Last night, Joel (Big O) taught a class at the Park Plaza Church. Joel is one of our ministers in the Contact Church. He joined the staff about a year and a half ago.
During the class, Big O mentioned a change in his perspective since entering the urban ministry. When he originally joined the Contact Church, he assumed that his mission was to alleviate poverty and to help move people out of poverty. Since then, he has come to the understanding that his mission is to help people to be Christians in whatever circumstances they face. In other words, he helps people to place their faith in Jesus even when they can't find a job. He helps them to find peace in God when they live in public housing and cannot afford a car to get to a job. He realizes that no matter what the circumstances may be, people need to trust in Christ and follow him more than anything else.
Joel's story of his change in perspective reminded me of what happened to me when I first became involved in the urban ministry. It changed my perspective, also. I had the idea that we would be a little soft on biblical teaching while emphasizing feeding and clothing the poor. I had a seeker-sensitive mindset, fearing that people would be offended by a direct presentation of Christ's gospel. I also thought that people would be turned away by teaching biblical ethics. Ron and Frank showed me that I was wrong. We meet a lot of physical needs among the poor of Tulsa, but we see many people who are looking for God and God's directions for living. They are wanting much more than food, clothing, and shelter. Merely feeding and clothing them (without providing solid biblical teaching and genuine friendship) would be a disservice to them and to Christ.
Urban ministry can change one's preconceptions. No doubt about it.