In my previous post, I encouraged churches to respect those who are unhealthy, poor, and uneducated. Mike from the Upper Room blog asked me for more information about how to do it. (By the way, he is one of the most thoughtful bloggers around. Check it out at http://theupperroom.typepad.com.) In response, I will be quoting from Up Close and Personal: Embracing the Poor by Harold Shank, Anthony Wood, and Ron Bergeron. The three ministers had found that they were able to lead people in poverty to Christ, but they could not keep them in their middle-class, suburban-style congregations. As a result, they started an urban ministry to plant churches in inner-city Memphis, Tennessee.
"We learned three things in starting inner-city churches. First, respect inner-city culture. Effective missionaries study the culture first. We mistakenly believe inner-city dwellers are either just like us or inferior to us. Neither is true. Each urban center has its own culture, values, and language that must be learned through study and observation.
"Insensitivity to different cultures creates barriers instead of bridges. Missionaries learned to bring Christ, not their hometown culture, to a new country. Jesus loved people by respecting them. We will do the same. Here are a few ways to get started:
1) Educate your church biblically, culturally, and missiologically concerning urban church planting and ministry. Read books like Ray Bakke's The Urban Christian or William Pannell's The Gospel from the Bottom Up.
2) Visit an existing inner-city church that is reaching the urban poor to appreciate the faith practiced in cultural diversity. Research what others have done.
3) Ask people knowledgeable about the local poor to guide you through the existing outreach programs in your city.
4) Ask a poor person for honest answers about why he doesn't attend church where you do. Brace yourself for the truth. Then ask your new friend, 'If there was a church in your neighborhood that you would go to every week, what would it be like?'
"Second, expect inner-city leadership. We found more sense of community in the poorer areas of town than we've ever experienced in the affluent sections. The inner-city neighborhood has a social structure and leadership network. There is a saying in our inner-city, 'It takes a whole community to raise a child.' Family, school, social service, and church all connect. Networks flourish in the inner city. Church workers can connect to these networks. Our goal is to establish a fellowship of inner-city churches with local leadership designed to serve their communities. The church must be built according to this urban blueprint. Our inner-city brothers and sisters are better equipped to take back their neighborhoods for Christ by using their own networks to build God's church community.
"Third, expect inner-city theologians to arise. The Bible established doctrine, but Christians develop traditions. We establish the order of a Sunday morning service, decide how long the sermon should be, work out details on who can spend church money. Suburban preachers speak to issues that confront the average middle-class American. While fundamental doctrines do not vary, their application...varies, depending on the situation of the local Christians.
"In our suburban church, ushers stand at the back of the auditorium to serve. If a homeless woman tried to walk to the front during the sermon, they would stop her and talk with her in the foyer. To suburbanites, that seems a reasonable and loving policy. To inner-city Christians, that policy is offensive and unacceptable. They know that people often come into the service as a last resort. To turn away a homeless woman at that critical time may lead her to drugs or to her seeking help from different people. They value an uninterrupted sermon just like the people in the suburbs, but they understand the rejection of forcing a homeless person to wait" (pp. 60-62).
Thanks for the question, Mike. And thanks for reading!