Striking a Balance: Wisdom from a Veteran Innercity Pastor

Tim Zulker
August 11, 2020

An Interview with Jim Davis, Director of Care

Jim Davis’ white hair comes with hard-earned wisdom. Jim grew up in the neighborhoods of South Providence, RI. He came to faith as a result of a tragic accident while out on a boat with his brother. As hard as he tried, Jim was unable to save his brother. The event led Jim to faith in Christ. After years of working as an electrician, Jim took an associate pastoral position. And then for eleven years, Jim pastored a church back in the same neighborhood where he grew up: Faith and Hope Baptist Church (now Faith Community Church). Having retired from pastoral ministry, Jim now serves on the staff of NEU Church Planting as one of the Directors of Care. His passion is to help other innercity pastors thrive in the hard environment of the neighborhood.

Recently, we asked Jim about the blessings and challenges of pastoring an innercity church.

NEU: Jim, this kind of pastoral ministry can be very hands-on, around the clock. You and your wife have fostered children in addition to raising four of your own. What can you say to young pastors in a neighborhood characterized by poverty and need? How can they sustain a healthy family life and pastor their church?

JD: In smaller church settings the pastor may not have any other staff to call on, so one finds themselves trying to fill all the needs that occur on a daily and weekly basis, while preparing for the Sunday message. The day starts early and the next thing you know you want to make it home to have dinner before you return for a meeting that evening. As a leader, find a way to build a reliable team and allow God to use each member’s gifts. You should be informed and support each of the various ministries of the church, but you shouldn’t run or be at every event of the church. This should leave time to keep your own home in order and take care of yourselves so you can take care of those God has entrusted to your pastoring.Additionally, there’s a blessing in seeing people grow as you teach them to use their gifts to bless others.

NEU: Jim, how do you know if you’re helping someone, or enabling them. Or in the language of Corbett and Fikkert’s book: when are you helping, and when are you hurting?

JD: I must confess this was a question I wrestled with many times. One scripture that helped me is James 2:15-16: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”As you work with people who have many needs, you start to better understand the deeper problems. In many cases you will have to spend hours of one-on-one meetings walking with them, teaching them, trying to figure out a plan to encourage them to work on the task for the day or week ahead. This can be a very slow process that will require a lot of love, patience, and prayer.We know man’s greatest need is to have a personal relationship with Christ, but we must also be sensitive to the physical and emotional needs as well.What a blessing when you see someone you have spent hours with come to Christ and then through their experiences, help themselves and others.

NEU: One of the hard things about pastoring in the innercity is wondering if you’re making a difference. You’ve already said that the going can be very slow. Your thoughts about this?

JD: Many of you may not be called to lead what is considered a large church. Remember the church is not a building or a club. Christ said He would build His Church and nothing has or ever will stop that. Christ also refers to the Church as His bride that He will return for on the last day.Every person that believes and receives Christ makes up the Church. You may not minister to large crowds, but you will have the opportunity to minister to people, each of whom is important to God. On days when you may want to quit because you don’t see many results of your labor, keep trusting and remembering it is Christ who works through you.I once asked a prayer partner to pray for me because I wanted to leave the ministry. He said, “Can I ask you a question before I pray? Would you be willing to stay for the sake of one person that does not know Christ?” I am here to say, WOW, the blessings have come as I have had the privilege of seeing Christ change lives, even if it is that one.

NEU: Anything else you want to say to young innercity pastors?

JD: As a pastor of an inner city church, I have seen both the blessings and challenges that come with serving the Lord in this area. I would like to encourage each of you, especially church planters, to find a healthy balance in many areas of your ministry as you trust God to do His work through you. As you continue to serve the Lord may He give the strength and balance you need. Psalm 119:33-34:God, teach me lessons for living so I can stay the course.Give me insight so I can do what you tell me—my whole life one long, obedient response. (The Message)

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