I started out as a youth worker in Chicago’s Humboldt Park in 1973, so I’ve been in urban ministry for a long time. I’ve seen God do some great things during those years, but I’ve also seen too much tension between urban ministers who’ve worked for community development (social & racial justice, full employment, good housing, quality education) and urban ministers whose primary concern has been evangelism (preaching & proclaiming the gospel, teaching God’s word, reaching people with Jesus’ salvation and starting new churches).
I’m now 58 years of age (wow!), and it’s occurring to me that community development and evangelism actually inform and resource each other a lot more than they stand in competition for urban energy, time and dollars. They’re really partner ministries and with complementary skill sets. Let me explain.
Both community development and urban evangelism seem to work best at grassroots levels. Urban leaders serve most effectively as they talk and minister directly to their neighbors, friends, relatives, and people on the edges of community groups, churches, block clubs and service agencies. A good community developer is a busy person who knows lots of people and is constantly calling, visiting, and listening to their needs. A good urban evangelist is is also a busy person with lots of people contacts and is also actively listening to people’s needs. Even when you have important news for people’s lives, you still have to hear their questions and stories first!
Community developers and evangelists both work best when they care for and love the people they’re serving. Each worker may have a strong understanding of their own goals, strategies and tactics; but without some compassion for the people they work with, very little gets accomplished.
It also seems to me that both the community developer and the urban evangelist must have a sense of the large transcendent values if they are to succeed in their work — especially through discouragements that will inevitably occur. The community developer must know that the temporary victories and defeats in their work are laying the foundation for better lives (social, economic, spiritual) for families and individuals. By the same token, the urban evangelist must also have a larger confidence that God is taking the good news they proclaim and using it to build a strong footing in the hearts and minds of people.
Community developers and evangelists are active, people-focused, caring and transcendent urban servants. Both are high-impact and centered upon change in people’s lives. As the community developer and urban evangelist continue to work for change, they complement, teach and even transform each other.
– Roger Johnson