Thick-Skinned Urban Missionaries
I love superhero movies and television series. I also have a love for comics. Next month, Netflix is launching a new series on the superhero, Luke Cage. Like super heroes such as Black Panther and Falcon, Luke Cage is African American. He resides in Harlem, New York, standing against evil and fighting for justice. Luke Cage has a very interesting superpower – his skin can’t be penetrated. Bullets just bounce off of him; no knife is able to puncture him. His tough skin enables him to take on crime of the urban streets.
Through my many years in urban ministry I have learned the importance of developing thick skin. To be fruitful and faithful as an urban missionary, pastor, or evangelist, you need thick enough skin to deal with the evil, the challenges, and the broken systems that keep the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed from discovering their true identity and purpose.
Standing in the Midst of Brokenness and Conflict
To be thick-skinned is a term that defines a person’s insides more than their outside. It is a paradox that a term pointing to the outside of one’s body is used to really get at the core of one’s being. Being thick-skinned is about how you respond to being offended, to navigating tough social issues, and dealing with opinions opposite of the ones you hold dearly. To be thin-skinned is to be easily offended and desire a life of minimal conflict. If missionaries are thin-skinned, they won’t last long in a calling to be a vehicle of empowerment and transformation in urban and under-resourced communities. The life of the urban missionary is one of standing in the midst of conflict, pain, division, dysfunction, and injustice. It is a life of loving people who are not only surrounded by brokenness, but also dealing with a stew of conflict boiling in the pot of their own souls.
There are also issues of ethnicity, class, and race that can come into play for the urban missionary as well. If you didn’t grow up in the urban context and yet are called to the urban mission field you’d better allow the Holy Spirit to toughen you up. Being a cross-cultural missionary is about being able to endure being looked at as an outsider and stranger by the people you have been called to serve. Tough-skinned missionaries and pastors are able to extend love and grace to those who don’t know how to love back.
Humility To Sees Potential and Giftedness
Being an urban missionary requires a humility that sees potential and giftedness in the unchurched urban poor. You have to be willing to serve under the one who is transformed into an urban indigenous leader and to trust and respect existing urban churches. The urban church that has remained rooted in the city for years is a thick and robust institution. I have such great respect for the churches that have stayed in the city after other churches left for a more resourced mission field. The urban missionary can be toughened up for greater fruitfulness in ministry by sitting at the feet of the church that has stayed committed to the city.
I am realizing after 25 years in urban ministry that I need to continue to toughen my skin. It’s what enables me to keep my skin in the game of loving urban communities and people. I grew up in the city and it toughened my skin. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and ever since the Holy Spirit has been toughening the skin of my heart and soul so that I might mature as a minister of the Gospel. Being thick-skinned for the Kingdom of God can only come about through intimacy with God, identity in Christ, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Only out of the overflow of this dynamic relationship can we be used as urban missionaries to empower the poor, strengthen the church, and transform communities.
Rev. Efrem Smith’s original blog entry can be found here.
Read more blog entries from Word Impact President and CEO Efrem Smith.
Rev. Efrem Smith is the President and CEO of World Impact. He has a track record in leading Christian Community Development efforts, serving as a Pastor, Church Planter and leader of the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church, and is the founding Pastor of Sanctuary Covenant Church in North Minneapolis, MN. As a preacher, motivational speaker, and author, Efrem Smith is internationally recognized for his passion to see lasting life transformations, communities revitalized to reach the marginalized, and further Kingdom advancement within our churches.