Why Urban Ministry?


By Peter Hileman

Peter Hileman is the Executive Director of Christian Legal Clinics of Philadephia which began in 2012 and is part of the Gospel Justice Initiative Network.  Pete is also a private attorney in the firm of Drake, Hileman & Davis where he has served for nearly 30 years.  Pete is pictured with his wife, Wendy.

“A life well lived is one poured out in ministry to the poor, in the city.” Tim Keller said that, in a sermon Wendy and I heard many years ago, and it had a big impact on us. Keller’s point finds support in Isaiah 59:10: “Spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed.” It became our reason for moving from the country to the city, to be nearer to the poor, and to partner with those who were trying, against all odds, to make a difference. Many nights we come home spent, as we all do. Our work is tiring, often frustrating, even exasperating. And we’ll say, “pour yourself out today dear?”

I used to not care about the poor. I was glad that the city and it’s problems were far from my country home. I am not proud of that. My heart was not God’s heart. My worship was not true worship. “Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen, to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free?” says Isaiah 59:6.

I have really struggled with the parable of the sheep and the goats.The King says to the righteous, “for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…” I recently read something that makes sense of it for me. When we’ve helped someone in need, Jesus experiences our expression of care as ministry to himself. That is truly profound. Loving others is how we love Jesus himself.

The Good Samaritan was not really a hero. He simply loved the person God put in his path that day. As the expression goes, he was just an ordinary person who did the right thing in an extraordinary situation. He gave what he had with him, his time and treasure, and it made him a biblical hero. Jesus tells us to “Go and do likewise.”

There are needs of many kinds and there are people in need everywhere. Urban ministry is certainly not for everyone. But we’ve found that it is for us.