Introduction to Inner-city Ministry
Mention the words inner-city and within seconds the mind will conjure up a plethora of images and issues that characterize the inner-city environment. One of the most pervasive and overwhelming issues confronting inner-city church planting ministry is that of addiction, and specifically substance abuse. The city is littered with the signs of it, and the ministry is challenged by the behaviors of those enslaved by it. Substance abuse, after all, does not exist in a vacuum. It begins for a reason, albeit curiosity, peer pressure, an effort to cope with (or avoid) some life issue, to fill a void, or simply earn an income. The motivation to use usually follows one of two paths: seeking pleasure or avoiding pain (sometimes both). Given time, however, the resulting addiction no longer stands as a symptom of the real issue, but rather as the issue itself, ready to propagate its own offspring of issues. The very unfortunate fact is that what is being used in an attempt to free one, ends up actually enslaving that one in the process. Over time, those caught in the snares of addiction well-learn how to manipulate both people and situations to get what they want and, at any given time, so desperately need.
You may be wondering how this relates to the difficulty of inner-city ministry. In considering the biblical example of the compassion of Christ, it seems obvious that compassion ministries and churches would want to model Christ’s compassion to those they serve. However, blend with that compassion the desire to not enable the addict’s manipulative behavior in the process and you quickly discover a very real dilemma in ministering to many people in the inner-city: how do I simultaneously show the love of Christ to the sinner (which hopefully will lead to a genuine conversion in that life) while not perpetuating the sin of addiction in the same life? Recently a man pleaded for money to rent a room due to an eviction. When the offer was made to pay the rent directly to the landlord, the man replied “forget it” (not his exact words) and ran out the door. It became obvious that he merely wanted the money, not the room. Soon after, we learned that the man is a known cocaine addict on the streets. I’m sure he continued down the street to the next church or social agency that would have “compassion” on him and hand him some cash. And I am just as sure that he would have used that cash to feed his cocaine habit. It is clear that, in these situations, we need the discernment and wisdom that only God can supply.
If that is not complicated enough, add to it the factors of an urban, inner-city population characterized by poverty and need, along with a geographical location characterized by transience, and the result is a level of difficulty in ministry that rivals any other ministry field around the world.
By comparison, the conversions come rather easily, as inner-city people are often drawn to compassion ministries and churches in a time of personal crisis. Their motive is almost always difficult to ascertain. It could be manipulation. It could be them simply telling us what they think we want to hear. Or, it could be sincere. Good or bad, regardless, it is still a “crisis” at that moment to that individual. And crisis, for those reasons, can lead to a “conversion.” If, perchance, the conversion is sincere and genuine, the greater challenge follows that initial decision. Ongoing discipleship and a consistent walk are difficult in a place where the imminent crisis rules the day (i.e. when the crisis is past, the decision is forgotten), where people live in the literal moment (i.e. following whatever whim or philosophy most appealing at that specific moment in time), and where the only consistent thing is inconsistency (i.e. people may be available and willing at the outset, but unavailable and/or unwilling thereafter due to those insincere motives, a relapse, an arrest, or a physical move from the area).
The situation, however, is not all gloom and doom. The obvious need for Christ and the Great Commission both assure us that the inner-cities of America (not unlike the rest of the world) cannot be forgotten. While the inner-city may be a difficult, frustrating, and (at times) an extremely discouraging place to serve Christ, that does not negate the fact that the inner-cities of America are filled with spiritually lost people. People who are helpless. People who feel hopeless. But, at the same time, they are filled with people that Christ died to redeem. People that God loves. People like you and me. People in need of a Savior. There are success stories, like Robert who, through the Lord’s help, overcame his bondage to addiction and became the first deacon of Faith Baptist Community Church. And Liz, a church member with twenty years of sobriety, who has a desire to help others caught in the same bondage as she was for so many years. By providing Hope in Jesus Christ (not just “temporary” help), the goal of inner-city ministry should be to rescue those enslaved to sin, seeking to see them become servants of Christ instead.
That is why we go, despite the difficulty…so that Christ might be proclaimed, people might be changed, and His name glorified through their transformed lives!
Written by: Michael Vanek, Pastor/Ministry Director