My ministry setting is in the inner-city

Your Question:

“How can I best serve in an inner-city ministry setting?”

The Issues:

Inner-city ministries have unique challenges. Safety/security might be the most challenging with a close second being parking. Inner-city ministries usually minister to a diverse culture; but there might also be a more focused culture.

Scripture Foundation:

“He heals the. brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”  Psalm 147:3

Short Answer:

God calls people to minister in every environment! He places His servants in ministry settings that match their own gifts, experiences, and callings. If you serve in an inner-city setting, it is because God knows that your personality and gifts relate to the needs of the people in that area. 


Not everyone can minister in an inner-city setting. It requires a strong vision, patience and understanding.  It also requires cultural acceptance. It is normally unusual for someone to minister in an inner-city setting who doesn’t look or speak like those in the surrounding community. If the inner-city setting includes multiple cultures, then the “look” of those who minister may not be as critical.  It is still important that the ministry leadership “look” like those to whom they minister.


Many once-successful ministries have closed due to a cultural shift in the community that isn’t reflected in the ministry staff and leadership. This doesn’t mean that you hire or recruit people only because they match the surrounding culture, but it does mean that you must pray that God leads people to you that are qualified to serve in the ministry AND who match the culture of those who live in the community.


Typically, inner-city ministries exist in areas that may have higher levels of crime.  This is an excellent place for a church or organization that offers hope in Jesus!  Higher levels of crime in the surrounding community means that the ministry’s safety is critical.  Your CM, and church safety policies must restrict access to the CM and provide safety officers inside and outside the facilities. You need to decide whether these safety officers are “plain clothes” or are they easily identified by vests, guns, and police-like attire. There are two sides to this discussion.  You don’t want to scare visitors away by having too many “heavily armed” people in the facility, and yet you want people to see that your facility is safe.  The church leadership will decide how to create a balance in this area. A “lighter” approach to security within the CM area is to have security guards with the word “Security” visible on the front and back of shirts. These “lite” guards would not be visibly armed, but they would be present for greeting, eye contact, and any immediate needs that might arise.  They would have two-way radios that are connected to the others on the security team, and they would be accessed by radio from the CM director or CM leadership. This “low level” security team approach might be less intimidating, while still providing “eyes and ears” in the CM hallways.


In addition to the security team personnel, the safety policies must also cover “intruders,” angry parents, or other emergencies. The CM training should include specific training in the safety policies that protect the children, and in supporting and understanding the various cultures that may visit the CM. 


It is critically important to “weed out” (invite to serve in another ministry) any CM team member who may have difficulties ministering to those from various cultures, or from various backgrounds.  The CM team must be “color-blind,” and not judgmental to how people “appear,” or act. In today’s fluid society, the CM team will interact with single parents, members of the LGBTQ community, both rich and poor families, people who appear to be “gang” members, and people who may appear to be “lost,” or without a home. The CM team must have the “eyes” and “heart” of Jesus who befriended and was understanding to everyone. 


The Church has a “bad reputation” for not being a place to find love and encouragement.  The CM environment should be a place that “feels like home” to the children and parents who come from the various cultures or backgrounds that you will find in an inner-city setting. In an inner-city setting, as well as in every setting, the church and CM should do planned “outreaches” to the neighboring community.


In today’s world, there are fewer and fewer people who value church.  In an inner-city setting, you may have a significant number of people who have been “hurt” or “bothered” by the Church.  They may not naturally want to come to the church; so, it is important for the church to go to them!  This is the foundational principle in the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28: 19, 20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  


How can the CM and the church “go” to your community instead of waiting for them to come to you? A great older movie that clearly illustrates this concept is the first “Sister Act” movie (there are parts of the movie that aren’t positive examples of how to live or minister, but there are some great examples of the local church “going” to the surrounding community). Ask God to give you ideas to make connections with the surrounding community. The surrounding community has needs. How can you as a church or CM satisfy those needs? Outreaches that help with food, clothes, childcare, or other real needs would make the church and CM more attracting to the people in the community.


Work with your church leadership and plan safe, simple acts of love or service that might attract the local community to you and to Jesus. No matter what parents may think or feel about church, they may be very interested in activities for their children. Offering summer or after school programs for the local children is always a good thing. Work and pray hard to make these programs as low cost or free as possible to the community. As you minister to the children who are dropped off at the church for these affordable programs, you’ll gradually earn the respect of their parents. Be kind and non-judgmental with the parents. Be a different “taste” of church! 


Jesus always offered satisfaction for physical or emotional needs before He dealt with the spiritual needs of the people. He provided friendship and respect to people like the “woman at the well” in John 4, the woman “caught in adultery” in John 8, Zacchaeus the tax collector in Luke 19, and Levi the tax collector in Mark 2. Do all you can to be “real” and friendly to the community around you.  For more help in understanding the setting of the children’s ministry, click on the APPENDIX link below.

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