As a pastor in the inner city, you can have the life sapped out of you in a matter of moments — fatherlessness, single-parent homes, shootings, crime, vandalism, anger toward the church or just feeling the weight of the condition of minorities in the urban core.
If there is no encouragement or sight of the evidences of the grace of God in one’s view in the midst of daily life, throwing in the towel would seem to be a viable option.
Prayer and faith in today’s society seem to be apathetic dispositions to many, but these “twins” uphold the character and integrity that fuel a heart for remaining committed to a life of love and truth (2 Timothy 2). I can’t tell you how much has come by way of ministry in my line of work just by virtue of showing up (faithful life) and prayer.
I have been prayer-walking North Philly for over a decade. Of course, it could seem weird for someone to walk down the street, seemingly perceived as talking to himself, as one walks past people. At first, people tended to view it cynically or feel uncomfortable. As our church began, we continued this tradition as a group. If you think my North Philly neighbors looked at me funny alone, imagine 50-plus people walking the neighborhood doing the same.
There was a split in reaction: Some people would distance themselves from us, and we would on occasion get cursed out. On the other hand, people would have a general curiosity about a church finally coming on the block. More than that, to see men with their sons and families praying for the neighborhood was shocking yet encouraging.
Soon afterward, many began to ask for us to pray for them. Others would say, “Don’t stop doing this; our city and neighborhood need this.”
Out of this came many ministries of the church. Five local schools acknowledged their need for help. One school had no dictionaries for the entire school, so we took an offering at our church and purchased them. They had no sports program for the school, so we opened our doors for hundreds of kids to use our gym for our annual basketball league sponsored by the church. This program became the sports program of the school. In addition, we worked with another school, with mentoring time weekly with a considerable group from the school.
There were two significant ways the community wanted us to serve. One was a playground. So by way of prayer, we had a state-of-the-art playground installed for free on our property that services the neighborhood, as well as several schools and day cares in the community. As of recent, we ended up partnering with a local university to start a technology institute to teach youths skills that could prove viable in entrepreneurialism and give them a competitive competency later in life. They will learn coding, graphic design, app development, studio engineering and production, business plan development and much more.
All of this came through the tunnel of God being faithful to cause us to be faithful and being constant in prayer as the Scripture commands. Now we have transitioned the name from prayer walk to action walk. It still contains prayer, yet it adds elements of learning our community, building relationships and sharing the Good News about Jesus Christ.
We asked several questions in our learning process: What are the three greatest influences in our neighborhood? What are the top three needs? What is your perception of the churches in this neighborhood’s impact on those three needs? Finally we asked, when you hear the name Jesus Christ, what words come to mind?
This has been an eye-opening experience for our congregation as we consistently commit ourselves to exegeting the city.
We took one Wednesday night and looked at edited video of the action walk. We are using what we have learned to shape our strategy of loving our community to life through the Good News about Jesus Christ. In laying this out, this is my personal journey of prayer and faith in my workplace, as we want to meet pressing needs so that we may not be found unfruitful (Titus 3:14).
• Eric Mason, aka “Pastor E,” is the founder and pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia. He is married to Yvette and has three sons, Immanuel, Nehemiah, Ephraim and one living daughter, Amalyah. Dr. Mason is known for church-planting and an unquenchable passion to see the glory of Jesus Christ robustly and relevantly engaged in broken cities with the comprehensive Gospel. He is founder and president of Thriving, an urban resource organization committed to developing leaders for ministry in the urban context, and author of “Manhood Restored: How the Gospel Makes Men Whole,” “Beat God to the Punch: Because Jesus Demands Your Life” and “Unleashed: Being Conformed to the Image of Christ.”