This may be news to some and a restating of the obvious to others. Either way, there’s a movement happening within Christianity both in our country and around the world for the establishment of new churches. Most people would assume there are enough churches already and instead of establishing new ones more energy should be given toward fixing or fine-tuning the older churches. Quite frankly, both sides are correct and though the undertaking might seem easier to just go and start a new one, there are obstacles along the way.
In 2012, Terrence Jones planted a church in an urban area of Montgomery, AL (Strong Tower at Washington Park). Recently, he wrote an article that was featured on the website of The Rebuild Initiative, a network of churches that exist to plant and replant multi-ethnic churches in the city. Check out Terrance’s article, Untold Obstacles to Urban Church Planting below:
I’m an inner city pastor, so let me begin by stating the obvious. Our community has been plagued with vicious cycles of violence, drugs, prostitution, poverty, poor graduation rates, and fatherless homes for decades. It’s easy to always glorify these issues in a general sense without “peeling the onion” to deal with some of the specific complexities of inner city church planting. Therefore, I would like to go beyond the obvious to give you a closer look into some of the challenges I face.
I’M AN OUTSIDER
This may strike you as odd, especially since I’m an African American man in my early 30s and my immediate context is 99% African American, but even though I share the same heritage as many of my neighbors it feels as though we are from different planets. Many of the cycles of devastation that my neighbors know from firsthand experience, I know only as an observer. I come from a two-parent home, grew up in an extremely small town, have a bachelor’s degree and an MDIV, and all my trips to prison, except one, have been to participate in ministry. Even moving into the neighborhood (which I have done) is not enough to overcome the invisible chasm that is between us. This makes ministry a challenge.
I often feel like I’m trying to crack a code on a maximum security safe only to find myself setting off the alarm time after time. My neighbors are extremely discerning and very reluctant to trust. They can smell a fraud from a mile away. Longevity and being a learner are my only allies.
JOBS, JOBS, AND MORE JOBS
This is not the cry of a politician, though it sounds much like the conversation from Capitol Hill. This is the cry of my neighbors. You can take the gloom surrounding the national conversation concerning jobs, multiply that by a million, and still be a few zeros short of explaining the unemployment epidemic in inner cities across America. Not only am I grieved by the lack of opportunity, I’m overwhelmed by the under development of those seeking employment. If I took 50 people who are looking for employment and found them a job, six months from now, over 40 of them would likely be looking for another one. Are they incapable? Absolutely not!
You would not believe the talent, creativity, entrepreneurial genius, dreams, and personality I see every day. These raw jewels simply need someone to mine them and make them shine.
Unfortunately, most of the effort to assist people in my community is relief-driven. People will bring clothes, food, and even serve on some type of beautification project. But, the real need is development. This takes time, dedication, and perseverance which is why so many organizations and churches avoid it. Even development alone is not enough. I was reminded of this just last month by a murder that took place in my neighborhood. The murder victim was one week away from graduating from a trade school program. Of the two young men who are on trial for his murder, one of them had a very respectable and highly sought after job.
Ultimately, true life transformation comes from a heart change…that only the gospel can bring. Therefore we must be diligent and creative to both holistically make and develop disciples.
CORPORATE WORSHIP IS TRICKY
People from my neighborhood don’t always feel comfortable at my church. I will ask them questions like: “Did someone say or do anything that was wrong or unloving? How was your interaction with the people you spoke with? How was the sermon?” The answers to these questions are usually extremely positive. Yet, they speak of an uneasiness that comes from within. They compare themselves to others in our congregation and convince themselves that they are not good enough or worthy to be around others who have experienced more “earthly success” than they have. I had one young lady say she felt dumb coming to our church, because a lot of the other ladies her age have graduated from high school and she has not. How do you compete with that? Introductory questions we ask as believers can add to the problem. We ask things like: Where do you work? Where do you go to school? Where do you live? What are your future plans?
We forget that for many in the inner city, these questions only remind them of what’s gone wrong in their lives. We use this line of questioning because in an indirect and maybe even unintentional way, we assign value to people based on the answers to these questions.
There is an identity crisis in America that has affected the church everywhere…not just the inner city.
Everyone is in search of significance and true identity. Far too often they land somewhere other than their identity being in Christ! Our occupations, bank accounts, backgrounds, education, and whatever else you can add mean nothing before a holy God. Only the resurrected Savior can stand before Him.
GOD OVERCOMES THE OBSTACLES
There are several other challenges that I could speak to, but this gives you a flavor of what we are up against. We are an imperfect church with an imperfect pastor. In spite of this, we put our hope in a perfect God who has promised to build His church. We have pushed all our chips to the center of the table and are betting on His promises, His plans, His gospel, and His methods to overcome these challenges. Therefore, we are highly encouraged.
We will not allow the schemes of the enemy and setbacks to discourage us to the point of paralyzation. We want to see the Lord do an amazing work by saving many and bringing many to maturity in Christ!
“For this we toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within us” (Colossians 1:29).