Thursday, October 09, 2008

Uber-Urban Ministry (Some Random Thoughts).

A friend wrote me:
I was wondering whether you could crystallize your experiences and reflections of what it is to be a Christian, a minister, and/ or a church in NYC: or what are the implications or challenges that the raw experience and facts of NYC issue to Christians. I know you love thinking in enumerated propositions, and that would be great!
In the spirit of 'enumerated propositions', I offer three challenges to building a church in New York City. This is not about simply being a Christian in NYC, which I will write about in another post. And I will offer some positive things in coming posts. But here are three challenges:
  • Cities are transient. One of the biggest challenges you face in Uber-Urban is that people are transient -- here for two years, then gone. So healthy community and functioning discipline are hard because people are coming and going. It takes a while to know someone and have them trust you. It reminds me of para-church student ministry (but without the value of being on campus for a balk of the day). I remarked in our staff meeting recently that our church is really a different church to what it was 3 years ago, simply because of the turnover of new people.
  • Cities are busy. So many people work *very* hard, and so many want to go to church where the work is done for them. They get what they need quickly, and leave it at that. Now, that is not true of many people -- and I think that our church is pretty good with using gifts etc. But most people have very little 'margin' left in their life, and they feel it. And so do we. (It must be said that people here are often very generous with their money, which is really great.)
  • Cities are full of options. So many options: educational options; social options; sporting options; cultural options. And also - there are many options for church here, which is great. Not all options for church are good with the Scriptures. But we've found that when people get scared that they will be 'known', and when people start having tough relationships in a church, and when we as pastors begin to work on godliness, they can just as easily go elsewhere. Why not go to a church where you can get a good sermon and good worship, and then be left alone? That, again, is not true of many. But it is a factor in city life.
I wrote a little poem about New York City a few months back. I'm a little embarrassed by it. In it, I describe NYC as a woman.

If you promise not to laugh, I'll post it.

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Pic on Flickr by Joannou.

14 comments:

Sharon said...

Promise I won't laugh, I would love to hear/read it.

In regard to the 3 points - very similar in London. I guess the challenge is how to minister given these hurdles. I remember reading once, and I think of it often - that every encounter we have with someone can either move them towards or away from integration as a person and Christ...and therefore, the way we approach/treat others on a daily basis is consequential.....Who knows how God uses what is ministered to others in something as simple as a quick conversation, or a Bible study group that only runs for a few months.....Our task is to love and serve, God's task to water and grow....anyway - just some random thoughts S xxx

onlinesoph said...

Thanks Justin,

This sounds very similar to our ministry in Annandale, particularly the turnover. Looking forward to the poem.

Justin said...

You've got to promise you won't laugh, Soph.

onlinesoph said...

If the RHCP can do it, so can you...

Chris White said...

Would love the hear the poem. No laughs - promise!

SeaPea said...

bring on the poem, aussie bard.

it IS very transient, ain't it? i think people are like that with their apartments and jobs. i think i'm the only person with a same job & apt for more than 3 years straight. the horror!

SeaPea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark said...

Like student ministry the transience of urban congregations is also an opportunity to 'send'. You've got say 3 years to train up missionaries to serve Jesus all over the country/world.

Poem me Justin!

mike said...

Thanks Justin, again similar to situation in Sydney as far as turnover and options goes. What do you think of the idea of sending teams of people to 'be' the church in urban areas. I'm especially thinking for smaller congregations, a bunch of people who are intentionally committed to the area and each other long term could possibly have greater impact than just paid staff

Justin said...

Hi Mike,

I think it sounds like a great idea. We encourage people to live here long-term in Manhattan intentionally. But it requires a great work of the Spirit to get people to live somewhere just for Christ's sake. I find that sad, but I think its true.

Have we met?

Justin said...

soph -- RHCP?

byron smith said...

No promises, I laugh at funny things. But you won't hear me.

Anonymous said...

Justin i don't think i would ever laugh at you - tongue in cheek of course.... But seriously, i really want to read your poem now...

mike said...

Yeah, you're right. There's a big push in Sydney circles for church planting, following Driscolls visit. It is seen as more credible to stack shelves somewhere and try to start something new. All the ideas seem to be focussed on solitary guys starting something new, I just wonder whether in urban contexts a group of people reinvigorating a struggling church would be just as effective. It would require a special level of commitment from each member of the small group, though at least you would have the commitment of the other members to stick with you