Urban ministry is a different monster than any other form of ministry. In an urban context, church planters and church plants face many challenges that suburban church planters and plants do not experience. Urban church planting involves struggles that may make it nearly impossible to be a flourishing church in the first 5-7 years of ministry. These struggles include a lack of resources, people, and space. Sadly, these difficult realities are the reasons why some church planters leave and church plants disintegrate. Many church planters in the urban context feel as though they are not equipped or resourced enough for urban church planting. For a lot of them, this is true.

Church planting within reformed circles among African Americans has risen. I yearn to see men and women in urban contexts reconciled to God, and communities and cities redeemed by the person and work of Jesus Christ. In an urban community or city, the people who live in those areas are very diverse. Many young men being trained for church planting, like myself, have huge passions to see the Gospel change urban communities, but many of the resources, schools, and churches who are willing to train and equip us look nothing like the community we long to engage.

Evangelicals and Their Ministry Biases

This brings up a huge problem in how the evangelical world equips, trains, and sends out leaders into the urban context. It has been my experience that the philosophy and methodology of the majority culture in evangelical ministry circles don’t really include the urban context when it comes to African Americans. There are plenty of great books about urban or diverse church planting, but they are mostly written from a cultural and privileged bias. They write about the complexities of planting churches in cities, but they ignore the complexities of contextualization in specific ethnic communities. They often exclude certain minority groups. So even our progress made in church planting in urban cities results in white churches being produced in ethnic and economically diverse cities and cultures.

It’s been said in church planting circles that engaging in social justice in church planting is extremely hard and should not be a priority for church plants. Instead, we should engage people while making social justice a back end issue. My problem with this ideology is that it is rooted in cultural bias and privilege.

If an urban church planter does not prioritize their engagement in social justice on some level in an inner-city, you can almost forget being able to engage certain people. These beliefs tend to exclude minorities and continue the progression of white privilege in our society as well as in the Evangelical world.

In the Evangelical world, there is no problem with churches engaging the topic of gay marriage, alcoholism or abortion. When it comes to the issues of poverty, the prison pipeline, and the poor education system in black communities, these issues are questioned or placed in the back seat. Engaging the issue of poverty or gang violence shouldn’t be seen as burdens or hindrances to church growth. These social ills that are found predominantly in minority communities should be issues churches pursue and engage with the Gospel just as much as any other sin or injustice in the world.

If we marginalize the issues in minority communities, then we will also marginalize the people. So many aspiring urban pastors like myself become discouraged in the evangelical world because it seems we have to ignore a culture we love so that we can “make it” in ministry.  Cultural biases in ministry leave out minority groups and their issues. If the Evangelical world wants multi-ethnic churches, then we must care about multi-ethnic issues.

A Contextualized Hope for Urban Church Planting

If we are to see redemption in the urban cities with ethnic communities, then resources through the means of discipleship must become available. We must provide people with resources that are fitting to their culture and context, especially urban church planters who are indigenous to their communities. Resources that exalt one majority perspective will only push away other ethnicities. We must care about their specific needs, regardless of how hard and inconvenient they are.

The Gospel changes people from the inside out. Our hope and prayer should be that as the Gospel changes a person’s affections and desires, that their life as a whole will change also. Justification happens in a moment, but sanctification happens through discipleship from Christ Himself, and from the local church community — hopefully a community that is understanding of the cultures around them.

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