Urban Discipleship 101

The loud, incessant knock reverberated upstairs. After closing my MacBook and slipping on my house shoes, I scurried downstairs and opened the door.

It was one of my young disciples. He often stopped by unannounced, and since I hadn’t seen him in some time, I opened the door to joyfully greet him.

“What’s good, young brother?” I said, as I walked to the kitchen, “you want something to eat?” He eagerly took me up on the offer.

“Yea, Pastor, I think it’s discipleship time.”

“I’m Hungry, Man”

I’ve been walking with him for some time so I knew what it meant: he was hungry and came to my house to eat.

I didn’t have anything cooked, so I slipped on some sweats and we went to a local restaurant to catch up and discuss his spiritual life.

It was a fruitful time for the two of us.

If urban discipleship has taught me anything, it’s flexibility!

To be effective we have to understand that it’s less about formalized “training sessions” and more about addressing the comprehensive need of the people we want to see grow in grace.

We encourage others to submit to a life-long apprenticeship to Jesus Christ, and it will often take on a different complexion in the urban centers of our America.

So, for those interested in making disciples in the inner city context, here are three important things you need to know:

1. The Urban and Inner City Context Are Not Synonymous

To disciple young men and women in the inner city, we must be able to decipher between the urban and inner city context.

Too often we erroneously use these terms synonymously, and they’re actually drastically different.

“Urban” is often used generically to include the inner city, but it refers to parts of the city that are the epicenter of cultural formation.

It’s where ideas are birthed, entertainment is being produced, and the people are educated and upwardly mobile.[1]

It doesn’t mean that everyone is financially well off, but it’s replete with resources and options to help residents move upward in social, economic, and vocational spheres.

The inner city, by comparison, is much different! It’s under-resourced. Sadly, there are typically no long-term plans to bring economic opportunities into the inner city, and many of the residents struggle to live above the poverty line.

The few large companies that are drawn there for tax abatements often do not hire the residents, and it leads to inner city dwellers struggling to maintain their sense of dignity.

Ultimately, ethnic minorities that grow up in the urban context will often be markedly different than those who have grown up in the inner city.

It’s imperative to understand the diametric differences between the contexts and worldviews of the respective people groups.

2. Get Accustomed To Habitual Line Stepping

Let me let you in on a secret. Come closer.

If you enjoy privacy and insist on your personal boundaries being respected, urban ministry may not be for you!

It can make you feel inconvenienced, at times, and will undoubtedly pull you out of the cocoon of your comfort zone. Why?

Because the early stages of the discipleship process will occur in your living room and people from the neighborhood WILL NOT – I repeat, WILL NOT – respect traditional boundaries.

You’ll be viewed as a spiritual outlet to charge their broken lives.

So don’t assume that Sunday morning gatherings and mid-week small group/ bible studies are sufficient to help people who have been generationally disenfranchised from the gospel to become spiritually mature.

To see such spiritual maturity will take patience and the practice of creating more personable discipleship settings throughout the week.

Ultimately, those that seek to cultivate robust discipleship practices in their communities are often called on to provide care for hurting people at all times of the day and night.

So, be prepared to repent a lot of feeling inconvenienced and exploited by members of the community.

It’s part of the process.

3. You Will Become A Surrogate Family

Our communities are chock-full of fragmented families, and this current condition has made the process of making urban disciples very difficult.

It’s nearly impossible to develop strong, healthy, and vibrant ministries in the inner city on the backs of dysfunctional families.[2]

As Senator Daniel Moynihan presupposes, the triangular pathology of out-of-wedlock children, fatherlessness, and the decline of marriages in our communities has created an urban disaster.[3]

Therefore, those seeking to make inroads into the inner city must recognize the need of becoming surrogate families to people within the community.

For many people in the community, you will become the only real life example of what a stable Christian household looks like.

Consequently, it’s important to provide love and spiritual oversight for your extended family in a way that communicates personal concern, care, and correction.

I’ll talk about practical ways of doing  this next week.


When we have a burden for the inner city context, we should take time to learn the nuances and seek to serve with ardent resolve.

We can’t simply drop off “care package theology” and think it’s the anecdote for societal ills.

By God’s grace, we must seek the peace of the city and contribute to the work of its gospel restoration through multi-generational endeavors.

That’s it for now. We’ll pick up again on the topic next week, Lord willing.

Grace and peace.

[1] Russ, Eric. “Discipling African-Americans in an Urban Context.” Discipling African-Americans in an Urban Context. Accessed April 08, 2016. http://gcdiscipleship.com/2011/10/31/discipling-african-americans-in-an-urban-context/.
[2] Brooks, Christopher W. Urban Apologetics: Why the Gospel Is Good News for the City. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2014,143
[3] Rainwater, Lee, William L. Yancey, and Daniel P. Moynihan. The Moynihan Report and the Politics of Controversy: A Trans-action Social Science and Public Policy Report. Including the Full Text of The Negro Family / Daniel P. Moynihan. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1967.

Ernest Cleo Grant, II

Ernest Cleo Grant, II (@ernestcleogrant) is the Lead Pastor of Epiphany Fellowship Church of Camden, a graduate of Reformed Seminary (D.C.), and is currently completing his Doctorate of Education from Stockton University. He and his wife Sarah have been married for almost a decade and have two children( Amaela and Chancellor). He's an avid reader, a community advocate, and has bylines in The Witness, Christianity Today, The Star-Ledger, Desiring God, and other publications

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