From Full-Time Ministry to Urban Missionary
What if we planted people, not just churches?
There was no commissioning or prayer of “sending.”
I held two ministry positions; I was dismissed from one, and I resigned from the other. I didn’t seem to fit the mold for ministry and I didn’t enjoy the administration. The amount of time I spent inside the walls of the church office was killing me. I found myself in trouble for spending too much time out of the office and in the community, neglecting significant church duties. Thus, my life as an urban missionary life began—although I didn’t call it that. I called it “unemployment.” Many others (and myself) also called it “ministry failure.”
What came next was six years of desert.
It was hard to break out of my full-time ministry mindset. As far as I was concerned, I was no longer “in ministry.” I would attend church, only to leave feeling unqualified. I wasn’t clergy. I was the average churchgoer with no permission to live out a mission—or so I thought. I doubted “the call” I felt God had on my life. What was he doing with me? Had he cast me aside?
Credential renewals would come every year in the mail. Each year, receiving the letter, my reaction went from great frustration to mocking laughter. Where was the box I should check for “I just love my neighbor like an average Joe”? What was I supposed to put in the “How many times did you preach” section? How many years would they accept my “in transition” status?
Money became a source of anxiety. When your only education is Bible College and you’re not “in ministry,” what are you qualified to do? You don’t get paid for loving your neighbor, volunteering in the community, or helping out at church.
Then the Concept Hit Me
One day I read a blog post by David Fitch about urban missionaries. He suggested that churches invest in planting “people” in communities, not just planting new churches. This caught my attention. I had moved from Vancouver to a low-income community in Calgary, where I grew up. Could it be that God had planted me in my community on purpose? Could I possibly do ministry without ordination? What would this look like?
I started living as a missionary would in another land. Every day I prayed for God to send me to the broken. It wasn’t long before I was overwhelmed with the brokenness around me.
Poverty reduction and awareness has now become one of my greatest passions. I have the honor of working with many great organizations in our city, such as an organization where I deliver baby items to moms in need, and one of our homeless shelters, where my sons and I serve lunch once a month. It was easy to get involved. I just researched poverty in my city, made a few phone calls, and found that organizations were more than happy to inform me of the issues and have me volunteer. I also got involved with our mayor’s initiative to reduce poverty when I produced a dance show in our city, raising awareness about poverty and breaking down the typical stereotypes associated with poverty. I was asked to be an ambassador to lead discussions creating strategies on poverty reduction around our city.
This shift in ministry has been the most exciting, fun, challenging, yet hardest task I have undertaken. We all get hyped about missional living, but to step out into the world of living it—well, I can’t say it’s easy. Financially, it can be challenging when you only have a Bible college education and when your only work experience is in church administration. I found myself stepping out into the entrepreneurial world to start my dance business. Business has opened doors to be in the community, but can also be shaky when financial storms hit our economy.
There are many others like me who have, for whatever reason, shifted from full-time ministry to a time in the “desert.” They question whether they were truly “called” at all. As frustrating as this is, through my experience I have found that a sense of mission and purpose can grow greater in these times. Kingdom innovation can happen when we can look past our ministry box and see with new eyes. The good news is that the church is starting to embrace “weirdos” like me.
How the Measurement of Success Changes
One challenge of being an urban missionary is that what once measured successful ministry in the past becomes obsolete. If you can’t count how many people came to the service on Sunday, then how do you know you’re having impact? The beginning stages of “success” become more about how many relationships are being built—trust, friendship, and inroads with the community become the reports at district conference. This creates a tension for the urban worker and supporters, who often want to hear about success through the traditional lens of “numbers.” “What do you mean, you had a block party with your neighbors? Where’s the ‘fruit’?”
The urban missionary can easily become discouraged battling through her own traditional mindset about what success looks like. At this point, it takes all the courage she has to keep going and not quit, as this is the road less taken, a road that can take years. There’s no quick fruit on this ride.
However, I have had more rich conversations about Christ and faith lately than I did while working in my church office. I have gained the respect of those I work with in the arts community and poverty-reduction circles, which can be an enormous feat for one who calls herself a Christian. My home has become a place of rest and healing for the broken in my community, and my sons believe that serving the poor is something everyone does.
The concept I have wrestled with the most is, how do I fit into the traditional church? People like me can freak the church out, because the people I want to hang out with are the ones some churches don’t know what to do with! Outcasts, narcissists, gay people, thrill seekers, mockers. Urban missionaries like me engage in arts and culture, a world the church has lost touch with. I engage through dance instruction and producing shows based on social-justice issues. I like what my friend Greg Denie from Legacy One says: “We’re called to be on the cutting edge of culture.”
In this part of the world, 70 to 80 percent of society isn’t flocking to the church. Now more than ever, it’s time to create a movement of missionaries who will flock to them. People are spiritually hungry but want nothing to do with church. The conversations I have had with non-believers have shown me that they are very much open to the message of Jesus but are weary of the church. I have been surprised at how easy it has been to build relationships and share my faith based on a respect and love for them as individuals. Those of us who are doing this are finding that the harvest truly is plentiful.
Connie Jakab is the author of the book Culture Rebel. Connie is passionate about rebelling against status-quo living and encouraging others to branch out. Connie drives her passion outward into the arms of those wanting something more radical and meaningful in life. She can be found on twitter @ConnieJakab. Connie is honored to be part of the Redbud Writers Guild.