After our first two years in ministry in Boston, we wrote a paper in 1966 called, “A Total Approach to Inner City Ministry.” By “total approach” we didn’t mean that we had all the answers, but that the city was such a complex and challenging environment that only a total approach could be successful in addressing it.
One of the things we said in that early paper was, “The city needs hundreds of ministering Christians.” “Ministering Christians” simply meant people in each neighborhood, doing just what we ourselves were caught up in doing – driving multiple injured neighbors to the store (back when there was no South Bay Shopping Center!); going with them to the social security office, the welfare office, and their doctor appointments; painting their walls or cleaning their floors; and above all, listening to their stories.
But, as usual, we got the numbers wrong! It wasn’t “hundreds of ministering Christians” that were needed for a total approach to our city – but thousands! And they came! They came in droves, but quietly and unnoticed. We didn’t see them because they did not look like us. They came from the Deep South and, then, from every corner of the world. Sometimes we would see them in their churches, praying, preaching and singing, and we focused on nurturing those churches and their leaders. God did bless that.
But we didn’t always notice at a deeper level how those churches were full of “ministering Christians” – thousands of them – infiltrating our city and its institutions; cooking, cleaning and serving in its homes, hospitals, universities and businesses; quietly buying and fixing up houses; praying for the city's “shalom”; and transforming the total system of our city from the inside-out.
A lot of people have benefited from those “thousands of ministering Christians” – from Doug and I being able to have a child because of the prayers of a childless Haitian nurse, to the awakening faith of a very successful business friend who came to Christ 46 years later because he saw authenticity in the witness of the Haitian immigrant who cleaned his office.
Quietly, these thousands of ministering believers were participating in the “total approach” that our city needs. Does more need to be done? Absolutely! But in all our planning, let’s not forget to include this behind-the-scenes “army” of ministering believers on the front lines of our city.