Home Outreach Leaders Articles for Outreach & Missions Ed Stetzer: 3 Challenges in Urban Ministry

Ed Stetzer: 3 Challenges in Urban Ministry

Loving a city means longevity.

Another challenge of urban ministry is longevity; this type of ministry is not a quick fix. I planted my first church in Buffalo, New York, among the urban poor and spent six years doing the hardest work I had ever done. We grew slowly and incrementally. The 20 megaton growth of a suburban megachurch rarely happens in a downtown urban context.

It takes longevity—in many cases a life-long commitment—to walk this journey and love a certain city. Too many people love the idea of the city but do not love the city to which God sends them. We have to love the city for the long-term and journey with it through all of the ups and downs.

Oftentimes those who are radically saved want to leave the cycles of loss, despair and poverty that left them bound in sin for so long. If we want to encourage them to wisely reengage with the gospel in the context they were saved out of, we must model faithful service ourselves. It will be hard and challenging because planting a church among the marginalized of society takes time.

In urban ministry, community is key.

Finally, the issue of community is both challenging and important in urban ministry for a number of reasons. Most urban centers are a series of smaller communities. These smaller communities are often based on a common identity or affinity like Filipinos, Latinos or Chinese. These groups can be a city within the city finding community with one another. Such communities may revolve around several blocks giving rise to nicknames like Little Italy, Little Mexico, and Chinatown.

Economist Jed Kolko has demonstrated a perhaps-unexpected group moving back into America’s urban centers: rich, white, and childless.

Often the communities are isolated, unconnected and at times even hostile toward other communities. When people become believers they become citizens of another Kingdom, holding dual residence in both their earthly home and the heavenly. The gospel creates a community that bridges gaps along the way prioritizing love and brotherly kindness inside and across demographic boundaries.

So when we go into a city we recognize that there are numerous communities. We recognize that the gospel creates a better way—a gospel community. A Kingdom-of-God community changes everything.

Hope for the city

Overall the issues of depravity, longevity, and community in urban ministry are not so impenetrable that the power of God cannot overcome them. I don’t make these points so you would be discouraged by the challenges that come with urban ministry. Nor do I contend cities have more inherent value than small towns, farming communities, or the ever-growing suburbs. I want to encourage those who would minister in urban centers to have hope.

I want you to be aware and place your trust in the God who cares deeply for those in the urban centers. Be encouraged that He is at work, and be provoked to love and good deeds so that you can engage the city—your city—for the cause of Christ.

In this brief video, Tim Keller makes a compelling argument for why churches should pay attention to cities. It’s worth your 90 seconds.


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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, has earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited in, interviewed by, and writes for news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Founding Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 1.7 million individuals each week for bible story. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and serves as teaching pastor at Highpoint Church.