Just as the Apostle Paul proclaimed that only in his weakness was he strong, inner-city church planters and pastors often find that in the darkest moments, the light does shine the brightest. With little hope that we will have many resources, we find new and fresh ways to get the gospel into as many hands and hearts as possible.
Tension #3: Surviving vs. Thriving
I can count on two hands the number of books authored by ethnic minorities that focus on inner-city ministry and missions. I regularly pull from those like Manuel Ortiz, Eldin Villafañe, and Tom Skinner, but many of these are over ten years old. Indeed, I and others have learned how to lead well in inner-city contexts despite lacking context-specific published resources from which to glean. On top of that, we’ve learned how to press on despite a deficiency of financial resources; many inner-city pastors have no plan for retirement or large savings.
The current model for inner-city church planters is one where, when a crisis comes, everything can easily collapse. The majority are barely getting by. We’ve embraced a theology of suffering and hope that can be valuable to those in other contexts and have built relational structures across divides that ought to be a model in today’s contentious world (Philippians 2). Inner-city church planters and pastors have much to offer to the rest of the Church on topics such as leadership, bridge-building, disciple-making, and peacekeeping. But this can only happen if those in positions of power allow for a new model to develop.
To align with the all-nations vision of Jesus (Matthew 28), we must rebuild the scaffolding of church planting and pastoring to include inner-city church planters—especially those of color—at the foundation of the work.
Inner-city church planters have learned to survive well as they bring the gospel to the hard places. But what many of those outside of these contexts don’t see is that some of the most Spirit-led, creative, missional work is being done and can be used as a model to help churches soon to be entering seasons of struggle financially, spiritually, or in any other way. Seminaries, networks, publishers, and influencers all have an opportunity to elevate the voices of inner-city church planters who can help pave the way to a healthy faith in times of struggle.
As wars rage and disease continues, and as church and politics meld together and a secular people question why Jesus matters, the inner-city church might be our best hope for leading this next generation to a deep and lasting faith that weathers any storm.