Are Christians doing urban ministry all wrong?

And are we doomed to a rising generation that doesn’t know the poor or how to help them?

Planting churches in big cities—especially in gentrified areas—is a trendy thing to do these days. Some of those churches are doing remarkable things.

But sometimes the focus on “sexy” ministry techniques and upper-income neighborhoods creates a danger. We might raise a generation of kids who care about the city, but know it in such superficial and stereotypical ways that they aren’t equipped to make the difference they could make—or even effectively answer the crucial call to love their neighbors.

Stephen Mattson writes in Sojourners:

Bars, strip clubs, prostitutes, homeless vagabonds, and drive-by shootings are images that many Christians associate with the ‘inner city.’

Unfortunately, these stereotypes of urban life — perpetuated through the media and popular culture — are not the whole truth, and it’s unfair to typecast individuals and communities simply based on where they live.

Churches and other Christian organizations support these false stigmas by being uneducated, inexperienced, and ignorant about the inner-city. They overdramatize the problems and oversimplify the solutions.

For example, many Christians will drive into poor neighborhoods and start street evangelizing and witnessing to everyone they come into contact with. But they’re assuming that these people aren’t already Christians — as if the neighborhood they are living in disqualifies them from having faith.

So as we continue to load packs of youth group kids into church vans and whisk them away to the city, maybe it’s time we start doing this with the intention that they learn from those that are already there.

If you think the church should be challenged to really get to know their neighbors—even when their neighbors are very different from them or live in the “wrong” part of town—please share this article!

Then read our conversation with Campolo Scholar Michelle Miles, who’s pushing to get exactly this done—and to make it the norm in the church.

See also: Meet the Campolo Scholars: A Year in Review

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