Occasional Paper

Towards the Transformation of Our Cities/Regions

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Prefatory Note

This Occasional Paper was produced by the Issue Group on this topic at the 2004 Forum for World Evangelization hosted by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization in Pattaya, Thailand, 29 September to 5 October, 2004

1. Introduction

Christianity was first and foremost an urban movement. However, for much of the history of the Church that has not always been true (Conn and Ortiz: 39-43). In June 1980, a fresh missiological movement with the large cities of the world was born in Pattaya, Thailand during the Lausanne Consultation on World Evangelization. The Lausanne Occasional Paper that documented the launching of this fresh movement and the subsequent consultations undertaken by Ray Bakke under the auspices of World Vision are witness to those initiatives. That 1981 Occasional Paper dealt with the urbanization of the world at that time. It looked briefly at some biblical material, but gave the majority of space to effective, emerging strategies in the major urban regions. In reflecting on those initiatives, Samuel Escobar later wrote, “Bakke contributed more than anyone else to create this (present) awareness.” (1990:24)

In September 2004, some 30 urban ministry practitioners from 25 large cities of the six continents met again in Pattaya, Thailand to attend the Lausanne 2004 Forum. They were to consider what the transformation of cities might look like in the 21st century.

Four critical components emerged for consideration in preparation for our deliberations in Pattaya:

  1. To consider the hermeneutical and theological underpinnings of the mission of God in large cities across the world.
  2. To identify the critical questions that are involved in the mission of God in large cities (keeping in mind that the major concern at this consultation is how to respond to blockages to evangelism and discipleship).
  3. To collect and publish some case studies that will help the Church in cities to respond to the theological and critical issues.
  4. To articulate a potential action plan for the Church to be more effective in pursuing the mission of God in large cities.

As we listened to each other’s case studies and reports, it became apparent that we wanted to speak and help equip the whole Church in the large city-regions of the globe on such critical issues as:

  • The cultural diversity of the city;
  • Networking and partnering in the mission of God in our city-regions;
  • The hermeneutics of both the biblical texts and the city itself;
  • A theology of the city, including theological education and training.

In our deliberations leading up to the 2004 Forum in Pattaya, (and our subsequent discussions), four concerns surfaced about the missiological task of the people of God in large city-regions of the globe. First, we recognize that there is still a bias in the Church against the city. Second, in spite of the vast and increasing literature about urban mission and ministry, there still seems to be very little understanding in the Church about the place of cities in the biblical story from Genesis to Revelation. Third, it is sad to see how little emphasis there is on how to contextualize the mission of God in cities. Finally, we realized once again the need to offer a framework to church leaders on how to read biblical texts about cities within a theological construct and how to understand (what is often called exegeting) a city-region.

Rather than repeat previous findings, we opted to examine and share plans of actions, strategies and initiatives based on the diverse experience of the practitioners. From this we also wanted to propose tools and resources that will help to equip practitioners to pursue contextual practices in their city-regions. Finally, we wanted to look at models of contextual practices that focus on the need for the unity of the Church in the city under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We trust that this Occasional Paper will help urban church leaders to better pursue the mission of God in the large cities of the world in the 21st century.

As we began our deliberations1 , our colleague Delia Nüesch-Olver reminded us that any dialogue about the Church’s mission to evangelise must start with two inescapable realities that underscore the challenge and opportunities, namely, globalization and urbanization. The word 2 globalization refers to a world that is becoming rapidly smaller, increasingly more complex, with far-reaching global linkages. Sociologist York W. Bradshaw (1997), defines globalization as “the process by which people all over the world are exposed to and affected by ideas, issues, and cultures from other places.”

In Global Transformations, David Held (1990) identifies four characteristics of globalization:

Extensivity: how actions that take place in one location have consequences that spread further and further, making geographic distance less and less relevant;
Intensification of linkages: individuals and societies distant from one another are tied to each other by continuous connections;
Velocity: the speed with which communication spreads from one individual or society to another;
Impact: the effect these global connections have in shaping people’s experience.

It is too early to fully interpret the wide-reaching consequences of globalization and clearly its benefits are not currently available to everyone, but these changes are profoundly relevant to us who represent a religious movement that also claims to be global. There is a sense in which urbanisation and globalization are two sides of the same coin. Although globalization affects people in far-flung places, it is an extension of and it is intensified by the growing trend of urbanisation. We talk about the global village, but really it is a global city. In numerous places in the world, cities have grown to the point where they have geographically engulfed each other to form a megalopolis. In the same way, globalization can be seen as the by-product of the interlocking influence of cities.

A century ago London was the only super-city in the world. At that time, nine percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas. In 1950 (only 50 years later) 27 percent of the world’s population lived in cities, and 73 percent of the world’s people lived on the land. Year 2000 marked the dawn of the Urban World, when, for the first time in human history, more than 50 percent of the earth’s population lived in cities. The growth continues. Worldwide, cities gain a million people a week. The United Nations – which offers the most conservative growth estimate we found – projects that by 2025 over 60 percent of the world’s estimated 8.3 billion people will live in urban areas.

According to the World Heritage Centre, by 2020 the urban population of Asia will be around 2.5 billion, having doubled in 25 years. By then, more than half of the urban areas of the planet will be in Asia, and those urban areas alone will contain over onethird of the world’s population. The same organization predicts that the cities of Asia will be growing twice as fast as cities in the rest of the world.

For all the challenges of urban areas – traffic, pollution, noise, high cost of living, crowded and often substandard living conditions, economic disparity, stress, psychological overload, long hours of commuting, violence – cities provide people in the developing world the best hope of education and income. So, people continue to be drawn to the city through migration and immigration.

As a heart pumps blood back and forth throughout a body, cities pump people around, on both a short-term and long-term basis. This makes it harder to develop stable churches in cities, but it creates the opportunity for global evangelisation as people find themselves relocated from one city to another.

Surely, God has a purpose in this.

Often, people who move to the city are not just moving away from something, but moving toward something as well. People move to the city wanting change, yearning for new things, expecting to be exposed to new ideas, to make a new start. Whether through migration or immigration, the socially dislocating experience of moving into a city tends to “loosen ties to local divinities,” and opens doors for the gospel.

Given these facts and predictions, any discussion about the mission of the Church for the 21st century has to include urban strategy. Furthermore, because of the strategic nature of cities as centres of influence, business and finance, hubs of communication and transportation, education, entertainment, power and influence, to reach the world for Christ we will have to not merely include urban ministry but prioritize it. In fact, we cannot evangelize the world unless we reach the vast, growing and influential urban centres of the world. Developing strategies for reaching the world’s urban areas for Christ cannot be based on the same methodologies or approaches that may or may not have worked elsewhere in other times. If we continue doing what we have done, we will end up with no more success than we presently are experiencing. When we talk about urbanization, we are talking about a context that is more crowded, more diverse, more dangerous and more intense. To pursue mission with the world’s cities implies that we will have to re-discover, develop and make known theologies of urban mission that speak to people where they live and touch them where they hurt. That is, our strategies must be holistic and relevant. They must direct the gospel and transformational ministries toward the most urgent social and economic challenges.

This Occasional Paper is an attempt to formulate a biblical and urban hermeneutic that will help urban ministry practitioners2 to take the categories of “place” and “space” more seriously, however challenging this might be.3 We include an emphasis upon the lived experience of practitioners because this is at the heart of all urban reflection and action. It is our desire to illustrate what this looks like for urban ministry practice.4 However, city/regions cannot be divorced from the philosophy of urbanism and globalization. We include both a bibliography and a glossary at the conclusion of this paper to point the way forward for the reader who wants to explore issues in a substantive fashion.

This paper begins with (2. How do we pursue…) a methodological framework to help practitioners pursue the transformation of a city/region. This framework examines the two themes that inform all practitioners as they pursue mission in their cities. The next chapter (3. Contextualization….) establishes the primary focus of urban mission – contextualization and transformation. In the next chapter (4. Theological Training…) we begin to look more closely at the themes that inform transformation. We look at the theological foundations and training for the transformation of cities. The following chapter (5. Diverse-city!) looks directly at the lived experience of practitioners in the diversity of our city-regions. Several stories are included to illustrate how practitioners are pursuing the mission of God within the diversity of the 21st century city/regions of the world. We then (6. Collaboration for Kingdom Transformation) explore ways that congregations can collaborate for effective mission with their city. In the following chapter (7. Transforming slums…) we summarise mission in the slum areas of the globe. The final chapter (8. Exegesis of a city) we consider some of the interpretive issues specifically how to understand and study a city. The bibliography and glossary follow the conclusion.

2. How do we pursue the transformation of our city/regions?

Some people look at the spiritual and social plight of the city and ask, “Where is the Church?” and then rush to critique her lack of significant involvement in the complexities of the city. We would rather ask the question, “What will the Church look like?” in the midst of this plurality and the competing worldviews that a practitioner runs into on a weekly basis.5 There are two principal sources of information that inform contextual urban ministry and help us to understand what the Church will look like. We begin with a brief description of these two sources of information. In this paper we look towards the transformation of cities by God’s Spirit by listening to the biblical text and paying close attention to our contexts.

The first source of information that informs urban ministry comes from our Christian traditions: our study of the Scriptures, Church history and Christian theology. However, pursuing the mission of God in our city/regions is always done in a specific social context. The practitioner and the congregation need to listen and learn from that context. (Padilla: 1979; Schreiter, 1986; Smith: 1996).

The process of interpreting the Text and the context (referred to as hermeneutics) becomes a true exchange between gospel and context. We come to the infallible message with an exegetical method to understand a biblical theology of place. We ask, “What does God say through Scripture regarding this particular context?” This includes place, problems, values and worldviews. This initial dialogue sets us out on a long process where the more we understand the context; the more fresh readings of the Bible will arise. Scripture illuminates life and life also illuminates Scripture! This dialogue must also include the practitioners’ worldview and that of the community in which they base their initiatives.

Studying the Text and the context in this fashion represents a holistic enterprise in which the Holy Spirit guides the interpreters to a more complete reading and understanding of Scripture and a more complete understanding of the culture. There is an ongoing, mutual engagement of the essential components of the process. As they interact, they are mutually adjusted. In this way, we come to Scripture with relevant questions and perspectives. This results in a more attentive ear to the implications of the exegetical process and an ensuing theology that is more biblical and pertinent to the culture. As we move from the cultural context through our own evolving worldview to the Bible and back to the context, we adopt an increasingly relevant local reflection and more appropriate initiatives.

As we listen to Scripture and walk through our various situations in life, we are faced with a question. How can we hear and apply God’s word in our cities and neighbourhoods?

Many people do cultural studies and wrestle with (the sociology of) place. On a different track, other practitioners try to get their heads around the philosophies that make up the personality of our cities (sometimes referred to as a horizon). In this paper, we want to help the urban ministry practitioner put these two approaches together so that in examining the city as a place, we are also learning to look very closely at the worldviews that are reflected in the urban context. It is also obvious that urban practitioners need to be able to identify local worldviews in order to understand the spirituality in their particular context. A worldview is primarily a lens through which we understand life. Generally speaking, it includes a series of presuppositions that a group of people holds, consciously and unconsciously, about the basic make-up of the community, relationship, practices and objects of daily life, whether they are of great signification or of little importance. They are like the foundations of a house – vital but invisible. The make-up of a worldview is based on the interaction of one’s ultimate beliefs and the global environment within which one lives. They deal with the perennial issues of life like religion and spirituality; yet contain answers to even simple questions such as whether we eat from individual plates or from a common bowl.

