Debunking the Misperceptions, Misunderstandings and Misrepresentations of Urban Ministry





Today we will layout a foundational picture to help those with the intent of serving in urban communities across America understand what urban ministry is and isn’t and how to successfully minister to young people in your community.

In summary – The dynamics of urban ministry are like a Hologram composed of endless layers. Each layer with its unique idiosyncrasies adds many additional non-parallel layers, but all the layers are in relationship of varying impact and influence.



So let’s break this complex statement into a few of its distinctive:


 1.  Urban ministry is African, African American, Asian, Caucasian, Chinese, Haitian, Hispanic, and several other multicultural groups. 

For the last 10 years I have watched and witnessed a significant uptick in the number of groups, organizations and individuals from outside the urban community trying to come into the urban community with their definitions of urban and versions of “how to do urban youth ministry” curriculum and programs.  The conversation really starts with – how are you defining Urban?  Are you really trying to say minorities or are you looking at the intercity which is a melting pot of all different races, religions and denominations.  Tightly compacted groups of people trying to live together in harmony.  Each race living integrated with, next to or near other races.  Each community with it’s unique set of challenges.  Those challenges are community based not race based.

Implications: No one group defines urban ministry, no single solution exist to minister to urban young people.  Biblical principles or precepts are not racial they are inclusive.  Ministry is relational, the more we are in relationship with each other the better we can all minister to young people.



 2. There are a significant number of urban leaders doing great things to engage and equip young people, but are not trying to hype it.

I continuously see people from outside the urban communities come in with perceptions that they need to teach urban leaders how to do ministry.  They don’t take the time to first observe or listen directly to those currently ministering.  To ask questions and gain an understanding of what they are currently doing.  To engage in a dialogue of what they feel is and isn’t working and what is the uniqueness of the environment in which they minister.  They don’t seek out the successful leaders to avoid having to viewing them as equals.  I understand the concept – you associate with whom you know.  But like Nehemiah who unless he first assessed the damage and examined the degree of brokenness, couldn’t begin to know what that job would entail.

Implications: The view of those inside your circle can become limited and jaded based on false assumptions and bias.    Take the time develop relationships with leaders in the urban community and learn what they are doing.  Seek first to understand what the different leaders are doing.  You will find they have innovative ministries that they don’t spend time promoting; they just keep doing good things with young people.



 3. The issues of urban youth are not different from that of suburban and rural youth

Young people face a common set of issues across all communities.  The difference comes in the veracity and manifestation in each environment.   Sexual pressure, bulling, peer pressure, anger, gender identity, self-confidence, drugs and alcohol, respect for parents, rejection, violence, wise choices of music, media and friends.  It’s everywhere.  Some suburban and rural communities are experiencing these at a greater rate than some urban communities.

Implications: Don’t immediately assume every urban kids life experiences are negative.  The key is being relational and intentional in understanding the challenges your young people face and helping them use biblical principals to deal with these challenges within the context of the environment in which they exist.  Focus on bringing them from where they are to where they need to be.



 4. You need more than an urban curriculum to minister to urban youth. 

Everyone wants to be helpful and valuable, but there is no turnkey solution.  You must invest the time to understand the challenges young people face and prayerfully seek God for direction in helping ground them in the biblical solutions to the challenges they face.  If you travel across the country you will find different views of ministering to kids from city to city.  Contrasting views even within the different communities OF each city.  There are churches that are in desperate need of resources; on the other end there are churches that have significant resources.  There are Caucasian churches in the heart of what were traditionally black communities.  And there are black and Hispanic churches in wealthy communities.  There are international churches that speak only their native language and there are international churches that speak English.

Implications: There is no “one size fits all” turnkey solution, every ministry must be customized to fit the specific needs of its group in the context of the beliefs of its congregation.



5. There is no one person that can speak on behalf of the entire urban community

Each person can give you A perspective, not THE perspective.  When someone claims to be the “expert” in urban youth ministry, first ask him or her to describe the community from which they come, the resources available to them, the size of their congregation, the central focus of their ministry, the demographics of the people they minister to and their denominational background.  And then most importantly, have them compare that to another community in which they have served young people.  Not gone in and preached then left, but where they have actually served.

Implications: Those with the biblical responsible for bringing up the next generation of young people must be able to clearly discern the advice they are getting and the affects it will have on the lives of those young people under their unique care.  Listen to their experiences, but then run it through the filter of your specific community.  My father use to say – “chew the meat and spit out the bone”



 6. Hip Hop does not define the urban youth ministry culture

Culture varies from church to church and community to community.  Hip Hop is not the music of every urban person; baggie jeans and hoodies are not the choice of clothing for every person.  Too many stereotypes are attached to urban that only fit a segment of the population.  There are urban churches where young people are engaged and have a thirst for God.  Where parents are involved and men are engaged in the lives of young people.  There are churches with a mix of those attributes and unfortunately, there are churches with very little of this.

