Clash of the Titans VI: Urban Ministry

March 20, 2007, 12:00 pm; posted by
Filed under Debate, Josh J, Steve  | 4 Comments

In this corner, arguing for inner-city family ministry and living, we have Josh J!

And in this corner, arguing for single urban ministry unless otherwise called, is Steve!

I should first note that I’m not a husband or a father, with no immediate plans to become one. I understand, at least as much as one in my position can, that these life transitions alter your perspective and priorities. So there is sure to be some disconnect between me and the parents reading this; indeed, perhaps even between me now and in the future, should the Lord grace me with a family.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul wrote, “I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs — how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world — how he can please his wife — and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world — how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.”

In the same passage Paul shows that it’s not sinful or ungodly to marry. On the contrary, it’s part of God’s plan. But it seems clear to me that at least part of the reprioritizing that comes from having a family can detract from our service to the Lord. I don’t think having a family excuses us from the difficult callings, the dangerous callings. I look to the example of Abraham — when asked to sacrifice his son, he obeyed. He realized his son was God’s first, and he trusted God knew what was best, and could protect and provide for Isaac in ways that he never could. His concern was to follow God’s calling.

I believe God is calling more Christians to the city. Please understand, I’m not one to glorify urban ministry at the expense of others. Many are faithfully serving exactly where God has called them. But the sheer number of people in the city, the massive amount of needs — both physical and spiritual — cry out for more believers willing to serve. And I don’t think this job is one that can always be just a “day job.” Ministry is most effective when it’s relational and incarnational, when your neighborhood is their neighborhood and your concerns are their concerns; indeed, when there is no “you” and “them,” only “we.”

While I recognize the responsibility of parents to protect their children, I believe they do not only themselves but their children a disservice when they avoid a difficult calling. Part of training a child in the way he should go is teaching him to be mission-minded. Children learn first and foremost by example. If Christian parents’ only concern is saving their own children, those kids will grow up to do the same, and rather than winning the world for God, we’ll save only our own bloodlines.

But if we are out on the frontlines of battle, I believe God will honor that. I was raised to believe in a family approach to ministry, and rather than being neglected by my parents’ calling (full disclosure: not urban), I was encouraged to find my own calling within that context. And what I learned from that more than anything is this —

God is in control.

Josh J and I agree on a lot, generally — so much, in fact, that it was rather difficult to find a topic for today’s Clash. And as I read his defense of full-time residential urban ministry, I unsurprisingly find that I largely agree. America’s cities, poor and broken, ache for the life-changing ministry of the body of Christ. While a faithful few toil day after day, Josh is absolutely right that our cities cry out for more believers willing to sacrifice and become full-time urban missionaries to America, for ministry is indeed most powerful when it is relational and personal.

I will not question the difficult decisions made by those called to a task often thankless and seemingly insurmountable, and I dare not declare anyone should resist the leading of God on their lives, wherever He takes them. So my disagreement with Josh is really quite limited. I simply believe Paul’s declaration that marriage and family changes a man’s priorities necessarily implies that a husband and father has, in addition to the charge of the Great Commission, a steadfast duty to protect and serve his family. And so it follows that a calling to urban ministry need not always include a commitment to live in the city.

I have participated in short-term urban ministry in Syracuse, Utica and New York City, in some of the hardest neighborhoods those cities have to offer. If I felt called to a full-time vocation in any of those neighborhoods, I would not hesitate for fear, because I know the one who calls is faithful to keep. But I am a single man, with no wife, no child, and the life I would lead there alone is vastly different from what my hypothetical family would face. Children raised in the inner city learn by example, to be sure, but given the examples they face there, this is little comfort! They must grow up faster, their innocence is frequently corrupted, and they often face challenges that — to be honest — they should never have to face.

We know that in every circumstance, God is in control. But He’s in control when we drive, yet we still strap our children into car seats. He’s in control while we sleep, but most of us still lock our doors. The omnipotence and sovereignty of God should never serve as an excuse for reckless or dangerous choices. Although I would never suggest raising a family in an inner-city environment is necessarily a reckless decision, it is an unassailably dangerous one, and it comes with certain consequences that should neither be ignored nor overlooked.

There are couples, there are families, called to live and work in the inner-city, and I pray the grace of God keeps them there to thrive. But I believe that often when one is called to such a role, he (or she) is called as he is. Alone.

For such a person to marry one not likewise called, or to start a family in that place without clear leading, would be a clear example of why Paul was known to wish all were like him — the spirit is usually willing… but the flesh is frequently weak.



4 Comments to “Clash of the Titans VI: Urban Ministry”

  1. Chloe on March 20th, 2007 12:31 pm

    Why are you guys debating this? I have the utmost respect for both of you, but the question of whether people should go into inner-city missions single or married doesn’t seem important.

    Hmm, I sound mean. Sorry about that!

  2. Steve on March 20th, 2007 12:33 pm

    It was a topic that came up when I visited Josh this past weekend, and as I alluded to, the list of Clash-worthy subjects on which we disagree is rather limited. I think it’s a good discussion.

  3. Josh J on March 20th, 2007 3:53 pm

    I understand that this debate is not nearly important as blonds vs brunettes, but I just take the assignments I’m given. The most important thing is whether you voted for me to win.

    In all seriousness, this debate actually speaks to perhaps the greatest difference Steve and I have: the nature of God’s will. I believe more in a one path perspective where Steve believes many possible decisions can fit within God’s will (Don’t mean to speak for Steve. Feel free to correct if need be).

    So when Steve suggests that you should not go to the city unless specifically called, I agree. I don’t believe you should go anywhere except where you are specifically called. Again, this won’t be the same place for everyone, but for those called to the city, which I believe has to be more than those currently accepting that call, I certainly don’t believe having children is an excuse not to go.

  4. Steve on March 20th, 2007 4:12 pm

    The problem with this discussion topic is perhaps that we actually do agree on too much of it, including the substance of your comment. Perhaps we should have instead written on the nature of God’s will, rather than this proxy, but I don’t know if I realized before right now that it was what informed our difference.

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