Let’s consider for a moment, Philippians 2:7, “…He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men…” In a few words God reveals to us a key component of His philosophy of ministry. Christ left the comfort of heaven and moved in with those to whom He would minister. He lived with them, He ate with them, and He fellowshipped with them. He knew what it felt like to work all day in the hot sun. He knew what it was to be tired to be hungry. He identified Himself with them, their concerns became His concerns, in a very real way - He became one of them.
This has been the standard model of ministry in mission fields around the world for centuries.
Missionaries leave the comfort and familiarity of their own homes and move in with those to whom they are ministering. They learn their customs and work beside them. They immerse themselves in their culture and walk a while in their shoes. They invest themselves in the lives and communities to which they are ministering. Many missionaries willingly sacrifice personal safety and risk their own lives as they become a part of their mission field. All of this is done for one purpose – to share the Gospel of Christ.
At one time this was the model of ministry that was practiced by churches in the United States as well. The local church was interwoven into the fabric of the community. The majority of the members lived in the community, they worked side by side with their neighbors, they fellowshipped with them, they shared in the problems of their community and worked together solve them. All the while they shared the Gospel and made a difference where they lived.
All of this began to slowly change in the 1950’s. As the United States began to experience unprecedented prosperity, countless numbers of upwardly mobile Americans left their urban neighborhood for the wide open spaces of the suburbs. Unfortunately many of these who fled the cities were Christians. Urban churches were left vacant as new congregations were established in the suburbs and many eventually disbanded. As the Gospel presence faded urban centers crime, poverty and despair crept in. As genuine hope faded people learned to anesthetize themselves with drugs, alcohol, illicit sex or anything else that would help them escape the harsh realties of the city. Today our cities are considered by many Christians to be the epitome of spiritual darkness.
While most Christians agree that now more than ever our urban centers need the light of Christ, very few are willing to follow Jesus’ example to bring it. Most urban ministry is done by what my bother Keith refers to as “controlling the dose.” Suburban Christians come in for a day or a week and to do mission projects, prayer walks, block parties or other Christian activities and when our time is over we return to the security of our suburban neighborhoods. We carefully regulate our exposure to the urban environment; we “control the dose.” As a result we are never truly able to relate to those who are unable to control their dose. We can never really connect with those who don’t have a safe suburban home to run to. We don’t understand their problems because they aren’t our problems. We don’t live in their neighborhoods, we don’t shop in their stores and our children don’t go to their schools. We have managed to remove the risk and therefore the ministry from our Christian faith. We have managed to make Christianity neat, clean and safe.
Jesus didn’t commute to His mission field or try to limit His exposure; He didn’t “control the dose.” He emptied Himself and assumed the life of those to whom He came to minister. If we claim to follow in His footsteps, how can we do any less?
In His Service,