Helping Urban Poor

Church Planting, Philadelphia, Uncategorized, Urban Ministry, Urban Poverty

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There are an ever increasing number of Christians in the United States who are concerned for the plight of the urban poor in the cities of America. This is commendable and biblical. Unfortunately, in our emotional and often uninformed efforts to help, we usually show up with acts of charity that do little more than supply band aids; or worse yet, leave the recipients feeling degraded and powerless. So, what can we do? How do we provide meaningful help? Can we really help?

Christians Can Help

Christians can work effectively with urban poor communities. Before we do, however, we must first subscribe to the value that a just, humane and democratic society empowers urban poor; that urban poor are to be respected and should play an active role in decision-making in their city and nation.

Secondly, we must discover ways to work with those stakeholders who may or may not live in the community, but who have vested interests in the community, i.e. landlords, employers, shop owners, bankers, educators, politicians, etc.

We must take the time to meet people and listen to their stories. Who are the leaders in the community? How can we work together with them and the stakeholders to improve housing and basic services including jobs, health and education? This is time consuming and painstaking work. But, it is where the Gospel and culture meet.

The Gospel and Culture

Does the Gospel message (the Good News) include more than basic salvation? Does it include human dignity? Does the Gospel of Jesus Christ allow us to embrace such values as:

  • No one shall be hungry or live in squalor.
  • All will have and understand how to access health care, good schools and employment.
  • No one shall feel powerless or left out.
  • Families will help one another.
  • Community organizations will be vigorous.
  • Urban poor people, as a group, will work for the common good.
  • Those who have less in life can have more in joy and solidarity.

Partnership

Concerned Christians and churches can help. I doubt that ministry to the urban poor can be effectively administered from the suburbs. But, churches in the suburbs can play a significant role in meaningful partnership with churches in the city who are administering the Good News in their neighborhoods; churches who are struggling with the issues of poverty and health care and education and employment. Find a church or churches to partner with. Work together as a team. Armed with the Gospel (the Good News of Jesus Christ), the Christian community can help educate and motivate people to work as children of God. Together we can learn to love one another, to respect one another, to empower one another and to work for the common good of the urban poor.

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Commit Newly Planted Churches to God

Church Planting

Jim Brown, Founding Director of MetroGrace in Philadelphia wrote the following insightful and spiritually discerning article:

When church planting teams have been sent to a community, made contact, advanced the gospel, seen conversions, gathered a congregation, strengthened disciples, and appointed leaders, they are ready to commit the church to God. This occurs naturally after the planted seed has sprouted and grown toward maturity. Soon, it will be able to reproduce, broadcasting seed into the surrounding soil. Church planters must allow the young church to grow and mature in accord with God’s design.

Newly planted churches with appointed local leaders should be committed to the Lord. In Acts 14:23 Luke says, “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.”

This term connotes the idea of entrusting a valuable deposit to someone who can keep it safe. Paul recognized that the church belonged to Christ. He trusted the Lord to protect it. Christ purchased the church with His blood, continues to lead as its Head, and nurtures the church as its Chief Shepherd. Urban church planters must remember their role, placing the church before the Lord as they move beyond those formative days.

Sometimes church planters stay with the new church, providing pastoral care for an extended period of time. Still, they must appoint leaders and commit the church to the Headship of Christ. A plurality of elders, surrendered to Jesus, provides pastoral care for the growing congregation. The role of the church planter must change.

Sometimes, church planting teams must plan for a transition that will allow departure. Some are called to an itinerant ministry that involves gathering a congregation and moving on to plant another church in a relatively short period of time. The team and the congregation should prepare for this exit.