Implications: Taylor your approach to fit the uniqueness of the community in which you minister.  Understand there are kids that like opera, camping and who desire to play musical instruments.  Every young person does not want to be rappers, athletes or entertainers.



7. Urban Youth ministry does not have to replicate the secular world and move away from religion in order to be relevant and draw young people to Jesus Christ.

Young leaders are trying to define urban youth ministry as needing to mimic the secular world in dress, style, language and lingo.  There is quite a bit of rhetoric that the church is not relevant because it does not profess the social view they want to live under.  Why would someone want to be part of that which you continuously put down?  The reality is the Bible in Romans 12:1- 2 tells us to be separated from this world – To be in this world but not of this world.  And in the next verse it tells us to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought to.

The key to connecting is being relational; it’s about being real with young people.  Its not about trying to act like the them, to dress like them and talk like them.  That’s not how you connect with them.  When they see you have a genuine concern for them, the challenges they face and have the time to walk with them through their challenges.  When they see you care about them and this is not a platform for you to come up, you can draw them in.  Young people are looking for someone to look up to, individuals to model their lives after.   They follow more what you do then what you say.  So make sure your walk is representative of the life you want them to replicate.

If we continue to talk about the church not being relevant and talk down the actions of non-perfect people within the church; then young people will not want to be part of that.  We have to be seen encouraging one another, holding one another up during times of weakness, supporting one another.  Advocating, interceding and mediating on behalf of one another.  But a lot of time is spent putting down churches, church leaders and how what the church is doing is so wrong.


Implications: Young people become confused when we try to be the world.  Because we don’t do the world as well as the world, we look fake and phony to them.  And most importantly, it is the Word of God that saves young people not us.  So bring the Word to the young people.  It will not return void.


Let’s discuss these 7 distinctives, join the conversation.  Let’s hear your thoughts.  Did I miss any?  What would you add?  What additional clarity would you state?


Occasionally, I will have guest writers from all around the country that will bring you different perspectives so you can understand that urban ministries are as different as the leaves on the trees and the snowflakes that fall from the sky.  So you will be able to understand how to approach urban ministry in the demographic community in which you exist.  To help young people deal with the unique challenges they face.  Helping them to engage, discern and make good choices as they walk out their destiny.   Helping them to understand the importance of salvation and living a life that is pleasing to God.


So get ready to engage in a new understanding of urban ministry and the importance of Christian and secular leadership of God’s people.


Welcome to the conversation . . .


2 Replies to “Debunking the Misperceptions, Misunderstandings and Misrepresentations of Urban Ministry”

  1. Can I throw out a bit of pushback / my thoughts?

    Regarding # 2 – There is a real humility of many good urban leaders…but new people NEED to get to know them…and in the city of Chicago, I just find it…odd…that people are so disconnected, even in the same neighborhood! We need to connect…I hate sounding like a commercial, but events like Reload become like family reunions when you go to enough of them, and you get connected, inspired to be & do more. And monthly opportunities like Urban Youth Network really build those relationships in an organic way.

    Regarding #3… I think you’re right in WHAT the issues are, will be the same from urban to suburban to rural. But HOW they can be addressed can be hugely different. Where i live, there are literally 80 different churches within a mile of my home. Where I grew up in Hoffman Estates, there were 2 within 2 miles (now it’s like 5, with 1 or 2 church OFFICES within a mile). So in the city, you could theoretically have resources to walk to (certainly take the train/bus to)…and you could literally walk the streets and have fruitful ministry. In the suburbs (and especially in rural), you would need to PROVIDE transportation…and if you walked the neighborhoods, you’d be lucky to find 5 people to talk with you, let alone have real ministry with.

    We have to be honest that there are problems with urban ministry….administration, in my experience, has been a significant weakness of many ministries. But I see and agree with your point that people who tend to be strong in something tend to ignore/downplay their own weaknesses. They tend to be in a “savior” mode, rather than equals, and willing to get help with their own issues (if they even acknowledge or are aware of them)

    Part of new urban ministry might be how to address the sins of suburbanites, but in a way that creates godly brokenness. They need the approach of Francis Chan – who can make you feel repentant, but yet hopeful at the same time, and feeling that he’s right there with you, and not looking down at you.

    Speaking as a recovering suburbanite…a couple of our issues include: the need to fix things/make them right (as they are in the suburbs, ALL the time – supposedly) and feeling that we as an individual have significance. If we’ve sacrificed (or been forced into) a “non-successful” (big air quotes there) lifestyle, I think we have a subconscious need to “prove” we are “ successful”/smart/etc.

  2. J. P.
    Tell us more about the challenges of administration in urban ministry – what is it, what are the root causes and what do you feel are some of the ways to begin correcting this problem

your thoughts. . .