Worldviews are communicated through the channel of culture. We should be careful to not confuse culture and worldview, although they are in constant relationship with one another. Culture is foremost a network of meanings by which a particular social group is able to recognize itself through a common history and a way of life. This network of meanings is rooted in ideas (including beliefs, values, attitudes, rules of behaviour), rituals and material objects including symbols that become a source for identity such as the language we speak, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the way we organize space. This network is not a formal and hierarchical structure. It is defined in modern society by constant change, mobility, reflection and ongoing experiences. This is in contrast to traditional societies where culture was transmitted directly from one generation to the next within the community structures. Modernity still transmits some aspects of culture like language and basic knowledge directly through the bias of the school system, but once this is done, the transmission of culture through friendship, peers and socio-professional status becomes more important.

Our understanding of social context raises several foundational questions. “How do we know a context when we see one?” “How big is a context?” “How long does it last?” “Who is in it and is out of it, and how do we know?” In reality, the complexity of the city means we constantly ask these questions. The following representation inspired by the work of urban ministry practitioners in the city of Montreal, Canada seeks to take into account most of the factors that determine context.6

[Organizational and Population Segments of an Urban World – Montreal]

This hermeneutical approach to the missio Dei or mission of God in city/regions reaffirms “the scandal of particularity.” Urban mission is rooted in the very particular stories of the Bible and especially of the Good News of Jesus’ incarnation and the cosmic goal God has undertaken to re-inaugurate his reign through his death on the cross (Hall, 2003). This very notion has alienated a great number of modern theologians from the historic understanding of the Christian faith. There has been a tendency to question the uniqueness of God’s participation with creation through the history of Israel and in the person of Jesus Christ. Instead the concept of mission was broadened almost to the point that the Church was stripped of any responsibility for proclamation and service – the Church was excluded from mission. This exclusion of the Church resulted in an argument that God was “working out His purposes in the midst of the world and its historical processes.” It was simply the Church’s responsibility to serve missio Dei by pointing to God “at work in world history and name Him there.”

This focus on God’s action in the world and its historical processes, to the exclusion of the Church’s mission of witness and service, was closely tied to what could be described as an exaggerated eschatology in which the fullness of God’s kingdom, of God’s shalom, was expected to be accomplished through the social and political motions of history. In order to avoid the severing of the missio Dei concept from the teachings of classical Christianity, and in an attempt to hold together the whole mission of God for the whole city, it will be important to hold the universal concept of the missio Dei together with the particular history of God’s plenary revelation in the person and work of Jesus Christ and read the story in our own unique contexts.

3. Contextualization and Transformation

Contextualization literally means a “weaving together”. In this Paper it implies the interweaving of the Scriptural teaching about the city and the Church with a particular, present-day context. The very word focuses the attention on the role of the context in the theological enterprise. In a very real sense, then, all doctrinal reflection from the Scriptures is related in one way or another to the situation from which it is born, addressing the aspirations, the concerns, the priorities and the needs of the local group of Christians who are doing the reflection.

Contextualization begins with an attempt to discern where God by His Spirit is at work in the context.7 It continues with a desire to demonstrate the gospel in word and deed and to establish groups of people who desire to follow Jesus in ways that make sense to people within their (cultural) context, presenting Christianity in such a way that it meets people’s deepest needs and penetrates their worldview, thus allowing them to follow Christ and remain within their culture.8

The task of contextualisation is the essence of urban reflection and action. The challenge is to remain faithful to the historic text of Scriptures while being mindful of today’s realities. An interpretative bridge is built between the Bible and the situation from which the biblical narrative sprang, to the concerns and the circumstances of the local group of Christians who are doing the reflection. The first step of the hermeneutic involves establishing what the Text meant at the time it was written: what it meant “then”. The second step involves creating the bridge to explore how the text is understood in meaningful terms for the interpreters today: what it could mean “now”. The final step is to determine the meaning and application for those who will receive the message in their particular circumstances, as present day interpreters become ambassadors of the Good News (Hiebert: 1987).

Contextualisation is not just for the one communicating, nor about the content that will be passed along. It is always concerned with what happens once we have communicated and about the ultimate impact of the message on the audience.

For what purpose does the urban ministry practitioner pursue contextualization? Why listen to both the present context and Christian tradition, including our study of the Scriptures, Church history and theology? Increasingly we hear the use of the word transformation as a term that encompasses all that the Church does as followers of Jesus in God’s mission in the city. But what does this mean? What does it entail?

Let’s begin with the question, “What type of city-regions are we living in?”

The 1996 Population Fund Report on cities laid out interesting strategies for more livable urban areas. The Population Crisis Committee carried out the most complete study ever done. Data was gathered from the world’s largest 100 metropolitan areas. Based on a 13-page questionnaire, the researchers wanted to determine the quality of life in these places. Ten parameters were chosen to determine the livability of these cities. Based on these criteria an urban living standard score was calculated. The parameters provide a glimpse of what transformation might include.

  1. Public safety based on local police estimates of homicides per 100,000 people.
  2. Food costs representing the percentage of household income spent on food.
  3. Living space being the number of housing units and the average persons per room.
  4. Housing standards being the percentage of homes with access to water and electricity.
  5. Communication is the number of reliable sources of telecommunications per 100 people.
  6. Education is based on the percentage of children, aged 14-17 in secondary schools.
  7. Public health criteria are based on infant deaths per 1,000 live births.
  8. Peace and quiet based on a subjective scale for ambient noise.
  9. Traffic flow being the average miles per hour during rush hour.
  10. Clean air based on a one-hour concentration in ozone levels.

Beatley and Manning offer this picture, “To foster a sense of place, communities must nurture built environment and settlement patterns that are uplifting, inspirational and memorable, and that engender a special feeling and attachment…a sustainable community where every effort is made to create and preserve places, rituals and events that foster greater attachment to the social fabric of the community” (1997:32).

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals provide a marvelous starting point for a local congregation.9 A valuable exercise would be for the church to contextualise these seven goals in their city-region in collaboration with other churches. A congregation could use the framework of a city proposed in the Introduction to this Paper and develop strategies based on the concept of the rule of God and the millennium goals to pursue the social and spiritual transformation of the whole city. It could be accompanied by doing the Bible study found in Appendix I of this Paper.

Across the globe, cities share common problems. However, from a Christian perspective, what would a livable city look like? As we proceeded through our inquiry, we wanted to discover how God is inviting His people as partners to build new communities.

If we accept that the Scriptures call the people of God to take all dimensions of life seriously, then we can take the necessary steps to a more holistic notion of transformation. A framework that points to the best of a human future for our cityregions can then be rooted in the reign of God.

This reign of God is the royal redemptive plan of the Creator, initially given as a task marked out for Israel, then re-inaugurated in the life and mission of Jesus. This reign is to destroy His enemies, to liberate humanity from the sin of Adam and ultimately establish his authority in all spheres of the cosmos: our individual lives, the Church, society, the spirit world and ecological order. Yet, we live in the presence of the future. The Church is “between the times,” as it were: between the inauguration and the consummation of the Kingdom. It is the only message worth taking to the whole city!

4. Theological Training and Education for the Transformation of Cities using Formal, Non-Formal and Informal Systems

As we have stated, the transformation of city-regions takes very seriously the role of Christian tradition in the urban mission of the Church. In light of the global explosion of the world urban centres, the massive population shifts under way from rural to urban contexts and the dramatic shifts of the centres of Christian population and influence, it is especially incumbent upon the Church to articulate strong theological foundations for engaging in God’s work in the cities of the world. They also need to appreciate and embrace the way God sees those cities and the people in them and to prepare and train His people for transformational influence there.

A presupposition of a theology and missiology of city is a biblical reflection in the creation texts and the implications of the creation mandates for the world and the Church. One cannot begin “doing theology” apart from the two stories that recount creation in the first passages of the Biblical canon (Scobbie: 2003; Greenway: 1992). It is vitally important for the practitioner to develop a theology of creation so as to appreciate the ways those passages challenged the Mesopotamian creation myths and worldviews and illustrate the Creator’s grace in the very social structures of life itself. Reading the Text within its context helps one to contextualise our mission today – one of competing worldviews and a disregard for social structures (Smith: 1996).

As we read the Text and articulate a theology what do we see?

1. Cities as the subject of biblical material: Cities are prominent in the Bible, and God cares about the city:

There are over a thousand mentions of the city in the Bible and over a hundred specific cities listed. Urban imagery pervades the Bible in a multitude of ways. The first cities appear early in the Bible. However, it would be important to underscore the differences in Mesopotamian cities and those of our era (Frick: 1979; Sjoberg: 1990; Beaudry: 1994). This underscores why it is critical to read the Text in its social context before appropriating the passage.

Abraham emerged from his city of Ur and biblical figures such as Joseph influenced civic life from the centre of Egyptian civilization. Moses was an educated urban figure who confronted city powers. The exodus out of Egypt led to the Jewish settlements that would become the cities of Palestine. In the Bible, prophets such as Amos and Habakkuk speak to cities and to urban persons. They often speak from the context of cities and about urban issues. The biblical image of restoration is often typified by a city rebuilt, often by marginalized or impoverished city dwellers themselves (Isaiah 61-65). The new, rebuilt city of Jerusalem will be a place of beauty, peace and justice (Isaiah 65) built by God Himself where He will gather His people around Him (Hebrews 11).

Even when God’s people were being judged and scattered, cities figured prominently. The Jewish Diaspora was primarily to cities. Cities are depicted as places of blessing in the Bible. God set aside certain urban centres as Cities of Refuge (Numbers 35) where the accused could hide from retributive violence, and the city is depicted in salvific terms for a people wandering in the desert (Psalm 107).

Some cities in the Bible can be characterized as devoid of a positive spiritual interest: Sodom/Gomorrah/Babylon never repented, and expressed an arrogant, uncharitable and corrupt identity. Amos pronounced judgment on many cities for their corruption and idolatry. Jesus pronounced woes on certain cities for their lack of response. In the city where there was genuine openness to God, response to the prophet of God was shown in repentance (Nineveh). Where there were spiritual people in a city but no response, Jesus wept (Jerusalem).

Whole books of the Bible are written using the narrative infrastructure of particular cities, including Jonah, Nehemiah, Joshua, Ezra, Ruth, Esther, Deuteronomy and many Psalms. Paul’s letters are directed to churches in specific cities. City systems are addressed and often confronted in the Bible. The city is clearly present in the Scriptures, but it is significant beyond its mere mention. God cares deeply for cities. We sense the pathos in Yahweh as He weeps for the cities of Moab, Heshbon, Simbah and Elealeh (Isaiah 15 and 16), and as Jesus weeps for Jerusalem (Luke 13). We sense God’s commitment to cities as He directs the brightest and best lay leaders, such as Daniel and Esther, to minister there as urban practitioners, or Paul, His most gifted apostle to employ a clear urban strategy during His missionary journeys.

All doubt about God’s commitment to the city is removed when Jesus Himself states His intent and purpose to focus His ministry on ministering in the cities. “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43). In the Gospel of John, a significant amount of Jesus’ ministry time is spent in Jerusalem and the cities of Palestine, where most of His dialogue is with individuals, as contrasted with the mass evangelism or sermons employed in His interactions in rural contexts. Jesus’ parables are mostly urban stories. In Johannine material, the seven miracles of Jesus all occur in cities.

In those cities, it is clear that Jesus ministers to the poor and marginalized. In His inaugural message in Luke 4 He stated that this was His very purpose. He said “the spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me, He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Jesus was directly quoting Isaiah 61, a passage which describes the poor, that are the oppressed, the broken-hearted, the captives, the prisoners and those who mourn, as becoming “oaks of righteousness” who will “rebuild the ancient ruins and repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations” (Isaiah 6:1-4). In His first sermon He had the city in mind.

