The Greatest Hindrance to
Effective Church Planting in Urban Areas
I believe the greatest hindrance to effective church planting in the cities is the culturally inbred desire for the American Dream, which keep men and women from coming to an undesirable and less comfortable environment. For thirty-seven years I have watched many people choose to go to places of comfort rather than places of greatest need. I have watched a large disproportional number of men seeking to go to warm climates rather than less appealing parts of the country. We have struggled to find people willing to consider moving to urban areas where half of the population resides; instead, they choose in favor of less populated parts of the country. Why are so few willing to invest their lives in urban areas? Why are so many shunning the inner cities of our world? Some people require places that can provide a safe environment. Others desire
a destination that provides better education for their children. Some hate the thought of the traffic, congestion, smaller yards, and tighter living. Others embrace the common thinking that the city would not be a good environment to raise their children. I have watched some men choose a higher salary and lower cost of living, neither being characteristic of urban ministry. The Lord is searching for the disciples of Christ who are willing to heed the words of Jesus when he said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Large cities in every country are grossly understaffed with missionaries and church planters. I believe many have lied to themselves, taking God’s second or third choice, believing they have yielded to God’s calling. If half of the population of the world is in the cities, the greatest need is to reach these people. Where will an adequate number of future missionaries and pastors come from if we avoid these great population centers?
Once our urban missionaries arrive, they often try to insulate themselves from the harsh urban environment. On the foreign mission field they often live in gated missionary compounds with locals serving as servants and housekeepers. Is this what we referred to as being “incarnational”? We do the same thing in the United States. Some live in the suburbs and commute. Those who serve in ministries, requiring that they live in the city, choose communities that are the nicest possible, moving as far away from the inner city as they can. This attitude brings the impression to the residents that the missionary or pastor has a sense of superiority, breaking down communication, trust, and the potential for a relationship. It prevents the bonding and respect needed to be effective in the urban environment. This is especially true if one is called to reach the inner cities in America and other cities of the world where most of the people are poor. Holding on to our affluence and our comfort also keeps us from feeling at home. It keeps us from bonding to the new culture. If we don’t feel at home developing a sense of belonging, we will not be apt to stay very long.
I think the greatest hindrance for effectiveness in the city and the greatest force causing many to resist the urban calling is affluence. In Luke 12:15, Jesus said, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” Anyone called to the ministry must guard himself from falling into such a cunning and divisive trap.
(This article comes from Chapter 12, Urban Impact)