Want to Change the Inner-City?

We need a new strategy to protest against the injustices in the inner-city slums and ghettos across this Nation!

What we are doing is not working! Whether that be churches attempting to make disciples, government agencies with programs and projects, schools and education systems, police and crime prevention tactics…it’s just not working!

We have personally lived and worked in the inner-cities of Nottingham, UK now for over 10 years!

We have seen agencies come and go, projects offering great promises that fail to deliver, churches scrambling to make a name for themselves in the urban jungle, only to give up at the first sign of trouble.

There are those who love the romance, the drama, the heroics, the very thought of pioneering into the inner-city, that is, until faced with the harsh reality.

It’s when the jungle begins to personally affects us and our families. When our kids begin to grow and we wonder whether urban chaos is the ‘right environment’ in which to bring up our children. When our strategies, projects and ‘great ideas’ all fail to achieve the towering success and accolades we’d dream of…

That’s when we begin to consider whether we’d actually got it all wrong, whether our ‘call’ may lie elsewhere afterall…and, you know what…often, it does!

The real failure in all this, is failing to listen to the very communities we claim we want to help. We are full of mouth, arms and brains but forget to use our ears

We come in with our own imported ideas, notions and answers

What arrogance…to claim we have the answers to problems we have never faced!

The inner-city doesn’t need any more ‘supermen’ or ‘heroes’ swooping in, saving the day (or attempting to) and flying out again.

What’s needed is humility…true humility

The answers always lie within the very communities we are seeking to help

Any lasting change must be local change. It must come from within…

Homegrown and indigenous.

Ideas, in order to survive must be cultivated in local soil, tended by local people.

The outsiders role is that of scaffolding, the local people are the building…the true living stones being fitted together. Scaffolding is only temporary…it’s serves an important purpose, but it is not superior to the building arising out of the ashes. And therein highlights an important mindset…scaffolding serves

And what’s the use of scaffolding if it doesn’t hold together? If it fails to be constructive?

We need united action in our inner-cities…yet so many projects, churches and agencies are isolated…fighting their own corners. Beating the air aimlessly.

It’s like turf war…we fight over our own little section and are filled with distrust, fear and insecurity towards others who are also trying to make a difference in the very same area we are working in!

We cannot fight the problem of gang warfare with disunity! We can not fight the scourge of broken homes with broken churches. We cannot fight the giant of poverty with a poverty mindset of scarcity- that if we work with others we will somehow lose what’s owed to us! We can not solve the problem by contributing to it!

What’s needed is joined up thinking!

True unity in the churches and between the churches

Partnership between the multiplicity of agencies

Unity of prayer and purpose, vision and strategy

Maybe we think we are no longer ‘outsiders’; so the ‘scaffolding’ analogy doesn’t quite fit us anymore. Afterall, we no longer commute in, we’ve moved postcode, we’ve packed our trunks, we’ve filled our vans, we moved in to ‘live amongst them’. We are now part of the neighborhood. But are we really?

Oh, of course we’ve moved (physically) but we still ‘move in the same circles’ (culturally). We still wear the same clothes, drink the same wine, dine with the same folk, consume the same things, we are still…well…above them.

We need to lose this distinction of ‘us’ and ‘them’ in all it’s forms and embrace people of different tribes. Those who look different, smell different and even think different to us.

We need to get over ourselves completely…

When it comes to ‘helping the poor’- it’s a joke!

Let’s stop ‘helping the poor’ and start ‘working with the poor’!

No, let’s go a step further…’Let’s become friends with the poor…’

We may even be able to…dare I say it, ‘learn from the poor…’ (‘did he really say…learn…who does he think he is?’)

But I’m not finished…’Let’s become poor…’

Give up our high pretensions, high estate, wealth and riches to become ‘as the poor…’

Then we will feel the same oppression, the same injustice, the same condescension and will want to…’eradicate the systems that keep people poor and others smug and rich…’

And we will want to do this with our new brothers and sisters, right here, right now, in our inner-cities…

Let’s stop busing in smart, middle class professionals with condescending pretensions of grandeur and bags of tricks.

If we are wanting to help…if we are really going to help the inner-city, let’s forget the heroics, abandon the self-made-man image, the I-can-do-it-all-by-myself mentality because pride never won the war!

The first step is this, let’s go in to the inner-city ready and open to learn!

And the second step is like the first…let’s team up with others who have gone before, others who are fighting the same battle we are…

Why do I describe these 2 steps as similar?

Because they both depend on one word, one attitude, one action…the heart of it all…humility

Unless WE change…how are we ever going to BRING change to the inner-city?

As Gandhi said, ‘BE the CHANGE you want to see in the World!’

United we stand, divided we fall.

And with God’s help, we will choose to stand!

(If this article has challenged you, angered you or chimed with your heart, please let me know and please, pay it forward!)


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Terry Jones January 14, 2011 at 6:16 pm

A wise article Peter, borne no doubt out of intense struggle, observation and incarmation where it hurts. Do you know of Urban Expression? http://www.urbanexpression.com The monthly prayer booklet enables you to pray through values … one of which is humility.

I found this simple proverb helpful and the many principles, values and blueprints of the book of Nehemiah.

Go to the people, live among them, learn from them, love them, start with what they know, build on what they have: but of the best leaders, when their task is done, the people will remark “We have done it ourselves.” —Chinese Proverb

Terry Jones


Peter Farmer January 14, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Thanks Terry!

I have heard of Urban Expression but not yet met anyone involved! Would love to though!

Yes, we’ve been involved in inner-city work now for over 10 years, have been through intense struggles and also glimmers of hope and joy…

And that’s an excellent simple proverb! Love it! Thanks 🙂


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: