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




Today our guest blogger, Daniel White Hodges, is the North Park University Director of the Center for Youth Ministry Studies (CYMS).  Dan brings us his perspective of Urban Youth Ministry; continuing our 7 point series – Debunking the Misperceptions, Misunderstanding and  Misrepresentation of Urban Youth Ministry.




The days of singularized leadership are far gone. Unifying leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez, and Bobby Seal were great for their context, setting, time and era. However, we have had some major shifts in our Western American society over the last forty years which have affected how, in particular, young people see what the meta-culture defines as a leader. Shifts such as:


  • Industrial to post-industrial to information age
  • Technology & media
  • Narratives of life, theology, & God are plural
  • Trust is eroded with those in leadership positions
  • Trust & reliance is gnarled with systems & institutions among youth
  • A loss of generational connectivity & solace with younger generations
  • Titles are typically suspect


These are just a few of the many shifts that young people, especially those born after 1988, have had to contend with and live in. We are not even considering the chasm which exists between church leaders and youth. Young people today are more critical of their leaders and, as well so, hold them to a higher standard. Further, as it was seared into my worldview when I was on Young Life staff: you have to earn the right to be heard. And, quite honestly, many leaders do not want to put in that time to actually “earn” that right to be heard. Many urban leaders want to preach, lecture, and tell rather than listen, engage, and live with the young person.


Hence, no, there is no singularized leader, authority, and/ or person who can speak for the entire urban community—or even urban youth for that matter.


The closest person that spoke for many in the urban context was Tupac Amaru Shakur. Now, some of you might wrinkly your nose and squint your eyes at that persona. After all, wasn’t he a whoremonger, adulterer, drunk, and profane rhetorician? And the answer would be: yes. Yes he was. But, within that whoremongering, adultering, drunkenness, and profane discourse something deeper was at work; a fundamental attempt to make God more accessible to himself and to the people he considered to be the urban community. We as youth leaders cannot overlook that aspect. We cannot merely see the outward behavior and judge the heart. And we must begin to deconstruct such a figure to, dare I say, embody some of his characteristics. More on this later.


Leadership and having a voice is powerful. It is, in fact, power. The power to affect someone elses behavior to implement your ideas and thoughts. Power. Power to affect change with the inception of worldivews into the psyche. This does not come easy and many in this generation, as stated prior, are very critical of whom they give those psyche “keys” to. Moreover, the urban community is far too complex, intricate, multifaceted, and multifarious to have a singular voice on that narrative and life experience. Thus, when engaging the urban context we must consider the narratives of all; yes, even those we do not agree with; those who are nefarious in deed; those who are foul in personality; those who have dreadful historical pasts; those who are fastidious in everything called life. Yes, those are the ones God has called us to. Those are the ones whose narrative does not fit nicely in five step processes, alter calls, and one time conversions. This is the population that Christ called us to make disciples in the Great Commission.


So, no. There is no singular voice and narrative for the urban context. Why would there be? Can God be explained in one concept? I hope not. The ‘hood represents the complexities of human life that is articulated in outward expressions and aesthetics. Let us continue to embrace the diversity and mystery that is meta-narrative and life!

Let me hear your thoughts, questions, rebuttals, and narrative. Join in on the conversation!

To continue the conversation and go deeper please comment below, also check out:

Twitter: @danwhitehodge

Facebook: Daniel White Hodge


The Soul Of Hip Hop: Rimbs, Timbs, & A Cultural Theology (IVP 2010)

Heaven Has A Ghetto: The Missiological Gospel & Theology of Tupac Amaru Shakur (VDM Academic 2009)

One Reply to “There is no one person that can speak on behalf of the entire urban community”

  1. Excellent article. I think the other piece is that “urban” is not longer just the “hood.” Due to gentrification and relocation, as well as many other factors the “urban” demographic has broadened. That is why it is vital that there are many voices speaking into the topic. Sometimes (especially those who work with traditionally urban youth) believe however, there should be only one voice, with one opinion, and we fight those whose opinions differ from ours. We need to reach out and recognize each voice brings a different perspective that brings hope and restoration to the world.

your thoughts. . .