God acts on behalf of the defenceless, the special objects of His love – the orphan, the widow, the stranger (Deuteronomy 10:18), and the ones considered a problem. Today these are the very ones who are driving the most massive rural-to-urban migration humanity has ever seen. He commands that His people show that same love. “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11). The Psalmist recognizes the presence of the destitute in the city as he pleads for the restoration of Zion (Jerusalem), and poignantly links his plea for God’s compassion to the fact that his people hold the stones of the city dear (Psalm 102:13-17). With thousands of refugees taking every available road into cities of the world daily, pushed by famine, war and oppressive policies, and pulled by the lure of jobs and a better life, Jesus places Himself on that very road, for He was once a refugee, was once at risk, was once considered inconvenient and a threat by the powerful of His day.

Jesus loves the non-poor and influential as well. He loves and is committed to both. His interaction with the rich young man (Mark 10) is an example of His commitment to the privileged as well as the poor. In a single biblical encounter, He guides this person of means toward a personal, spiritual transformation that leads to a just restoration of resources to the poor. In John, His ministry to the powerful, privileged and urban Nicodemus (chapter 3) is juxtaposed with His ministry to the vulnerable and marginalized woman at the well (chapter 4), who later influences her city in Samaria toward spiritual transformation.

2. Cities and Salvation History

In the biblical narrative, salvation history begins in the cities of Genesis and culminates in the heavenly city of Revelation. From Genesis to Malachi, the city appears and develops incrementally. By the New Testament it explodes in multicultural prominence. The church was born in the context of the city. The mission of the church, led by Paul’s journeys, was almost entirely focused on the city. The Bible ends with letters to seven urban churches, and a depiction of that last great day when the final consummation of the world is achieved in an urban context, the city of God. The promise of that city is foreshadowed in Ezekiel where it is proclaimed that the name of the city will be “The Lord is there” (Ezekiel 48:35). The character of the final city in the new heavens and new earth is foreshadowed in Isaiah 65. There the New Jerusalem is described as a place with adequate housing, health, good labour, fruitfulness, abundance, a spiritual life and final reconciliation.

Cities today play that role, and at a rapidly increasing rate. With cities growing worldwide by one million people each week and countries such as China having to deal with the mass migration of more than 20 million people per year to their cities, the polis continues to represent hope to peoples of the world. Everyday, the city of Calcutta, which already contains 16 million people, breathes in another 3-4 million day-workers looking for work, and then exhales them to the periphery of the city at night. The poor in Calcutta can buy lunch for 10 rupees and this allows for subsistence while hoping for a better life. As tenuous as that existence is, cities provide many forms of common grace for the newly arrived and vulnerable urban dweller, in many ways saving them from a final destitution.

3. The city is a spiritually fertile place

A spiritual fertility in large cities is often brought on by the vulnerabilities of migration, and the strain, threats and opportunities of urban life. Both positive and destructive, this fertility issues in the best and worst of human action. Human sin and isolation grow, as well as human well-being and community. City forces can both erode spiritual life and provide a context for the strengthening of it.

The Bible reflects those realities. Paul’s urban strategy pragmatically recognizes the fecundity of the city for mission. Group conversions occur in biblical cities, for example, in Jerusalem at Pentecost, in Philippi with the jailor’s family, and in Samaria, as many in the city turned to Christ from the witness of the woman at the well. Fertile ministry in cities spread regionally, even to the provinces.

Cities grow spiritual interest. Experience validates this, as does the biblical record. In Acts 8, Philip’s ministry in Samaria demonstrated the immediate spiritual interest of the people, a populace easily manipulated by a sorcerer, and the mixed motive spiritual interest of that sorcerer. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas minister in Philippi, a chief city of the Empire. Their work in this city demonstrates several strata of spiritual fertility, including the ready spirituality and receptivity of Lydia, the spiritual oppression of the slave girl and Paul and Silas’ spiritual celebration while suffering in jail. It included the spiritual/ethical/prophetic confrontation of the judicial system, the individual spiritual interest of the jailor, and a spiritually young church that was gathered during a crucial moment.

Even Nineveh evidenced a dualistic spirituality marked by an evil, warlike, cruel historic regional presence, simultaneous with a spiritually responsive posture.

Contemporary history demonstrates how cities grow religious/spiritual fundamentalism, a primarily urban phenomenon and a reaction to extreme secularism, which is often characteristic of urban life.

The Bible puts great stock in the potential of cities to be a sort of urban garden, a surprisingly fertile place to grow something green and beautiful like the church, given all of the stresses and threats, poor soil and pollution. Paul’s letters to the city-based churches so often emphasize the spiritual battle that believers encounter as they “grow up in him who is the head.” The Scriptures certainly give examples of believers who, in the midst of pagan or secular urban forces, are able to maintain and even cultivate a spiritual life, such as Daniel did in Babylon.

4. Biblically, cities are socially and politically strategic, as well as providing a concentrated context for ministry among diverse and marginalized peoples.

This is observed in the biblical record in many ways. Note, for example, the influence of the monarchy on Israel/Judah’s external relations. The city of Jerusalem is the centre of political, religious, and military power. As goes Jerusalem, so goes the nation. The exile from Jerusalem sent an unequivocal message to the rest of the people. The restoration of Jerusalem rebuilt the nation, both in terms of security and in terms of its identity.

Babylon was the most feared city in the realm. After having captured Jerusalem, God’s people, beginning with the urban elite, were carried into slavery and made to serve that evil city. In Jeremiah 29:1-7, God calls His people to influence the prime city of their enemy Babylon by a proactive, holistic presence and concerted prayer, representing a subversive spirituality. Evil cities are best changed from within.

Paul recognized the significance of cities as he carried the gospel to the Gentiles tracing a primarily urban route. He engages cities in mission in a flexible urban strategy that penetrates and influences the systems. For example, he penetrates economic systems in the city of Ephesus, justice systems in the city of Philippi, philosophical/educational systems in the city of Athens, and social systems in the cities of the Roman world, in person and through his writings (cf. Philemon).

5. Influencing the urban influencers.

In a rapidly urbanizing world, cities are comprised of several constituencies, often the most visible of whom are the poor and powerless. Yet cities include middle and upper middle-class persons who have influence over decisions that affect all people of the city and especially the poor and powerless. However, the middle and upper classes are often not empowered by the church to influence the city. Their privileges and power often not leveraged by the church for its welfare.

The faithful few can make a strategic difference among the influencers. Note the examples of Daniel in the city of Babylon, Esther in the city of Susa, Nehemiah in the city of Jerusalem, Joseph in the prime city of Egypt, Rahab in the city of Jericho, even the presumably non-Christian, unnamed city clerk who quelled the riot in the city of Ephesus (Acts 19). Most were or became people of privilege who leveraged their position for the welfare of all.

The most basic influencer in the city is the human family, and the effects of this influence are felt across lines of class, caste and race. There is a strong emphasis on the household and family network in the Bible as a focus of ministry.

6. Theological Education for ministry and influence in the city

We affirm the necessity of formal, non-formal and informal methods of training for ministry and influence in the city.

Time-bound classroom settings, academic expectations, scholarship, the transfer of information and the organized interaction of ideas exemplify formal education. Paul used formal androgogies in the urban context. He wrote letters to his churches, which were essentially formal instructions and contextualized theology to Christians in cities. Paul also conducted forums in cities (e.g., the School of Tyrranus), and interactions with educated elite (Mars Hill in Athens). Contemporary examples of formal urban education are city-centre Bible schools, seminaries, certificate programs, and colleges.

Non-formal training in the city is characterized by immersing an apprentice in direct ministry experience, and correspondingly by seizing the serendipitous, teachable moments that arise in the context of ministry by a mentor or leader with more experience. Paul’s androgogy included this tool. For example, he conducted non-formal training when he took urban disciples with him on his mission trips, sometimes as individuals and sometimes as small, multi-ethnic teams, or, no doubt, for example, as he exercised individual influence with key disciples during his imprisonment in the city of Rome.

Informal training in the city uses orchestrated, experiential learning pedagogies that combine hands-on ministry in the city with reflection, debriefing and interactive instruction. Jesus often used this method as He sent His disciples out, and debriefed their experiences upon their return. He used urban experiences as teaching tools (Mark 13:1-2, Luke 13:4-5). Contemporary examples of this form of training might include urban service and learning projects where college students spend from one-to-eight weeks serving and learning alongside indigenous ministry partners, living incarnationally guided by a project director. These are to be distinguished from merely service projects, which do not incorporate intentional learning and debriefing components, as well as evaluation, follow-up, and introduction of the students to further opportunities for service.

We affirm that each of these forms of training must be fashioned for various levels and kinds of leadership in the city, including both clergy and lay leadership, both indigenous (originating from within the city) and those who will become indigenised (that is, relocating to the city).

7. Content:

We affirm that all forms of training must expose the leader to several foundational, biblical components related to carrying out an effective ministry in cities. These begin with basic biblical literacy in general; that is, knowing the text. They continue with the biblical record regarding the presence and prominence of the city in the Bible and God’s concern for cities, as noted under number one above. There are many individual elements of content that are relevant to ministry in cities. What follows below is by no means comprehensive. There are many ways to engage and train leaders; we have sought to give a simple example of corresponding actions with each.

Each leader must be grounded in a holistic understanding of urban transformation, and an image of what reconciliation might look like between classes, the races, the castes, and the sectors or systems of the city. Urban training must ground the leader in a theology of shalom, which pursues wholeness, completeness, righteousness, justice, reconciliation and flourishing of all that God has created in all of its remarkable diversity. This includes placing all material, physical, social, and spiritual systems under the lordship of Christ. Furthermore, each leader must develop a mature understanding of how the biblical themes of love, grace, justice, and judgment get worked out in these systems.

Corresponding action: Some groups have engaged in on-site biblical study, looking at themes of poverty from the physical context of a meeting place in a slum, alongside slum dwellers, or themes of shelter from the physical context of substandard housing. It is desirable that these biblical perspectives begin to form an urban theology that will sustain the urban worker. One of the skills necessary in the midst of that enterprise is the ability to engage in urban theologizing. This includes looking at the forces and systems shaping life in a city through the biblical lens, and formulating a response.

Corresponding action: Some have broken groups of leaders into two groups, one to study Philippians and the other to study Colossians. They are to demonstrate a difference between how a Philippian theology (incarnational, the delivery of direct compassion) and a Colossian theology (Jesus is Lord over the systems, the pursuit of justice) might influence strategies for ministries that want to have a balanced and holistic approach in the city.

In order for theology to be linked with specific arenas of ministry in a city, the practitioner must know not only text, but also context. This means that she or he must be able to conduct appropriate forms of urban research, including detailed exegesis of the city. The practitioner will want to access insight into urban sociology and anthropology, city systems, religious and historical contexts of the city, its needs, and its assets. Urban ministry training must help the practitioner have an overall view of the city, reflecting on designing strategies that address its various components, including the urbs (infrastructures), the civitas (the behaviours) and the anima (the unconscious worldview or spirituality of the people of the city).

Corresponding action: Some groups have sent leaders out in simulations designed to help leaders observe and even experience the forces shaping cities, including social service realities, language barriers, transportation difficulties, and housing challenges.

The training of leaders for ministry in the city must include basic components of a biblical missiology. This might include training in Jesus’ form of experiential discipleship, as exemplified in his informal use of the urban laboratory depicted in the Gospels. At the very least this training would include exposure to various examples of holistic mission methodologies in the city.

Corresponding action: Some groups sponsor tours of various ministries in cities to expose future leaders to ministry models and introduce them to practitioners.

All forms of urban ministry training must expose the leader to the key issues affecting children in the city, including nutrition, education, safety, advocacy, and pedagogy. Correspondingly, the urban practitioner must be prepared for ministries that affect women in the city, such as domestic violence, prostitution, family dynamics and the gender specific pressures of poverty.