Hesselgrave notes deficiency in this area:

“If there is any one area of church-planting evangelism that does not receive adequate attention either in the literature or in the actual planning for a new work, it is the withdrawal of the church planter(s)… But sound strategy for planting churches must include plans for the withdrawal and redeployment of the pioneer workers. In most cases knowing when and how to leave a new work is almost as important as knowing when and where to undertake it in the first place.” (1997, 279)

Paul and his church planting team understood the need to entrust newly planted churches to the Lord. As they returned from their first mission trip, they appointed leaders and committed the young congregations to the Lord (Acts 14:23). Later in Philippi, Paul and Silas encouraged the believers in the church at Lydia’s house and then left (Acts 16:40). This fits with his instruction to Timothy to develop leaders who perpetuate the process: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim 2:2). Though transitions might be difficult, they must be made.

Steffen lists ten principles for transitioning:

1. Build deep relationships.
2. Make sure believers share the vision.
3. Model ministry before requiring others to take it over.
4. Organize to disperse power.
5. Call for ministry involvement immediately.
6. Expect mistakes.
7. Believe in God’s people.
8. Announce departure plans discreetly.
9. Plan programmed absences.
10. Expect the ministry to increase after departure. (1997, 217-218)

The original article can be found at: http://www.metrograce.org/rwt-blog-42261

I Will Build My Church

Church Planting

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“I will build my church.”

This is a momentous statement, for it describes Jesus’ program for the future. At this point in Matthew’s Gospel, the storm clouds are gathering. In the very next paragraph Jesus tells his disciples for the first time about the violent death that awaits him. But Jesus’ vision for the future goes beyond his death. The big plan is to build his church—to gather his people from all over the world to himself.

In the rest of the New Testament, we see this grand purpose begin to be realized. As the disciples scatter throughout the Roman Empire, they take the gospel of Jesus with them. They preach it, and churches are planted (to which the apostles return in due course to appoint elders, as in Acts 14).
We aren’t told about any special program of church planting. It just seems to happen as the gospel is preached and people respond to the message in each place. The believers gather together and a church is born. And each of these gatherings (or ‘churches’) is part of the one great gathering of all Christ’s people.

Evangelism will always lead to church, and church is Jesus’ program. It must be our program too. In particular, given the situation that we find ourselves in, the challenge before us is to plant new churches.

Any discussion of church planting must assume three things:

First, true Christian churches are planted only where the pure gospel of Christ is preached. We must not vary from the gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified, with its accompanying call to faith and repentance. This is the foundation for building Christ’s church. This is the seed for planting. And we must not think that the church of Christ can be planted by any other method. If we are not preaching the gospel and seeing people come to faith through the power of the Spirit, then we are not planting churches. We may simply be transferring existing believers from one place to another.(This may be a good thing in some cases—especially if they are being ‘transferred’ from churches which are not teaching the Bible. But it is not planting so much as transplanting.)

Secondly, we cannot preach this gospel of Christ without carrying the cross, as he did. This is not optional. We cannot preach Christ and expect to avoid suffering. We cannot preach Christ and be popular. We cannot preach Christ without being willing to lay down our lives for the salvation of others. Very often, the suffering will come in the form of persecution. And most painful of all, it will often be from other Christians. Just as for Christ it was his co-religionists who persecuted him most, so for us it will be members of other Christian churches and denominations who are most hostile towards church planting. Most Christians are all for evangelism and church planting, so long as it doesn’t affect them—the NIMBY syndrome (Not In My Backyard). But, it is almost impossible to plant a church without affecting someone else. And when it does, tension and disagreement inevitably occurs. We cannot discuss church planting, and get involved in it, without being prepared to suffer for it.

Thirdly, any discussion of church planting assumes a passion for the lost. Millions of Americans will be born, grow old and die without ever hearing, in a meaningful way, about what Christ has done for them. The Bible may still be a top seller, but there is little evidence of it being high on the list of what people actually read. The lost are all around us. There are many areas, communities and sub-groups in our society which have little or no Christian witness within them. How can we reach them? We cannot expect them to come to us. We must go to them, and plant churches in their midst. And, as we go, Jesus said, “I will build my church.”