Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. (King James Version)
If people can't see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed. (The Message)
Urban ministry's challenges are many: changes in population, aging infrastructure, and limited resources all contribute to the difficulty of ministry in urban centers.1 Yet there are few resources available to equip church leadership for ministry in these communities. Congregational and denominational models hearken back to their rural beginnings and have long ceased to be adequate to respond to the urban challenge.2 Discussion of leadership development for these congregations identifies both lay and clergy leadership as important in effective ministry. However, the emphasis in training materials and programs has been primarily on professional clerical leadership.3 The biblical model of church leadership is one of shared leadership, where all the baptized are called to minister to the world in Christ's name.4 In order to face the challenges of urban ministry congregational leaders, both clergy and lay, must come together with a common vision and must be equipped with the skills and resources to address the needs of congregations constantly living with change, especially when the favorite stance of most churches is "this is how it has always been done." As Rosabeth Moss Kanter says in her foreword to Lovett Weems's insightful leadership text Church Leadership: Vision, Team, Culture, and Integrity, "The task of leadership is change. Leaders inspire others to their best efforts in order to do better, to attain higher purposes."5 According to Weems, a "picture of a preferred future" must be in place before people can "let go of the past and permit change to take place."6 In the urban context, congregations have experienced dramatic change. The ability to envision how things can be different and moving people to work together to build that reality is essential to a vibrant community. Without a vision of a new way of being, churches will suffer from their resistance to the buffeting of constant change, a reality of urban centers. How does church leadership facilitate a congregation to see, receive, and live into that new vision?
Weems's elements of effective leadership identify vision as the central element from which all other leadership tasks take their direction.7 My years in urban ministry have shown that prayerfully reflecting and clarifying a congregations vision for ministry is essential for the revitalization of churches. This ongoing reflection and articulation of a church's identity and call can galvanize the gifts of the congregation for ministry and fill believers with a renewed sense of purpose. The result is friends and neighbors attracted by the energy and passion of the congregation for ministry as the community benefits from a vital congregation reaching out in service in Christ's name.
Over the past twenty-five years I have worked with congregations in some of the poorest communities in the urban United States, and have seen churches come alive when given the tools, skills, and knowledge to do ministry. They corne to see the changes around them as a dynamic and responsive call, not as something to be feared. Most recently rny work with Holy Faith Episcopal Church in Inglewood, California, has taught me again that although there is resistance and fear of change in every congregation (every person), possibilities that are envisioned and informed by reality can become the unifying force for people to change and welcome the challenge. Holy Faiths vision is summarized in the welcome statement that appears on the worship bulletin and other materials:
As God's house, Holy Faith opens its doors to everyone. God's love is constant and Holy Faith celebrates the beauty in each one of us because we are all created in God's image. …