Corresponding action: Some groups have required leaders to spend the night at women’s shelters or on the streets and then debriefed the issues they encountered.

Finally, leaders at all levels must develop an informed view of how ethnic identity and racism operate in urban contexts. The new global city is comprised of cities within cities, defined by ethnicity and class. Every major city now contains some of the unreached peoples groups of the world. Urban leaders must understand a biblical theology of reconciliation and solidarity with the victims of class or racial hatred, as well as develop a mature commitment to anti-racism and a confronting of the systems that perpetuate this sin. The church must preach a holistic gospel in cities that overcomes racial division. The urban church must stop perpetuating these divisions, and the urban leader must be willing to help the church to reject silence or the status quo in these matters. There is a rich Biblical tradition into which the urban minister can tap. In Acts 6 justice and reconciliation was achieved between Hellenistic widows and the new community. In Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Council, reconciliation with Gentile Christians was inculcated in Christian belief. Paul and Barnabas, who were Jews, were intentionally sent to the Gentile city of Antioch, where they had a transformational influence.

Corresponding action: Some groups use personal testimonies by minority voices or the first hand stories of the oppressed to engage the non-poor. Others sponsor inter-church gatherings that cross ethnic or class lines. Others have sponsored ethnic specific celebrations, and still others have participated in demonstrations or civil disobedience on behalf of the marginalized.

8. Conclusion

The challenges of cities worldwide are dramatic. Civic infrastructures are stretched beyond capacity by the influx of migrants. There are now more than one billion slum dwellers worldwide. Most residents of cities in the developing world lack sanitary sewage disposal; nearly half have no adequate supply of clean water to drink. Yet cities in general, and even the urban poor themselves, have assets that can be leveraged for their transformation.

In this next decade, there will be over twenty cities in the world with populations of more than ten million. The greatest opportunity facing the church in these dramatic days will be to train the rank and file to exercise the redemptive presence and transformational influence among the people and the systems of the city that the Scriptures call them to, and to speak in word and deed the life-changing message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

5. Diverse City!

As we saw in the first chapters the transformation of city/regions is rooted in the lived experience of the urban practitioner and the social context of ministry. In the next two chapters we want to consider the diversity that is a present reality in the large metropolitan centres of the globe.

It can sometimes feel like the city is a moving target. Multitudes of diverse people flow in and out of the world’s cities each day like they are riding a strong current. Some stay, some leave, and some morph with others to become new people. Many of today’s towns will become tomorrow’s cities and many of today’s cities will become tomorrow’s mega-cities. What is constant is that any given city is never the same from day to day.

This diversity is at once a great challenge and a tremendous opportunity for world evangelization. It is a great challenge, as the ways of being a Christian community and sharing with others have been inherited from more stable, centralized, homogeneous pasts that are mostly impossible to continue in today’s cities. This diversity is also a tremendous opportunity, for all the nations of the world are gathering in cities, open and ready for change and transformation. The question is, will the whole Church take the whole gospel to these diverse and changing people, groups and systems that make up the cities of today and tomorrow?

What is the diverse-city?

The city is diverse in many ways and the church needs to understand how the diversity affects people’s lives and their understanding – or lack thereof – of Jesus. These include diversity in:

  • Class
  • Caste
  • Language
  • Ethnic customs
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Religious beliefs and identities
  • Abilities and resources

Even this list of diversities is diversifying as we speak. Not only do people speak one or more of several established languages in the city, but in some cities the diversity is resulting in the emergence of new dialects, such as Spang-lish in the US and Tagalish in Manila. Another example is that new kinds of disabilities and illnesses such as SARS and AIDS are hitting cities at increasing rates.

From the mega-rich and powerful to the most vulnerable, the city receives them all. This can create a powder keg or a sign of the Kingdom coming. For example, Buenos Aires is a Latin American city historically known for its stronger-than-usual, large middle class. Yet, it is the middle class that has been hurt in the latest economic crisis, causing an average unemployment growth of ten percent in a brief two-year period and a record overall unemployment figure of 22 percent. A small percentage has the majority of power and lives off the great majority. There is some interaction between them, but how can the church help bring these together and encourage the Kingdom’s coming? How do we balance diversity and unity?

A key issue in responding to diversity is how to start where people are at, but not leave them there. In Jakarta even the church is divided along ethnic and tribal lines. This is not only a problem for church, but for governments, businesses and media. The church should be leading the way.

There are signs of hope that Christians can hold diversity and unity together. Again, in Jakarta there are some ethnically “blended” congregations. In Manila, slums where Taga-lish is emerging as a language, a church comes together through the development of need-specific services. In Seattle, a church uses diverse languages in one service and does not translate.

Nevertheless, there are very real tensions, even in the church. In Nairobi, Kenya for example, where there is great generational diversity, the tensions have been serious between younger people who have always lived in the city and with those who are older, are very aware of their tribal links and who hold to their traditional values. The urban youth, it has been noted, often have more in common with US urban youth than with their own Kenyan elderly. Perhaps the most horrific case in recent years has been in Rwanda where different “Christian” tribes attempted “ethnic cleansing” of the other.

While there is diversity, there is a kind of flattening of cultures so that city dwellers share common values. Cities of similar size have much more in common with each other than with other sections of their own countries. This can help create communication, but also raises issues of loss of roots and identity. In fact, youth in cities around the world often have more in common than with the youth in rural areas of their own countries (e.g. heroes, fashions, sports, dress, music). Often youth are influenced more by American/global culture than their own traditions.

There is also the emergence of third culture kids in cities. The child’s parents are born in one country, say India. The children are born in the immigrant country, say Canada and they grow up in a city of that country, like Toronto, under the influence of American/global values and media. The child does not fully feel Canadian, fully Indian, or American and is a foreigner to every culture. In Nairobi, many of the upper class families speak only English or Swahili, not the tribal language spoken in the family’s village. After studying in the US, Korean students are coming back to Korea and creating a new culture. Change and diversification of cultures have always happened, but, as studies commissioned by the United Nations note, the world now has the largest number of people living in countries other than the one in which they were born. Many of these people are living in cities.

With indigenous cultures mixed with settlers, questions arise about which groups we will identify with. Some noted that the older generation is influenced more by tradition, while the younger generation by media. Certainly media is the most significant influence to over 50% of urban populations (especially for those under 15 years old). As global-minded Christians we should have a response.

What strategies and initiatives can be used to reach this diversity?

An initial reflection on this question might include the following ideas:

  • Use of media.
  • Use cultural expressions to share the gospel (e.g. folk dancing, singing, dramas).
  • Find responses to systems that create poverty.
  • Create space and legitimacy for newcomers.
  • Develop partnerships between rural and urban churches as a way to “catch” migrants and support them as they arrive.
  • Learn to see through the eyes of diverse people.
  • Define the poor and good news for them. If we define the Bible’s “poor” as “people denied the right to be human” and “the alien” as “those who have been denied the right to community”, then strategies can be identified in response to what is dehumanizing for urban dwellers.
  • Recognize that all Christians have something to offer to assuage urban poverty, including hospitality, resource sharing and solidarity.
  • Mobilize, affirm and support incarnational workers as they seek shalom in unreached neighbourhoods.
  • Train pastors to be able to listen to their congregation and neighbourhoods.

What kind of tools and resources is required to implement these ideas?

Being specific about tools and resources is more problematic, since our group came from every continent and class and the viability of each suggestion has wideranging implications. Therefore, we offer the following key areas, including case studies as examples, as crucial for the Church to be able to respond to the cities diversity.

1. How do we use media for transformation?

To reach the diverse-city we require the use of diverse media and technologies. We especially need:

  • High density TV and radio programs developed for the city (not just Christian audiences), targeting younger generations (e.g. post-modern approaches).
  • High quality training in communications for competitive content to appeal locally and globally.
  • People skilled in media to assist all Christian communicators to communicate to diversities they currently do not understand (e.g. youth).
  • Radio programming for people working night shifts.

2. How do we transform diverse urban neighbourhoods?

Each neighbourhood in the city is diverse and therefore attention is required to do diverse “neighbourhood transformations”. By this we mean seeking the shalom of the whole neighbourhood through incarnational workers in small teams, relocating into urban neighbourhoods to be a presence, launching and joining partnerships, inviting and supporting discipleship and worship.

To do this on a large scale in diverse urban neighbourhoods requires:

  • Training and developing urban Christians to be transforming neighbours;
  • mobilizing, equipping and supporting teams to relocate to unreached neighbourhoods, especially urban slums; and
  • helping multicultural teams to minister to multicultural communities.

A story to illustrate: Melbourne, Australia “An urban neighbourhood transformed”, by Ash Barker.

In 1992, when Kanji and I first moved into the Kelvin Grove neighbourhood, in central Springvale, I thought, “Can this place ever really be our home?” There were over 114 languages spoken at the local high school. There was a huge heroin problem; the footpaths were scattered with syringes. Most of the shops in the centre of town were run by Cambodian, Vietnamese or Chinese people and had very few, if any, shop signs in English. It was like the first tentative steps onto a whole new planet. While we knew people like Denise from the Kelvin Grove neighbourhood and a few others from our youth club programs, most of these connections had been on our turf. Now we had become their neighbours. We were the only Anglos on our block and as the neighbours looked us over, I felt a mixture of self-consciousness and excitement.

Now, ten years later, we have moved to Klong Toey slum in the port area of Bangkok, but Kelvin Grove had become the place I called home. I can’t believe I ever felt like an outsider. The locals became my extended family. Our seven-year-old daughter, Amy, knew no other home until we came to Bangkok. Often it would take me twenty minutes to walk the five hundred metres from our flat to our mission centre because I ran into friends all along the way.

Christmas Eve became a special event outside our home in Kelvin Grove. It wasn’t just that children were bouncing off the walls inside a huge, clown-faced castle. Nor that the BBQ on the footpath was surrounded by neighbours from Samoa, Chile, Afghanistan, Mexico, Bosnia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma and many other places, eating sausages and lamb chops with tomato sauce dripping down their arms, all laughing and joking together. Nor that a volleyball game started up and the ball was going backwards and forwards over the fence between two properties. Not even the arrival of Roy’s “brother” Santa, the songs which the kids sang, and the traditional dances before the giving of presents made this a special event. What made this moment so sweet was the rich atmosphere that spoke of our joy in being neighbours celebrating Christmas together. As the sun went down, the singing from all parts of the world rang out across our neighbourhood.

In the early days, these special moments were the exception to the usual day-inthe-life of our street. Drug dealers stomped up and down in search of clients, used needles were lying around and the hushed discussions were always about break-ins and burglaries. For those first Christmas Eves, at least, children were crying with laughter rather than fear. Together, for one evening, we took back our neighbourhood. If we could have bottled the sense of celebration on that night, property developers would pay millions. The mere possibility of offering such a deep sense of community to a neighbourhood is priceless in a shallow, disconnected world.

When we moved in the police had called Kelvin Grove, “the worst street in Springvale.” Yet, when the annual neighbourhood Christmas party was held there last year (2003) and we blocked off the street with a yellow clown-faced jumping castle, and shared BBQs, singing traditional national songs and dancing, no neighbour in the street would say that now. The neighbourhood community meal we started has now become a church plant. When the weather is fine enough, children play in the flats’ courtyards rather than hiding behind locked doors. Partnerships to respond to political, physical and spiritual needs emerged with neighbours from East Timor, Vietnam and Burma. The Rainbow Church was birthed there.

Recently when Rod, who lived in our old flat, helped a single mom refugee move onto the street, she told him the real estate agent had recommended the neighbourhood because “it is a place where you’ll get support”. While there is still much to do, it does have that early church feel about it where “they were all together and no one was in need”. For this community, we had found what God had birthed us for – helping see God’s kingdom come and His will being done in urban neighbourhoods. We had helped an urban neighbourhood facing poverty become like a village focused on Christ. This gave us confidence to send small missional teams to start and support transformations in other neighbourhoods of Melbourne and now in the largest slum in Bangkok. In a world where one billion people are living in urban slums and another one billion will be added by 2020, such a holistic and incarnational approach has great potential.

