What is urban ministry?

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This question sometimes sits under the surface of ministry discussions around urban youth ministry. Sometimes it’s an elephant in the room.  What do we really mean when we say “urban” ministry?

I love that on opening day of class about leadership in urban youth ministry, professor Jeremy Del Rio opens with this very question. The students are all actively engaged in urban ministry of one sort another (as is Jeremy) in cities across the country and Canada. But Jeremy calls out an ambiguity that all of these students can identify with.

In American ministry culture, “Urban” has become a code word for ministry to people of color, or people impacted by poverty, or hip hop culture, or resource-deprived inner city neighborhoods, or all of the above. These distinctives aren’t necessarily bad, but they are very different, and none of them are tied by definition to the adjective “urban”.

Jeremy’s definition of urban ministry is a bit different, drawing from Jeremiah 29:7: “Seek the welfare of the city…in its welfare you will find your welfare.” This is a word spoken by the prophet to a people in exile, a people who find themselves in a place they don’t want to be, among a people they must serve as captives.  Urban youth ministry is often like this, marked by serving in a context of exile.  Choosing to serve with a posture of longevity and seeking the shalom of the city can make all the difference.

How do you define urban ministry, and how does it shape what you do?