What Not To Do When Working in an Urban Center
6. Write off all outside help or ideas.
This is the other opposite extreme to the blog post on the fifth posture (“Readily adopt successful ministry ideas from other contexts”) that isn’t helpful when working in an urban context.
This attitude assumes that NOTHING will work unless it’s our creation or originates in our context. It takes the perspective—albeit a slightly arrogant one—that our circumstances are so unique nothing else will work.
In a city, though, this can hardly be true. It is highly likely that another’s idea or ministry approach might be relevant to someone or a subculture in your city. Sure, it may need adjustments. Some good analysis regarding what should be removed, added, tweaked or kept the same is appropriate. But the spiritual diversity of the city should push us to consider where or with whom it might be relevant to collaborate with the appropriate adjustments.
For example, there is a ministry that seeks to serve those in need and on the margins of society by coordinating volunteer help. It began in Brussels, Belgium and has spread to other contexts. Some have said that it wouldn’t work in their city because the value of volunteerism isn’t nearly as strong or the local organizations are not as open to volunteer help.
In some locations, those statements are true. But each location recognizes those challenges and has had to consider how their strengths might be relevant and perhaps even mirror some of the values already held locally. In many cities where they have launched, despite initial concerns, even small efforts to mobilize volunteers from a Christian perspective has helped to bring visibility to local outfits and connect individuals who are looking for a way to give back to or get involved in their community.
There is also freedom for the organization to look different in each city, reflecting the local leadership, needs of the city and rhythms of city life. In Berlin, there are monthly projects and ongoing projects during the week, while other cities schedule projects on a quarterly or weekly basis. Each city has unique challenges, but each city has also adapted to those challenges and made adjustments for their context.
Instead of throwing out different approaches or methods, consider what changes could be made in order to make the ministry effective and reflect local values. Let new ideas expand your thinking, deepen your understanding of the local dynamics and context, and sharpen your own approach—even if you decide in the end that it’s not the right fit for your context.