There are a number of indicators that show that a neighbourhood is becoming like a village focused on Christ. These include neighbours being available for the “C” events and moments:

  • Celebrate together: Birthday parties, weddings – anything!
  • Commiserate together: times of loss, death and grief.
  • Share Common meals, including Communion: times of fellowship around a meal.
  • Resolve Conflict together: seeking clarity and learning to live together.
  • Be there in times of Change together: times of getting to know new neighbours and passage-of-life changes.
  • Be there in times of Crisis together: times of being out of control and banding together.
  • Share Common goods together: time of sharing what we have with others who don’t.
  • Share Common prayers together: time to pray for people as a normal part of life.
  • Share a Common identity from living in a common place together: time to see each neighbour as part of the same village.
  • Affirm Community Contributions; times to let leaders lead in their own areas of responsibility and giftedness and celebrate these contributions.

These “C’s” for Christ-focused urban villages are events that can happen at any time in a neighbourhood. Many can’t be scheduled into a busy timetable. Christian neighbours need to be there for such sacred moments and support these happenings prayerfully and thoughtfully, by being physically present and mentally attentive.

A story to illustrate: City of Navotas in the Philippines, “Neighbourhood Transformation” by Paul Lim.

In a rapid process of urbanization and globalization, the gulf between the rich and the poor is getting bigger. As a result, the slums in the urban areas are expanding unbelievably fast. According to statistics, the numerical growth of urbanization has doubled every two decades while that of the urban poor has doubled every decade. Mission organizations and churches, especially in the two-thirds world, pay special attention to the current situation and put huge resources and efforts into urban missions.

When we were planting the Bagong Pag-asa church (which means New Hope Church) in Navotas in 1999, we faced the very sensitive issue of garbage and health problems as a primary cause of poverty. Many people, especially the children, were often subject to sickness. There was virtually no garbage collection over a three-month period in that area, so people dumped their garbage everywhere. Our church planting team tried to convince them to address this issue but the community was not interested.

In view of this disinterest our team launched a project called “Green and Clean Project” and the Philippino government announced it to the public. We started this project in two ways. First, the team decided to have a dawn watch prayer meeting in the church at 5:30 every morning. We prayed for holistic transformation of the community by the divine hands of God for Navotas. After the prayer time we went out and started to clean the four streets around the church and put trashcans transformed from empty fivegallon cooking oil cans on every street corner. Second, we talked to the ‘Barangay leader’ (community leader) so that he would report to the city hall about the garbage problems and make a request for garbage collection at least once a week. It took almost one and half months for the people in the neighbourhood to join our church project.

While some of the church neighbours were helping, we served “café ng pag-asa” which means ‘coffee for hope’. It was the starting point to talk to the people heart to heart and to share the gospel of holistic salvation. We collected the garbage and burned it down by the seaside. Two months passed before the city of Navotas approved garbage collection every other week. We distributed a little green plant to some houses to remind them that just as green plants can survive only in a fresh and clean environment, so our life can survive only in Jesus.

Now, the Barangay Dolong Tangos district in Navotas is a model village of a “Green and Clean Project”. At the same time, the church is having a ‘café ng bagong pag-asa si Hesus’ which means ‘coffee for new hope in Jesus’, a Bible study and fellowship with almost 150 neighbours. Our district is very proud to have the church, whether they are church members or not. The greatest result from this is that little by little the people are changing their attitude toward the church and toward the gospel.

The church of Bagong pag asa has more than 100 in membership and 200 children and continues to grow. The ‘café ng bagong pag asa project’ has been adopted by many neighbouring churches and is spreading to other communities in Navotas. If you come to our community, you will see very little garbage, unlike other slums, and you can drink a café ng barong pig asa.

3. How do we respond to rural-urban drift?

Each day multitudes of diverse people migrate to the city, bringing presently the biggest migration in history. There is a rural to urban shift and an international to city (e.g. rural villagers are moving to the cities to become urban enclaves of those villages) shift that is happening at international levels. Attention should be given:

  • To help support both rural (sending) and urban (receiving) churches to communicate with and support each other.
  • To help churches and families to have a platform of ideas for welcoming rural people to cities.
  • To help families as they arrive with resources such as day-care for working parents.

4. How to reach people working night shifts?

In the city, diverse people have diverse jobs at diverse times. Given the nature of a past ordered world where a majority worked similar hours compared with today’s city that never sleeps, attention is required for the following:

  • To provide 24-hour services in the church.
  • To provide a network of pastors at night available to night-shift workers.
  • To sensitize congregations to the needs of urban night-shift workers. Such workers include stockbrokers, security and industrial cleaning people, sex workers, factory workers, media, entertainment and restaurant workers.
  • That prayer rooms be available for night workers.

5. How to be and make urban disciples?

Christians need to understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in today’s cities and to help others in this area. This requires:

  • A conscious focus on the diverse-city.
  • Help in being faithful to Christ and culturally relevant.
  • Finding ways to help urban people encounter and follow Jesus in their own neighbourhood, work and friendship settings.
  • Ideally, an urban church will develop leadership from within the local context. For a variety of reasons, that is not always possible.

A story to illustrate: Seattle, USA “Seven young adults in Seattle”, Delia Nüesch-Olver.

Rainier Avenue Church in southeast Seattle, Washington in the US is a typical American urban church. It flourished in the 1950’s and suffered great losses in the 1960’s and 1970’s – a period known as the American White Flight to the suburbs. Throughout the country, as minorities, new immigrants, and refugees settled in the cities, many white people moved to the suburbs. Countless Christians and many churches left the urban core and relocated in predominantly white suburbs. Other churches became regional, drive-in congregations disconnected from the people of their urban neighbourhoods. Scores of urban churches closed their doors during this period. Rainier Avenue Church almost died. On at least one occasion denominational leaders strongly encouraged the church to relocate to the suburbs. At another time, denominational leaders strongly considered closing it. The congregation, however, refused to let their church die, choosing instead to welcome and include whoever was in the neighbourhood.

A few miles away at the University of Washington, God was moving in the hearts of some Inter-Varsity students. An initial group of six young adults chose to relocate to southeast Seattle after graduation to incarnationally make the gospel known. A second group of five students followed. Through God’s providence they heard about Rainier Avenue Church, and decided to make it their spiritual home for worship and service.

Their energy and investment was used by the Spirit of God to breathe new life into the church. Working together with faithful Christians who had refused to leave the neighbourhood, these young adults learned to embrace and serve the people of the Rainier Valley in meaningful ways. The group attracted other young adults. God used them to help turn the tide. Eight to ten years later, seven of the eleven are still members of the church and play an active part of the leadership core.

In 2004, Rainier Avenue Church celebrated its 100th anniversary. It is now a vibrant, neighbourhood church. In a country were few people go to church in their neighbourhood, 75% of its congregation lives in the Rainier Valley. There is a palpable sense of identification with that neighbourhood. The church is now very diverse both ethnically and socio-economically, reflecting the neighbourhood. Rainier Avenue Church’s membership of 325 – 350 includes people from over 30 different ethnic groups, some from countries where the church is not allowed to function openly. Not long ago the church was survival oriented, but now it is a sending church. Four years ago God used Rainier Avenue Church’s connection to start an emerging network of five churches in Thailand and two in Malaysia. Eight church members are serving as overseas missionaries. Others are dreaming, praying and preparing for the day when the government of their countries will allow them to return and start churches. In the last five years, Rainier Avenue Church has played a major role in starting Northwest Urban Ministries, a Christian Community Development Agency.

The church is committed to holistic ministry, meeting people’s material and physical needs. There are two full-time staff people for outreach to “at risk” children and youth. Over 60% of the congregation is involved in one of several Compassion Teams that provide meals, transportation, moving services, or childcare, as the community needs it.

Although Rainier Avenue Church had a 30-year pattern of decline, getting smaller and older, the transformation began when a core of university students decided to intentionally relocate and invest in the Rainier Valley neighbourhood through this church. It has resulted in a church that is growing larger and younger, joyfully celebrating a record number of conversions to Jesus Christ, and having a meaningful impact in its surrounding urban neighbourhood.

6. How do we support specialists’ responses such as prison, education and orphanage ministries?

There needs to be specialist responses to the diverse needs of the city. Generalists will not know enough to respond thoughtfully and compassionately to some of the more complex problems facing humanity. Therefore, attention must be given to enabling:

  • Local or regional churches to find their “niche” in responding to particular needs if they are to be effective change agents.
  • Christians to discover their own abilities to respond to specialized needs in the city.
  • Specialist ministries to be recognized and supported by the whole church through prayer, finances and personnel.

A story to illustrate: Hyderabad, South India “New Mercies Each Day” by Evangeline Sita.

“My father gave me 200 rupees and after tithing I used the rest to start a school for children under a tree and a church in a slum”, explained Evangeline. It is now St. Andrews School with 538 students and one church plant has become four. Evangeline also saw a man with leprosy and started a mercy ministry and a church for lepers. With her beaming smile, bright pink sari and waving hands, it is clear that Evangeline has God’s joy and is following God’s purposes.

But ministries like this do not happen in a vacuum. Evangeline tells of the hardships and struggles to keep such a special ministry afloat. Poverty, inter-religious conflicts and lack of resources have been a constant battle. Evangeline shared her story of courage in organising a vocational Bible school attended by 1,200 children.

“This year’s theme at our vocational Bible school was ‘You are my witnesses’. Each day’s stories were about how people of other religions came to the Lord. This was a very delicate subject because of unrest in our country in the state of Gujarat. The conflict that still exists in Gujarat began over a cup of tea between two communities and still continues. Nearly a thousand people have died and the army has been called in. At our school, the children are learning the stories of the Israelites and the Jews and this does not make the Muslims very happy. Our school is situated between two mosques and behind a Hindu temple…after all, this year’s program went off peacefully. The children went home happy after a nice meal with stories and songs in their hearts and with Bibles and gifts in their hands.”

How many more Evangelines are there who need our prayers, support and solidarity to do the special work God has called them to do?

A story to illustrate: Central Java “Children and Families in Muntilan” by Petrus Nawawi.

Jogyakarta is a small city of 71,682 people, the majority being Muslim. The GKI Muntilan Church (Indonesian Christian Church at Muntilan) offered a life-changing opportunity to the children in their community. For more than 10 years they have had a project for supporting poor children in their community. The church mission, by reaching the children, training and educating them through “NAIN” Children Development Project, has given meaning to the life of a community whose children are being reached for Christ through this ministry. There the transformation process is starting to take place. This happened because children experienced a relationship with Jesus Christ. The result was not just that the children have been changed, but also their family members benefit from God’s promises.

A form of God’s attention toward children and their families through His church produces social transformation among families. Vinay Samuel in Samuel & Sugden (1999: 229) says, “How can you have social change without relation to Christ? Wherever social change is attempted, it cannot be done without relation to God in Christ – without reference to and relation to what Christ offers to people. Thus one of the components of transformation is the integral relation of evangelism to social action and not to allow either evangelism or social action to stand on their own”. The social reality of the Church amongst the society (social interaction) is formed. The people found that the Church is not a competitive religion for them but it brings humanitarian mission that is valuable for them. “Therefore the religious world reality that is socially constructive needs a social structure that has natural reality” (Glasner 1992:82).

During the riot in May 1998 that took place in Solo and Muntilan, Muntilan was guarded by Muslim youth in Karangwatu. Many houses were bombarded with stones, a lot of shops and motorbikes were burned, but the church was not harmed. This is not just a humanitarian mission, but also gives life-changing opportunity through the love of Christ.

