Tonight we start session 5 of the Holy Boldness Urban Academy that we've been holding in our conference. We began the process in July-ish of 2006, bringing together the design team around a model that the General Board of Global Ministries provided. The hope is that through a 6-session academy (note: not a conference!), urban churches might identify paths toward one another and paths into ministry in their own neighborhoods.
We know that most of our urban churches are struggling right now. If they're not struggling, they're probably considering moving out into the suburbs. But I take great hope in some of the things I've seen come out of our academy. Churches working together, even across conference boundaries. Churches sharing good ideas with each other, encouraging one another. Urban churches realizing that they are not alone and that there is something different about them than their suburban or rural counterparts--and that ministry cannot be done in exactly the same way in all three areas.
And yet they've realized that not everything is different. There is still a need for focus and for ministries that have a life-changing impact on the neighborhood and community. The gospel is not different...but it is heard sometimes differently. We have an incredible opportunity to be in an uncomfortable place.
Why incredible opportunity? I still remember being at Perkins Minister's Week early on in my pastorate when I heard Ched Myers giving his reading of the Mark 14 passage in which Jesus says in most of our translations: "you will always have the poor with you." He wondered out loud whether or not it could also mean "you will always be with the poor."
Now I haven't done due diligence and gone and checked the Greek myself. But that phrase caught me. What if it isn't that we will always be able to go out and serve the poor as one of the many options that a church might offer for ministry? What if, instead, we are asked to keep the poor constantly within hearing, within seeing, within reach? This is just one of the incredible opportunities I find in urban ministry.
Not that it isn't available, especially in rural ministry. But in the gentile UMC, it is easy to become addicted to the office with my desk and secretary, screening calls. My place of leisure with my books and resources around me. This Holy Boldness academy has reminded me once again that the power of God in the urban church is one that draws such a wondrous crowd together that we might experience something like the Pentecost every day. Economic diversity, racial diversity, unchurched and churched, age diversity. It's not just the poor in wealth, but every person who has been impoverished because they have not "fit" into other places.
I hope and pray for the churches who are converging on Travis Park UMC right now that they will be encouraged--to be holy and bold. And to be with those who also need the Word in their midst, made manifest by the Body of Christ, choosing to stay among them.
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