ministry is. However, a simplistic or narrow view of ministry in a city will not position us to collaborate with others who have a similar vision or heart. Pointing out the flaws of other ministry approaches, rationalizing a lack of partnership or inflating the potential impact of our ministry philosophy can be signs that our convictions and passions are pushing us to take on an arrogant—or minimally independent—posture.
3. Assume those before you were ineffective.
Sure, you may be working in a city that has been the victim of poor ministry practices or unsuccessful initiatives. It may be easy to look back with a critical eye at what some churches or organizations have attempted over the years. But failure is one of the greatest teachers and often helps refine our decisions and actions for future success.
Have you ever considered what was learned through ineffective, unsuccessful or unfruitful ministries before you? Perhaps it reveals something unique about the context that needs to inform future ministry. Perhaps the failure of previous leaders brought about humility and a desire to be more supportive of one’s peers? Perhaps the lack of success caused some new thinking and a freedom for others to be innovative down the road. Seek to learn about and build upon the history of ministry before you, rather than being critical of it.
4. Focus on your differences.
Ministry in urban centers demands diversity of theology, ministry, demographics, approaches, locations and styles. If we focus on our differences, we will build walls rather than bridges. Let’s focus on the 5 percent we have in common with other Christians rather than the 95 percent in which we disagree.