Research shows that for every child ministered to by the church, there will be five family members touched or changed. It may seem like drops of water in the sea, but it gives hope of transformation. If many more churches do the same thing, we can reach the new generation.

7. How can we showcase Christian ministries?

Where transformation is happening, Christians need to celebrate it. Transformation in one area can impact another sphere of influence. However, attention needs to be given to:

  • Finding ways to appropriately showcase a ministry that doesn’t demean or dehumanise people.
  • Developing advocates for specialist ministries in diverse settings.
  • Reproducing effective models of transformation in similar settings.

8. How do we develop strategic alliances to transform cities?

No church or group will be able to respond to all the diverse needs of their city. Strategic alliances need to be developed who can:

  • Share people, resources and expertise.
  • Identify emerging trends and find responses in a pro-active way.
  • Help advocate for specialist responses.

6. Collaboration for Kingdom Transformation

Collaboration in the transformation of cities is critical. Many urban issues are beyond the capacity of any one local church or urban agency. If we are to see cities transformed, we will need to work closely with churches, mission agencies, city leaders, social services and government authorities. The Church will need to learn how to create a spirit of unity with other churches without succumbing to uniformity. We need to learn to collaborate with non-Christian entities without compromising our passion for Christ and His mandate to make disciples. This chapter prompts us to examine how the Church can work together to contextualize the purpose of transformation.

While this will be an attempt to respond to issues that are relevant in today’s urban environment, we must remember that diverse-cities will require contextual solutions that vary from place to place and from time to time. Will it be possible to see the Kingdom of God come in fullness to each city on our planet? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Jesus implored us to pray “thy Kingdom come.” So, we are working towards that end. In the process, we will celebrate the creation of islands of shalom and order in a sea of turmoil and chaos. For instance, we may not be able to bring an end to all forms of sexual sin, but perhaps we can see an end to child prostitution in a particular location. The Lord has called us to faithfulness in seeking the shalom of the city, regardless of our success.

It is with this hope that we enter into a dialogue on how collaboration can be accomplished in a divided world, including action plans and strategies for collaboration. In addition, case studies will illustrate those strategies and tools will be recommended that will aid those seeking to build or further develop partnerships and collaboration aimed at Kingdom transformation.

Components of Collaboration

This section will examine several core ways to approach and engage in collaboration for practitioners and laypersons. The following will be overviewed in this section:

  • Develop a framework for collaboration
  • Identify obstacles to collaboration
  • Create an environment for relational unity
  • Convene stakeholders in ways that are contextual, manageable and safe
  • Leverage media to promote collaboration
  • Implement varied approaches to collaboration

1. Develop a framework for collaboration

A major challenge for those seeking to collaborate is how to hold on to their distinctives, whether in approach, ministry or theology, while humbly working for Kingdom transformation with those who don’t share their perspective. We understand that this humility is not an abdication of our evangelical convictions but a respect for those who bring needed resources and assets. We look to Nehemiah, Esther and Ezra as examples of their collaboration as Jews with Gentile forces in order to bring about God’s transformative purposes. This lays a foundation for our need to collaborate and partner with those of differing worldviews and belief systems. We have chosen to sum up this principle in the phrase “unity without uniformity.”

A second distinction would be in how we define the ultimate purpose of collaborative efforts. There is a distinction between the term “Kingdom transformation” and other terms such as: “urban renewal”, “urban transformation” and “urban planning and revitalization.” Kingdom transformation will necessarily include the expansion and strengthening of the Church as well as impacting society with Kingdom values. We are compelled by the love of Christ. We love, because He first loved us. Justice is a biblical value. Our conviction about the dignity of human persons arises out of the creation story. We believe the criminal and the victim are created in the image of God. This impacts how we view transformation and distinguishes us from other stakeholders in the quest for urban transformation.

Finally, we must adequately discern when and how collaboration occurs. There are macro issues at the city level, which cannot be addressed by one entity. This is also true for micro issues at the “neighbourhood” level. At the same time, there are issues which one entity is more than adequately equipped and gifted by God to tackle. For example, a single church might be able to advocate for a particular issue or provide a needed service based on the scale of work to be done.

2. Identifying Obstacles to Collaboration

We must understand the forces that work against collaboration. These vary from context to context. Some barriers to collaboration are:

  • Denominationalism
  • Spiritual strongholds
  • Lack of vision
  • Lack of leadership
  • Theological differences
  • Overwhelming nature of the city: the challenge of addressing systems and/or sectors
  • Working with secular or non-Christian entities
  • Lack of agreement on issues
  • Rhetoric (intellectual agreement) versus action (practical responses)
  • The fear of sheep stealing
  • Empire building

Strategies to overcoming these barriers will differ, but the Church must rise above the fears that lie behind each of these obstacles to forge new relationships that will result in God’s purposes for the city.

3. Creating an Environment for Relational Unity

Relationships are necessary to any collaboration or partnership. It is also important to provide means for stakeholders to develop and deepen contact with one another. In the best cases, collaboration and partnership grow out of relationships of trust. There are many methods and means for developing relationships. Some examples are provided below with relevant excerpts of case studies:

4. Creating relational connections/unity through prayer:

Coming together to pray often can dissolve historic divisions and competition. Growing out of a prayer gathering at the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelisation (Manila, 1989), the Ghanaian delegation moved to break 150+ years of denominational mission zoning and unite to plant a church in every village. Incredible progress has been made as a result of this landmark decision.

  • Cooperation through shared services: Churches can come together to create special events. Surrey, Vancouver, Canada: A group of 30-50 pastors meet weekly to pray in Surrey, the largest suburb of Vancouver. They have an annual joint Easter service with several thousand people. They have offered support to all school principals in the area and plan to plant a church together as the Church of Surrey.
  • Coordination around a project: Particular issues or at-risk communities (such as youth) create a rallying point around which different stakeholders may gather. Tacoma, Washington, USA: A group of pastors in Tacoma have been meeting together weekly for six years. Their mission is to tackle the issues facing young people and to provide positive alternatives. This includes addressing issues of truancy, youth violence, educational achievement and leadership development. They are working together around a program called Vision Youth, which is a partnership of World Vision, Northwest Leadership Foundation, local churches, schools and government institutions. Their efforts include joint planning for youth activities, joint programs and events. Partnerships have been built with Raymen Hall (juvenile justice), the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the local school district and local schools. In a program called Club Friday, congregations provide late night meals and support program operations, the police department provides security services, referrals are made to local social services that are community and faith-based.
  • Relationships growing out of the spiritual contributions of the Church: Urban stakeholders often recognize the unique moral and spiritual role the Church has to play in a city. Fremantle, Western Australia 2004: On the foundation of prayer (pastors meeting together weekly for over eight years), in the week prior to Easter 2004, the Church led the port city of Fremantle in a week of Jubilee. The churches were the catalyst for local authorities, business groups, and public utilities to come together to help the poor, marginalized and aged in the community. Rent and utility bills were paid, mortgages cleared, houses cleaned, food provided, streets clean up, machinery repaired all in the name of the Lord. This Jubilee week gained national coverage and all the churches have grown by conversion for the first time since they can recall. Surabaya, Indonesia 2004: The Christian Church is being asked by the Muslim government to pray for the peace of the city. There is recognition that the prayers of the Christian Church can impact a community for the good! The church is growing at a phenomenal rate in the face of opposition.

5. Convene stakeholders in ways that are contextual, manageable and safe.

In addition to having strategies for promoting the development of relationships, one must use effective strategies for convening stakeholders. Stakeholders need to come together around a table that feels safe to share and discuss their views on issues of urban transformation. In addition, one must access the best approach to making collaboration manageable within their context. Below you will find three approaches to accomplishing this task.

  • Map geographic regions into more manageable areas: wards, neighbourhoods, zip codes, zones, etc: This should be done taking into consideration the church population versus total population. For example, a large region may have only a few churches or a small number of Christians. This would make subdivision less desirable. On the other hand, a smaller region might have an overwhelming number of churches or Christians and therefore, it would be advisable to map the city-region into smaller subsections.
  • Identify an issue that the community finds to be significant: Stakeholders are more likely to come together around an issue they think to be significant and larger than they can handle alone. In some cases, they may need information that shows the significance of the issue as it relates to their mission or objectives. Collaboration can be built around issues such as: housing, prostitution, employment, etc. New York City: East Brooklyn congregations have collaborated together to build affordable housing for the poor through the Nehemiah Project, which is subsidized by the New York City Housing Authority. Chicago, Illinois: United Front for Justice and Action, also known as Industrial Area Foundation (IAF) held a protest against a local gun shop, which included one hundred leaders from churches and organizations. The shop had sold 2,700 guns in the past four years to people who purchased them on behalf of drug dealers and gang members. The protest was covered in the media. Action against the gun shop is still pending but significant attention has been drawn to the problem. In these cases the issue of housing and guns were felt needs, significant enough to draw together several urban forces in order to address these problems.

6. Collaborating across spheres of influence

Cities are a complex array of interdependent and interconnected systems. They include institutions and systems such as: education, business, judicial, government, sports, arts, etc. Kingdom transformation requires coordination and collaboration of efforts between these different sectors of society. In Fresno, CA, the fifth poorest city in the U.S., churches, missional agencies, Christian business people and elected or appointed officials come together monthly in The No Name Fellowship, a faith-based meeting designed to highlight key issues facing the city and mobilize the church for action. Enlisting 4,000 volunteers to address a specific hunger crisis was the result of one meeting. At another, educational supplies for an influx of 3,000 Hmong refugee families were committed. A local faith-based leadership foundation is the facilitator, and the overall objective is stated as: “releasing God’s resources, through reconciled relationships, for the rebuilding of our city.”

Within the Church there are other sorts of sectors such as great benefits for Kingdom transformation in cities can be gained by collaborating across the spheres of local churches, mission agencies and theological training institutions in conjunction with the structures of urban society. Queensland, Australia: Scripture Union coordinates the employment of 110 chaplains to work in state high schools, funded partially by state government and partially by local churches. Sydney: The state government with the mainline denominations funds chaplains in hospitals and prisons.

7. Leverage media to promote collaboration

Media is a powerful tool to communicate and reinforce collaborative efforts. Creating relationship and inviting media representatives into the process of Kingdom transformation in a community can bring partnerships that enhance the collaborative efforts. We need to implement varied approaches to collaboration.

Developing collaboration can be undertaken in at least two ways within the Church: from the top down or as a grassroots initiative. It is always a benefit to have the engagement of senior leaders to promote and encourage participation by the congregations. However, this is not always possible. Therefore, it is also important to implement strategies that can start at the grassroots with individual lay members as well.

8. Tools for Collaboration

As stated earlier, tools for collaboration depend on the community and the context. One key is to investigate existing resources. It is also important to consider that some resources might need to be updated or contextualized. Some examples of tools for specific urban situations include:

  1. Transformation videos
  2. Transforming Cities – AD2000 Cities Network edited by Viv Grigg
  3. Materials/resources that identify obstacles and address ways to overcome them
  4. Prayer Summits (Call to Renewal)
  5. Evangelistic Crusades/Outreaches (Leighton Ford, Billy Graham, etc)
  6. Ray Bakke – Signs of Hope
  7. Celebratory Events (Michael Cassidy – Africa)
  8. Saturation church planting (Ghana)
  9. Tools that capture the urban church for service (Purpose Driven Life – 40 Days of Purpose)
  10. Also, please consult the bibliography at the end of this paper.

9. Stories that show collaboration and networking in action.

In Wollongong, an Australian industrial city of 400,000 people, the non-Christian mayor has called the churches of Wollongong together to pray for the city. They meet in the town hall with the mayor’s hospitality two to four times per year for fellowship and prayer. Up to 5,000 people gather for this event.

