Urban Discipleship 102

Snowfall in Camden does not conjure up nostalgic thoughts of a winter wonderland filled with hot chocolate, snowmen, and sledding.

In fact, residents fret when they hear the forecast.

Because of budgetary restraints we do not have citywide snow removal, and it often results in some residents being stuck in their homes for days on end.

To make matters worse, when the snow melts, crater-sized potholes line the streets to prey upon the suspension systems of unsuspecting vehicles that pass on the perilous roads.

The mayor and city officials have worked diligently to turn the city around and provide basic services that residents of other municipalities take for granted.

They have labored tirelessly to raise capital externally, write grant proposals, and open the gates of the city for companies looking for real estate.

Sadly, these laudable efforts have not been enough.

The weak tax base and lack of economic opportunities for impoverished ethnic minorities have made it nearly impossible to turn this poor, under-resourced city into a flourishing metropolis.

Dilapidated Families

In the same way that a weak tax base and lack of economic opportunities harm city renewal, fragmented, dysfunctional families fracture the bedrock of urban discipleship efforts.

It’s nearly impossible to develop vibrant, enduring ministries on the back of debilitated families.

Sadly, our inner cities are in peril, and the triangular pathology of fatherlessness, out-of-wedlock children, and the decline of marriages has caused an urban disaster.

So, in order to put the brakes on this catastrophe, our discipleship in the inner city needs to be less about training sessions (which certainly have their place) and more about becoming surrogate families to people in our community.

Here are 3 ways to do this:

Display Stability

Healthy family units were once modeled on television when programs like “The Cosby Show” and “The Fresh Prince of Prince of Bel-Air” were on air. Even the rapper J. Cole recently mentioned that Uncle Phil was the only father that he knew.

Surprisingly, such programs served as virtual testaments of the power of modeling stable, well-to-do families.

As they’ve given way to shows like the VH-1’s “Love and Hip-Hop,” which display the very worst of ethnic minority culture, it’s become essential that Christians model real-life examples of healthy, stable families in our urban communities.

People in my church are often the only real life examples to people in Camden of what a stable family looks like.

Opening the doorway of our lives and providing love to our extended family communicates care, personal concern, and needed correction.

As divorce rates among Christians continue to rise, it is important that those serving in the urban context demonstrate functional families that cultivate loving environments by modeling fidelity and longevity.

Our urban disciples need to see Christians holding our wives’ hands, hugging our children, providing for their needs, and living sacrificially on a daily basis.

If we don’t model this as urban surrogates, then promiscuity, drug abuse, and rebelliousness will continue to have strongholds in our communities.

Dialogue about the Gospel

In the urban context, we can sometimes be so consumed by the quick sands of “felt needs” that we fail to build bridges that expose people’s real need for Jesus.

We can become so distracted by “doing” for people that we fail to “dialogue” with them about their need of His grace.

We have to be committed to the instruction and proclamation of the Gospel in the pulpit and in private because God uses it as an agent of transformation of our communities.

So, don’t be afraid to use unconventional means of communicating the Gospel.

For example,  Christian hip-hop can be a helpful substitute for the morally reprehensible music that floods our airways.

Push, strive, and seek to use the vast amount of resources available to you to communicate God’s grace in a relevant manner.

Inner city surrogate families must have a high regard for Scripture and take every opportunity to re-communicate the Gospel to our extended families so it leads to personal holiness, reliance on His grace, and ongoing faith.

Be mindful that your discipleship of others is not to the detriment of your own spiritual walk.

It cannot tell you how many times that well-meaning men and women have become so engaged in the spiritual lives of others that it lead to degradation in their own maturity.

Donate Your Time and Money

That’s right. Be prepared to open your wallet. From my experience, people in my community who are destitute of a stable family will often not have the basic necessities that we take for granted.

This means that we have to foster robust stewardship practices in my own finances by creating monthly budgets that afford us the opportunity to provide their needs.

We cannot wait for social services to provide when God has given us the resources to make an immediate impact on people’s lives.

In addition to basic needs like food, clothing, and shelter, we understand the value system of our inner city disciples.

I’ve noticed that it tends to revolve around economic survival and instant gratification, which means my surrogate sons and daughters place a high value on money and are willing to go to great lengths to attain it.

Therefore, we CANNOT be afraid to be taken advantage of by our disciples. You may be lied to or taken advantage of. It happens. Use it as an opportunity to model grace and forgiveness.

Instead, reorient their understanding of money – open up an account for them, make the first deposit, monitor their spending, and help them understand the importance of financial planning.

This is an invaluable contribution to their lives.

Also, because we want to provide economic empowerment for our surrogate children, it’s important to strategically leverage relationships so they can have employment opportunities.

Minimally we can give them small tasks around our homes like cutting grass, pulling weeds, washing cars, etc., so that they can earn money in a dignified way.

By doing this we’ll see our disciples move from basic survival to righteous sustainability and ultimately to become cheerful, contributing members of their communities.


This is far from a compendious treatment of urban discipleship, but I hope it provides you with some helpful guidelines to see people in the inner city grow in the grace of God.

Remember that your labor is not in vain, and although we may not see the seed of the Gospel germinate in our lifetime, we take solace in knowing that the Lord will do it in his season.

That’s it for now. Let me know how this stuff has been working for you guys.

Grace and peace.



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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