What does holiness ministry look like in an urban setting? Depending on the individual you are asking, you will find various answers to that question. “Holiness” is defined as being set apart for God, but “urban” can mean many things to many people. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines urban as a large city population.
The context in which I minister is the urban setting of Long Beach, California in Los Angeles County. Long Beach First Church (LBFC) is a very diverse church that is multi-ethnic, multi-economic, and multi-generational. For example, one of my Sunday School teachers is the number one Ferrari restoration expert in the world and has Ferraris in the Smithsonian and other collector venues; our drummer is homeless. We have top-level CEOs and business owners and blue-collar workers. We have multiple people who graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University, as well as high school dropouts. We also have a great number of outside guests (homeless people) visit us weekly for food and a clean shower.
So, how do we minister to such a diverse group? We preach the truth without excuses.
My sermons are crafted in ways to give people hope and the tools to apply what the Bible says to their current situations. Our ministries are set up to allow people to walk alongside each other and show how God has something much better for them than what the world has to offer.
Many people view servant leadership as the prominent style to lead from, but in urban ministry, we need to be situational leaders; because each situation we find ourselves in is so different, and the individuals are so different.
When it comes to the down-and-out, we provide for their needs and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus showed compassion by healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, and even raising the dead. But don’t forget that Jesus also healed the brokenness in the city by forgiving the sins of the outcast, the marginalized, and tax collectors. In Luke 4:18, Jesus clearly stated His mission: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.” It’s vital for us to offer both love and truth—care and accountability.
An aspect of ministry sometimes forgotten is ministering to the wealthy. This might surprise you, but they need Jesus, too; and they actually love to learn about Jesus and His ministry. We read in Luke 19:1-9 that Jesus had no issue meeting with wealthy people, even if they were known to be corrupt:
“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short, he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’ But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now, I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’”
As Christians, we know we are not to show favoritism, and this applies to how we treat the rich, just as much as it does to the poor. As God said in Leviticus 19:15, “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.’”
At LBFC, we also hold community events quarterly. We have events for all the major Christian holidays, but we also contract In-N-Out Burger to bring their truck and cook delicious hamburgers for everyone in our community, drawing in people who might not otherwise attend and showing them the love of Christ. We are also involved with Relay for Life (the international fundraising campaign for cancer research), Special Olympics, and many other events. I meet with the mayor, who happens to be an openly homosexual man, to discuss how our church can serve our community better. I also meet with the chief of police and the head of the Los Angeles FBI office to help in the fight against human trafficking. There are so many ways to reach a diverse group of people throughout our city, and it doesn’t always have to look like the traditional way of doing things.
I believe the Church should always be innovating and getting creative to develop new avenues of reaching the unreached with the hope of Christ.
The message and biblical principles remain the same without compromise, but the approach and methods of delivery should evolve to best serve your area.
A few years ago, something happened at our church that still serves as quite an intense reminder of how we are to treat the lost in our communities. There was a man going all around Southern California killing people if they told him “No.” This man murdered six people within a one-week time frame. Long story short, this young man ended up in my office, and I had no idea who he was. I later learned that he had a pistol in his pocket the whole time, but each time he would ask for something, I would give it to him. Things like coffee, food, and the use of one of our bathrooms. Only after I offered him a shower did he decide not to kill me. I had no idea of this the whole time we spoke. Then he was arrested just outside of my office. The police were amazed he didn’t kill me, and others asked how I survived. I simply answered them with: “Be nice to people; it could save your life!”
If I was to sum up how to bring holiness to an urban context, I would say to...
Love and be kind to everyone, while never condoning sin. Teach people that God desires for them to live without sin. People need love and acceptance, but they also need to be saved and set free from their bondage.
Jesus Christ is their only answer, and He will equip you to effectively spread the Good News wherever He sends you.