Across parts of Australia local churches collaborate to resource youth workers and religious education teachers in state high schools.

In Boulder, Colorado, USA, churches are working together with the District Attorney’s office to design and implement a faith-based juvenile recidivism program that has had great success in the county. Church leaders are asking, “What is your church doing in the city?” versus “How big is your church?” This has resulted in churches in Boulder being externally focused and community based. There are over 2,000 more church members involved in community service than two years prior to this initiative. Several churches have completed 1,000 acts of service in the community in a single month; and churches are supporting city and human service agencies with volunteers, referrals and finances.

10. Conclusion

Collaboration is messy. There are many forces that mitigate against the coming together of divergent groups, which must be overcome if the large urban issues and systemic problems are to be addressed. The Church is unique in her desire to see holistic transformation (body, mind, soul, emotion, environment) based on an understanding of Christ’s love for the city and the dignity of human persons created in the image of God. It is imperative that we rise above our denominationalism and fear of losing our biblical convictions in order to see the Kingdom of God come to our cities.

7. Transforming slums: Will we hear the cries of two billion people before it is too late?

Humanity has existed on earth for thousands of years, yet we are just now beginning to experience a new kind of community – the slum community. The fact that one million people live in a ditch outside of Nairobi, Kenya, huddled under corrugated-tin sheets is something new to the human experience. Most slums are less than fifty years old. Today they collectively hold one billion of the earth’s people. Crowded conditions, makeshift housing, dubious sanitation mark them. Overwhelming unemployment rates, and desperate poverty bring despair. Despair is the most destructive force among the urban poor and is essentially a spiritual issue. When slum dwellers lose all sense of hope, they stop caring about what happens to themselves, their families, and the people around them. Despair can rule the slums.

These slum communities are on the rise at an alarming rate. It is estimated that every day there are 50,000 new urban slum dwellers. The presence of Jesus is among these masses and hears the cries of each of the lost, poor and broken ones. He is pleading with the whole body, the Church, to respond to this spiritual, social and environmental reality as He would.

Most governments, churches and NGOs are at a loss to know what to do with slum communities. This provides a unique arena to demonstrate the transformative power of Christ for whole communities. Will we have the courage to follow Jesus into the heart of these communities for this to happen?

To fail to follow Jesus into the slums, to attempt to ignore or lock out two billion slum dwellers will put everyone on the planet at risk. The powers of radical evil are exploiting the most vulnerable who are gathered in slums and can create, for example, hot houses to nurture radical terrorism. However, this volatile environment can also provide opportunities for radical discipleship with Christ. Will the whole Church do whatever it takes to “seek the shalom of the city” in thoughtful, prayerful and committed ways? Or will the world suffer the consequences of ignoring the “least of these brothers and sisters of Mine”?

Urban slums go by many names, according to their context. In Thailand, they are called chim choms, in Brazil they are favelas and in Argentina villa miserias. What they have in common is that they are catch-basins for the poor and vulnerable of a city and nation. The rural poor, AIDS orphans, labourers and refugees pour into these makeshift towns and then they become home. Often mainstream people – fearful of these community’s reputation – try to hide slums away or even destroy them altogether as they reveal a reality of life few want to acknowledge.

What are slum communities? Put simply, they are communities built the wrong way around. In a regular neighbourhood a local government recognizes land as fit for housing, provides deeds and develops utilities such as sewers, water and electricity. Builders draw up building plans. Eventually foundations for homes are laid and construction starts. Once the house is completed and utilities connected, the family who buys or rents the house is able to move in their belongings and have the chance to make a home. In slum communities, they begin when people move onto vacant, often undeeded, land first and put whatever belongings they have on it. Then they build whatever shelter they can quickly get over their heads. Later, if at all, utilities may be developed, and shelter is improved. Rarely are deeds granted. Of course over time, more shanty houses pop up and more layers of infrastructure are added “over the top”.

Technically speaking, the United Nations defines a slum household as one that lacks any of the following:

  • Access to improved water (access to sufficient amount of water for family use, at an affordable price, available to household members without being subject to extreme effort)
  • Access to improved sanitation (access to an excreta disposal system, either in the form of a private toilet or a public toilet shared with a reasonable number of people)
  • Security of tenure (evidence of documentation to prove secure tenure status or de facto or perceived protection from evictions)
  • Durability of housing (permanent and adequate structure in a non hazardous location)

There are many barriers to the transformation of slum communities. They are complex and vulnerable social structures that require careful understanding if appropriate responses are to be made. If you pull what seems to be a loose thread at one end, things begin to unravel at the other end. For example, consider the garbage collectors of Cairo, Egypt, with whom Inter-Varsity’s Bessenecker family and a group of students lived for a summer. First, imagine a city growing by hundreds of thousands of people a year. How do you find housing, jobs, and sanitation for such a yearly influx? The simple answer is that you don’t. Infrastructure essentially collapses. Industrious poor people take advantage of the infrastructure vacuum and begin to gather trash. Soon there is a thriving garbage village right inside the city limits (there are at least five in Cairo). Within that community there is a steady source of waste for the compost with which to raise animals, so a farming complex also grows within the garbage village.

“The sights and smells of living among rubbish, animals, and people were quite shocking to us at first. Our immediate thought was how could we work to get rid of this place? But after living there a while, we began to see how thorny the solutions become. The sanitation system is actually pretty efficient. Eighty percent of the trash in Cairo is recycled or reused because of this hands-on method of dealing with waste. In the West we bury 80 percent of our garbage. To hire a wastemanagement organization that would bring in heavy equipment and create massive landfills is not only worse for the environment but would also jeopardize the livelihoods of those who depend on the trash.”

Obviously, the living conditions of a garbage village are unacceptable. Humans should not suffer the kinds of sicknesses and hardships that exist in that place. But urban transformation is a tricky business. If you rescue children from working in a sweatshop, you plunge their families into even more desperate poverty. You might deliver a fifteen-year-old girl from the horrors of living in a brothel, but unless you deal with the physical, emotional, familial, and spiritual consequences of child prostitution, she will return to the group of people that can relate best to her situation: the brothel from which she came. After all, she can hardly go home to the family that sold her into that life in the first place.

Some key barriers and issues in seeking the shalom of a slum

What then are strategic places to put our energy? If the whole church is to seek the shalom of the world’s slums then the following needs cannot be ignored in any slum. There is the need for:

  • healthy housing
  • property rights
  • stainable employment
  • adequate health care
  • healthy local economies
  • engaging the principalities and powers
  • support of people living with AIDS and the care of AIDS orphans.
  • healthy advocacy and policy
  • mental health and keeping despair at bay
  • healthy environment
  • population control
  • healthy local institutions (e.g. solidarity groups, co-ops, businesses, government)
  • healthy church movements “of” the slum.

Some key actions in evangelisation of urban slums

A) For the whole church to take seriously the need to stand in solidarity with local churches, ministries and Christians already living and serving in these slums to share Christ holistically.

B) For the whole church to take seriously the need to raise up a new generation of incarnational workers, willing to go and live among unreached urban slums, seeking holistic transformation through Christ with their new neighbours.

C) For the whole church to take seriously the need for thoughtful, prayerful and passionate advocacy in the areas of:

  • Property rights of urban slum dwellers.
  • Business rights of urban slum dwellers.
  • Urban slum upgrades (rather than demolishing, ignoring, or forcing relocation of slums).
  • Supporting slum communities to determine their own futures together (especially helping to provide the opportunity for the Bible and the Spirit of Christ to help guide communal decision-making).

If all three of these action steps are not taken seriously, the sacrificial work of slum ministry will be undermined by insecurity. For example, slums dwellers will be dispersed before transformation is an option, people will die, the image of God will be marred, and the life God intends will be thwarted.


If each church, mission agency and association of churches gave attention to the following recommendations a huge difference would be made in reaching urban slum dwellers for Christ. As in all mission in the city, it is critical to work with the community and urban structures to eliminate slums and every depressing condition that dishonours God by degrading human life.

  • Create awareness for the whole church of the plight of urban slum dwellers. Few Christians know what slums are like or the needs of the slum dweller. In a city like Bangkok for example, there are one million slum dwellers, but only a handful of churches and most of these have small congregations. Who will create the media and other tools to let the church know of Jesus’ cry for the urban slum dweller?
  • Identify some of the experiments in urban slum transformation and “role model” responses that others can learn from. Many churches and agencies have put urban slums in the “too hard” basket. Funding, too, is hard to maintain, as traditional responses such as child sponsorship are often unstable in slum communities. Who will create new, sustainable models and help others to reproduce them?
  • Pray, mobilize, train and support a new generation of Christian slum workers from the whole church to the whole world of urban slums. While not all Christians are called to serve in slums, many who God has called are not being recognized or supported. With two billion urban slum dwellers by 2025 every Christian would need a good reason not to be personally involved in slum transformation. Who will go among the least of these brothers and sisters of Jesus?
  • Develop solidarity between slum and non-slum Christians. For example, there could be “sister-church” or “mentoring” relationships between urban slum Christians/churches and non-urban slum Christians and churches. Who will find the bonds of friendship and solidarity with slum Christians?

Develop strategic alliances for Christian communities and agencies to take seriously the above four areas of advocacy (property rights, business rights, slum upgrades and self-determination). To make a difference in these complex areas we need such macro advocates as the Micah Challenge as well as grassroots ones such as local legal teams and activists. Who will stand with the slum dweller until “justice rolls down like a river and righteousness like a never ending stream”?

8. Exegesis of a city

The framework that we proposed in the first chapter prompts us to learn more about our city-regions. When we discuss the task of the Church in a city, immediately we are struck by the necessity to address both macro and micro issues. In choosing to ‘address’ the city, we need to remember two foundational issues that are often overlooked by God’s people living in metropolitan areas.

First, it is obvious that we need to place each individual city in its own context yet understand its place in the larger urban system. Because of globalisation, no metropolitan area exists in isolation from others. When someone asks you where you live, the answer depends not only on where you are but also to whom you are talking. For example, you would tell a neighbour which street you live on, a person from your region which community you live in, from your country, you would say which province our state you live in, or you would probably name the metropolitan center closest to your place of residence. Each ‘address’ tells something about you: the living environment, the languages you use on a day-to-day basis, your lifestyle and perhaps your social status. Whether one approaches this subject from a perspective of what is happening globally, in city-regions across the world, and then move locally, to one’s own municipality, or work in the reverse order is not all that important. What is important is to see the interrelationships among the different addresses in which we live, from local to national to global. It is also important to adjust these ‘addresses’ for the audience in question.

Second, when the Church addresses the city, we must direct our attention to urban realities. We also need to understand our own assumptions and framework. As we have seen, we will always want to keep our focus on a biblical perspective on cities.

Richard Sennett defines a city as a human settlement in which strangers are likely to meet. The United Nations Population Fund documents the diversity of definitions for an urban category in its 1996 State of the World Population report. British urbanologist, David Clark (1996) has clarified many of these issues in his most recent book. He calls a population of 50,000 people or less a town or a village. On the other hand, cities are human agglomerations that have up to 200,000 residents. A metropolitan area or city-region has more than two million people, but a megalopolis is an urban region over five million. These distinctions are helpful because a country like Norway considers any human settlement of 200 people as urban while, Bénin, for example, only uses “urban” for places of 10,000 people or more.

Beyond definitions and the demographic function of cities known as “urban growth”, one may ask, “What is happening in our city-regions?” What were the conditions – inherited from the past – which have been transformed in these last thirty years that help us understand its present state? This is a fundamental question we need to explore, if we are to understand the cultural context in which the Church finds itself. Our concern points in a further direction with a second question: “How will the Church reflect biblically and pursue relevant urban mission in the years ahead?”

