Overcoming the 3 basic challenges to Urban Mission Work

by: Mark Junkans - Executive Director

There are some basic challenges to urban mission work that are universal.  This is how LINC is working to overcome those challenges and build a growing network of organizations and ministries to reach and restore our cities.

OUR MANDATE

We the church have been given a mandate by our Lord Jesus Christ. That is, to make disciples of everyone everywhere.

Everywhere we look, there are people who don’t yet know how much God loves them. They haven’t heard the Good News that Jesus died for their sins so they may have peace with God. Instead, they try to make it in this world as best they can. And this world can be a very difficult place, causing many to lose hope.

Because of wide-scale poverty, families in our urban communities struggle to even put food on the table. Children grow up in neighborhoods where the streets have more influence on them than their parents and teachers. Families struggle to stay together and most children grow up without a single positive role model.

Immigrant families struggle in much the same way. Language barriers, lack of education and higher-level job skills make attaining a well-paying career extremely difficult. Most piece together multiple part-time jobs, which leave little time for their families and provide very little money to sustain them.

People from everywhere around the globe now live in our cities, and they bring with them their own cultures, beliefs and values. The city is a challenging mission field to say the least. But this is the mission field where LINC has been called by God to focus all of our efforts, the communities that are the most unreached and underserved by our supporting denomination, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

We wanted to figure out a way to effectively do mission work in Houston and begin to multiply into new communities, knowing that there is always a limited amount of resources available to do so.

We also wanted to expand our ministry into new cities where the same challenges are present, but in order to do this well, we first had to figure out how to overcome three basic challenges.

These are the:

  1. Challenge of Impact
  2. Challenge of Sustainability
  3. Challenge of Scale.

IMPACT:

When most people think of ministry in the city, they think of charity work and service projects.

But charity work among the destitute actually serves a very small percentage of individuals in the city who are unable to function normally in society. The vast majority of the poor throughout our city don’t fall into this category of needing charity. Instead, they need empowerment and opportunity.

Service projects by outside groups are a tremendous blessing to people like the elderly and those who are truly helpless. The problem is that most of the projects that outside groups come to do in the city actually take initiative away from proud and able -bodied individuals who could learn to do these things for themselves. Instead of helping people fix their situation, it helps keep them there waiting for the next handout.

Most service projects create a lot of good will among the volunteers, but make very little lasting positive impact in the local community.

And possibly the biggest challenge for the church, is that we’ve come to equate relief work with mission work.

Let’s look at what mission work is: To take the message of Jesus Christ to places where the His kingdom of grace isn’t yet established. In its narrowest terms, every heart without Jesus is a mission field.

The outcomes for all mission work ultimately results in new disciples and new churches. At LINC, we seek to accomplish these outcomes by training new leaders for ministry who plant new churches that reach, impact and transform their communities with the Gospel of Christ.  We believe that this focus provides the best potential Kingdom impact in our communities.

The outcomes for all mission work ultimately results in new disciples and new churches.

SUSTAINABILITY:

Another challenge to work in the city is sustainability. Usually the communities that need the most focus and attention also have the fewest financial resources.

In low-income communities, families often live day to day or week to week, not knowing where the money will come from for tomorrow. When whole communities are living in survival mode, it's extremely difficult to sustain even basic services without outside assistance.

Mission work in these communities faces the same challenges. Outside resources are invested into new mission work in an new community. When those resources eventually go away, that mission is typically left unsustainable and struggles to even survive. In fact, most don’t, and that community is left without a mission presence until the next outside group rallies the resources to start new work. This cycle repeats itself over and over until the residents stop trusting any new work, and outside supporters stop believing that their contributions will actually make a lasting impact.

By focusing on the development of local leaders who can properly leverage their own resources, we know that our work will be more sustainable. A missionary leader who learns to develop the resources God has put in front of him primarily needs the proper training, coaching and incentives to do the work they’ve been called to do. That is precisely what LINC provides in order to create a sustainable mission field.

The opposite approach to this is to pay local leaders using outside funds for the pastoral and mission work they do.  We believe that this model is unsustainable and actually undercuts the mission's goal of stewardship and development of local assets.

By focusing on the development of local leaders who can properly leverage their own resources, we know that our work will be more sustainable.

SCALABILITY

Because of the unique challenges in each community, a ministry model that works in one location rarely replicates itself into another. It typically takes such an incredible amount of energy and ingenuity just to make something become effective and sustainable that the idea of scaling or multiplying is unfathomable. That, or we try to scale ideas prematurely with little success.

LINC has been working in the city of Houston for 14 years, and has helped other LINC organizations begin around the country. This isn’t based on a single model that is difficult to replicate, but on the basis of principles that are universal to mission work in the City.

The first principle is that the main goal of all mission work is to make disciples, who in turn make disciples. The second principle is that planting new churches is the primary means of making new disciples, through the Means of Grace, Christ’s Word and Sacrament. The third principle is this, that mission work is best done through local leaders who are indigenous to that community. The fourth principle is that work in the city must be holistic in nature in order to truly be impactful. In other words, that community transformation should be an intended outcome of all urban church planting.

Because of the unique challenges in each community, a ministry model that works in one location rarely replicates itself into another.

We’re now doing everything with the end-goal of multiplication. Multiplication of disciples, ministry leaders, churches and community transformation work here in the cities like Houston where LINC already works, and into new cities across the world.

We’re networking leaders on a local and a national level for encouragement and the sharing of best practices. We’re producing programs and materials that are teachable and reproducible in every community. Finally, we’re building a back-end system and replication model for launching LINC ministries in new cities.

Only by God’s grace are we able to move forward so that more lives and communities will be transformed by the power of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.

That God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have everlasting life.