A Ministry of the School of Theology and Christian Ministry—Olivet Nazarene University

Urban Ministry

“Praying Twice: The Role and Theology of Congregational Song in Christian Worship”

INTRODUCTION

The church phone rang on a recent Sunday morning.  The woman on the other end of the line was inquiring about our corporate worship gathering.

"It starts at 11:00 AM, right?"

"That's correct" I responded, sensing a little hesitation in her question.

"And your service," she continued slowly, "is it contemporary or traditional?"  I figured since she had the time of the service right, she already knew the answer to the former question and it was simply a lead-in to the latter question, the point of her call.

"How would you describe ‘contemporary'?" I asked, attempting to diagnose what she was looking for, and seeking how I might find a little common ground in this conversation with someone I'd never met.  (I wasn't trying to be difficult.  Our worship style is more "contemporary" than some.  [We sing a number of songs that have been composed in the last fifty years, relatively new within the scheme of Christianity].  But our worship is less "contemporary" than others.  [We do recite the creeds with some frequency, we don't use an abundance of visual technology, and we do occasionally sing a Wesley hymn, "Amazing Grace", or other hymns composed before 1900].) 

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Tired From Life

 

For the girl, whose mother abandoned and father decided that he wanted his girlfriend more than his daughter....

For the father who lost his job, the bills have piled up, and the landlord says they will have to move....

For the child, who knows hands that bring about hurt, not love. Whose pain reflects the attention of a father.....

To the mother, who is trying to hold it together.  Rejected in love and overwhelmed in responsibility.....

There is hope.

Yet, that hope does not come in the next government initiative.  Not in the next bill passed by Congress.

There will be no answers arriving, hot off the press from Washington D.C.

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Revival Through Compassionate Ministry to the Poor

 

Revival services are a fast declining tradition in the church.  Yet, we live in an age when most local churches desperately need a renewal and long for a revival in their congregation.

Some of the steps to a successful revival campaign used decades ago are still in literature today.  They include:  humility, perseverance, unity, holiness, and change.1  Linked to the cry for current day revival are often references to past leaders such as Charles Finney, John Wesley, Phineas Bresee, and others.  However, it cannot be denied that one of the unique aspects of these men's contribution to revivalism was their obvious understanding that social consciousness and community outreach to the poor is necessary as a prerequisite to any renewal in the church.  This is not to suggest that Finney, Wesley, and Bresee did not include the issues of humility, perseverance, unity, holiness and change.  They did!  However, they correctly linked them through scriptures to a social awareness of the needs in the community and especially of the poor.

Renewal (or revival) in the church begins with understanding the scriptural mandates.  Out of that should evolve a clear vision of the needs of the community and especially of the poor.  Through this, renewal and revival should begin.  It may not be an outburst of emotional services running each evening for weeks at a time.  But, it certainly will include a renewed drive to assist the poor in their time of need.

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The Power of Vision

 

Ministry in the city, among the wounded and broken, is not for the meek. No person can undertake this ministry - and certainly no one can persist in it - without courage, hope, and and vision. But it is the vision that may embolden our courage and lift our hope.

Especially in the city our vision may be captured by the fear, despair, and disappointment that surround us. Perhaps in the suburban communities where prosperity and human possibilities seem to be dominant and endless we might escape the need for vision and its power. But not in the city.

"I will lift up my eyes to the hills," the Psalmist wrote "where my help comes from." In the city our eyes need to focus often on the hills, the horizon of God's redemptive possibilities that will speak the final word.

It is reminder that urban ministry is not finally about civic policy or economic theory. The answer to discouragement and weariness is not new initiatives or strategic alliances. It is renewal of the vision that draws and renews us. God's Kingdom - His final victory - which is our future.

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Stopping Sloppy Agape – Loving those among us for the long haul.

 

I'm on a crusade to end what I call "sloppy agape."  In 25 years of urban compassionate ministry experience I see churches, ministries, and good people fall into this trap over and over again. In our attempt to be politically correct and because we're afraid of offending anyone, we give out the goods without the good news. We give out bread without also offering the bread of life. We practice social compassion without offering spiritual solutions.

"Sloppy Agape" happens when we disconnect the methods of compassion from Jesus' message of hope and salvation. It happens when we have not fully thought out our theology and practice of why we do compassion. If we simply give out the goods without offering the good news, we are no different than all the other social welfare efforts. People will remain hungry and lost. "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word of God." (Luke 4:4)

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Let’s Stop Toy Drives and Really “Rejoice the City”

We’re just past the holidays. I put in a lot of car miles, and passed a lot of churches. Quite a few had signs announcing their annual toy drives for poor kids. Christmas can generate a giving spirit, and for many congregations, that expresses itself in a plethora of programs to help the poor – Angel Trees and turkey baskets and “coats for Christmas.”

Call me Scrooge if you like, but we need to stop this.

Why? Because commodified, short-term, relief-oriented “benevolence” is far too easy for givers and far too inadequate for receivers. It allows givers to remain distant from real need. They get to feel good about giving, without getting their hands dirty or their Daytimers interrupted. Recipients are viewed only in terms of their needs, and never in terms of their assets. And the charity supplied provides just a Band-Aid, no genuine long-term strategy. Our typical benevolence allows us to help the poor, but not to know them. It enables them to manage their poverty a little better, but not to escape it.

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The Challenge for the Urban Church

As we move closer to the year 2025, predictions are that half of the world population will live in urban centers throughout the world. Faced with that information, the church must have an aggressive plan to meet the growing challenge of developing vibrant and sustainable urban churches.

Long the tradition in the Nazarene church, we have followed in the path blazed by John Wesley to, in the words of Phineas Bresee, “take the Gospel to the neglected quarters of the city.” Following our centennial celebration, it is the call to once again figure out what Bresee's words mean for today and move aggressively to accomplish that goal.

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