To answer these two questions, an attentive practitioner can use an ethnographic analysis of the culture in order to understand how social structures and human behaviour interact and influence a city. An ethnographic method is an excellent tool for the Christian practitioner who desires to study the following: the knowledge and practices of people and the ways they use their freedom to dominate, to transform, to organize, to arrange and to master space for their personal pursuits. This all people do so as to live, to protect themselves, to survive, to produce and to reproduce. To do this one must master dominant tendencies so as to grasp where we have come from and where we are going as a society and what the mission of God in this culture will look like. (See Lingenfelter in Greenway: 1992; Bakke, Pownall, Smith: 1996)

The description for cultural analysis that we use allows a practitioner to take seriously the fact that social activity is culturally and historically specific. Urban hermeneutics allows us to decode the contrasts between social structure and human agency, which is constantly at work in a metropolitan area. Social institutions – the basic building blocks of a city because of their far-reaching impact – are used by human agents to create urban systems and metropolitan structures. Human activities are constrained by these structures but are also enabled by them. In attempting to understand a city, neither activities nor institutions have primacy. This distinction becomes critical as we examine the biblical categories of principalities and powers in God’s project for human history.

By grasping this geography of urban functions, we are looking at issues (the social dynamics, problems, needs, aspirations and world views) that are culturally and historically specific. Like the city itself, these issues reflect the prevailing values, ideology and structure of the prevailing social formation. A useful analytical, social and theological purpose is served by the empirical recognition that urban issues are manifest in geographical space. This implies that the resulting description will detail issues “in” the city as well as issues “of” the city. For example, an issue in urban space would include the consequences of population density in a census district for example that has 11,536 people per square kilometre versus the norm of 847. An issue of urban space includes attention to the socio-economic factors that go hand-in-hand with such population concentration.

To pursue this analysis, the practitioner will need to bring a high sensitivity:

a. to micro details in the local context,

b. with a concern for the larger worldview influences (understood as the macro issues),

c. beyond a simple homogenisation of the data, and

d. to a true understanding of the differences so that we can appreciate the specifics of the area and the mission of the Church in the situation.

How to do an exegesis of a city-region

There is no “magic formula” for a congregation to participate in the transformation of a city-region. In the following suggestions, we are attempting to facilitate how one implements strategies to launch ministries in cities, not just to plant churches. F.B. Meyer once wrote, “Christian missionaries should be strategists, expending their strength where populations teem and rivers of world-wide influence have their rise.” In this context, it is little wonder that we must rethink our urban strategies.

There are few experts in this field, not many with great experience to share with newcomers. Humility and teachableness are absolutely essential. Referring to the urban masses, William Booth, of the Salvation Army, asked his volunteers, “Can we weep for them? If you can’t weep, we cannot use you.”

Requirements to begin:

  • • Large map
  • • History book
  • • Good shoes
  • • A team within the congregation to study a city-region. This will make sure the vision and the results of the inquiry are more effective.
  • • It would be important for an urban ministry practitioner to learn how to do “community development methodology”. The writings of Robert Lithicum and Judith Lingenfelter (Greenway: 1992) are a good place to start (see Bibliography).

The Twenty Steps10

These twenty steps can be divided into two sections. The first ten steps allow a congregation to understand its own context. They are helpful to start different types of ministries with the community. Steps 11-20 are more useful for those preparing to plant a new congregation.

  1. Compile a list of significant historical events that inform the city’s identity. These could be specific, historic conflicts that took place such as a war or dispute, specific unifying events such as the city coming together to fight a massive fire, specific decisions that leaders made such as the building of a community centre, or something that happened that gave people hope, such as a person doing something heroic or selfless, etc. These will provide clues to the best way for the church to focus its energy.
    Study the growth patterns of the city. One can find this information in libraries, city councils, museums, bookstores, local newspapers and on local Web sites.
    • Why is the city growing (or why did it grow)?
    • Who are (were) the immigrants to the city?
    • Where did they come from and where are they settled?
    • Where are they employed?
  2. Understand clearly the sections or zones that make up the city:
    • Downtown
    • Blue collar neighbourhoods
    • Ghettos
    • Ethnic neighbourhoods
    • Industrial zones
    • Commercial areas
      Examine census maps if they are available. Find out from city planners and real estate offices where city populations are expected to move, where commercial and industrial zones will develop, and which areas are slated to undergo major changes. Isolate the sectors of your larger community using the representation of the city set out in the introduction to this Paper. This represents the functions of a city.
  3. Study the neighbourhoods: their ethnic, social and economic composition, religious affiliations, occupational patterns, younger and older populations, concentrations of the elderly, young professionals, singles, problem groups, to understand a neighbourhood you must walk the streets, talk to people, insiders and outsiders. Census data is important but onsite observation is best. People groups criss-cross in the city. Probe to discover the dominant influence in a neighbourhood: ethnic identity? social class? Undertake a participant-observer approach.
    What is the extent of social contact between the people groups? Is social contact increasing? Take time to chat with residents and pedestrians in the area. Ask them what are the most significant changes they see or experience in the neighbourhood.
    When examining the data, notice the criteria used. When walking the streets, watch for the impact of these population shifts on the neighbourhood. Many congregations use prayerwalks as a way to learn more about their city-region.11
  4. Determine and analyze the power centres in the city – the political figures, the police department, business leaders and the Chamber of Commerce, religious leaders.
    • Who controls the media? (TV, radio, newspapers)
    • Who controls commerce, finance? The schools and the arts?
    • What are the religious\moral commitments of the power people?
  5. Analyze the felt needs of specific people groups within the city. You are looking for indications of receptivity and “keys” which may unlock doors to homes and hearts. Felt needs vary from group to group. In some communities, such things as personal illness, loneliness, physical hardships, insecurity in terms of housing, property rights, and the threat of losing one’s dwelling are very real. In other neighbourhoods the felt needs may be entirely different. Addressing felt needs is essential to holistic strategy. From the felt needs, the practitioner moves to peoples’ ultimate needs and shows how Christ meets both.
  6. Examine the traffic flow of the city. Just as successful advertisers know where to place their signs, practitioners need to know where to begin their ministries, where they can readily be seen and reached. Find out where each of the following is located:
    • Community services centres
    • Library
    • police stations
    • fire stations
    • city hall
    • shopping centres
    • sports facilities.
  7. Seek to discover how news and opinion spread in the city, and in particular groups. Mainly through conversation? By radio, TV? Who are the idea-people, the opinionmakers? Subscribe to the weekly publication in the area. Read it faithfully.
  8. Examine the relationship between city-dwellers and the rural, small-town communities outside the city. Do certain segments of the urban population maintain strong ties with their rural cousins? Is there a lot of travel and visiting between city and village? What are the present immigration patterns from the countryside? How might the urban-rural interaction be used for the spread of the gospel and multiplication of churches? Most of this information is available in the census data that your country keeps in census files.
  9. Ministries and churches in the city – locate them on a map; identify them by denomination, size and age. What transformational ministries and social services are already taking place through these ministries and churches? Reflect on what the church map shows.
  10. Analyze the various types of existing churches. Common types as found in many cities are:
    • “Old First”
    • Cathedral church
    • “City-centre” churches
    • Peoples’ churches (large auditoriums, drawing numbers from all over the metropolitan area)
    • University church
    • Storefront churches
    • Ethnic language churches
    • Suburban churches
    • Special purpose churches (use the wheel in the introduction for ideas)
    • “Renewal” churches, the fastest growing in many countries; they are usually newer, independent
    • Cell churches.
  11. Find out the growth patterns of the various churches – attendance, membership, and rate of growth. Try to determine the nature of the growth is it by transfer, conversion, or by births? One can often locate this information by chatting with congregational leaders.
  12. Inquire about church planting and church closures in the past several years. Which churches have closed? Why? Who has planted churches, and why and where did they succeed? Learn all you can from them.
  13. Who is planning to start new churches? Where and among which people groups? Find out all you can from church and mission sources as to what is being planned for the city.
  14. Strategies – what has been tried in the past, what has failed, and what was effective in starting churches and stimulating growth? Analyze the information you receive. In the light of recent church growth studies, what has been done right in this city, and where ought things be done differently?
  15. Christians and non-Christians – where are the Christians located (which may not be where they attend church)? Identify areas of the city where relatively few Christians live.
  16. Identify Christians in positions of influence in the city – in business, politics, the media, education, entertainment, and sports. Analyze their potential for wider spread of the gospel and assistance in planting churches.
  17. List and analyze the parachurch ministries operating in and to the city. How might each contribute something to the overall strategy? Are there some you may want to avoid because they might have a negative influence on church multiplication?
  18. Make an inventory of all possible personnel resources that might be tapped for the carrying out of your church planting strategy. For example, are there Bible school or seminary students available to help with door-to-door calling? Could workers be borrowed from existing churches to help plant new congregations?
  19. Evaluate all known methods for planting churches in light of what you know about this city, its history, people, existing churches, and particular characteristics. What methods have proven effective elsewhere, appear appropriate for this city or at least some of its communities, and are within the capabilities of your resources.
  20. List and evaluate the community agencies (private, religious and civic) that are designed to meet particular needs (literacy, overnight shelter, emergency food and clothing, etc.) and consider how their help can be incorporated into your overall strategy.

Appendix I Biblical References on Urban Transformation for Reflection and Liturgy12

Old Testament


1:1- 2:15 | Creator, creation and human beings as co-creators
4:9-10 | Where is your brother Abel?
10: | First cities in biblical record
19: | Sodom and Gommorah


3:1-15 | God intervenes on the side of the oppressed
22: 25-27 | Do not keep the poor man’s cloak


25:8-10 | The Jubilee Year
25:35-28 | Kindness to strangers
19:9-11 | Sharing with the poor
19:13-15 | Sharing with the poor

Deuteronomy 24:19-22 | Leaving some of the harvest


72:1-4 | God’s concern for justice
72:11-17 | God’s concern for justice
105:22-27 | Celebration of the Exodus


1:11-17 | I am sick of holocausts
3:13-15 | The vineyard
11:1-9 | They do not hurt or harm
58:1-12 | Worship, poverty, and oppression
65:17-25 | New heaven and new earth


22:16 | Is not that what it means to know me?
29:1-7 | Seeking the shalom of the city
32: | Buying land in the city during difficult times


5:14-24 | Woe to those who feel secure
6:1-6 | Woe to those who feel secure
8:4-7 | Woe to those who feel secure


2:1-2 | Beat their swords into ploughshares
4:1-4 | Beat their swords into ploughshares
6:1-9 | What does God require of those in the city?

Ruth 1-4 | Love and faithfulness

New Testament


9:35 to 11:1 | Pursuing God’s mission in the world
13:1-52 | Stories of the rule of God
25:31-45 | I was hungry and you gave me to eat


3:2-11 | John the Baptist
4:16-21 | He sent me to bring the good news to the poor
6:20-25 | The beatitudes
19:1-10 | Zaccheus gives away his riches
10:25-37 | The Good Samaritan
16:19-31 | Dives and Lazarus


1:35-51 | Jesus’ view of sacred place
4:5-42 | Woman at the well
8:3-11 | Jesus stops the stoning of the woman
20:11-18 | Jesus sends a woman to announce the resurrection


2:42-47 | Sharing among the first Christians
4:32-35 | Sharing among the first Christians
15 to 18 | Paul’s urban strategy in the second journey

Galatians 3:26-28 | Neither Jew nor Greek

Philippians 1:27 to 2:18 | Citizens emptied themselves like Jesus did

James 2:14-17, 26 | Faith without works

1 John 3:14-18 | If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need


21:1-5 | Behold I make all things new
13:1-17 | The power of the beast
21 to 22 | The renewed city of God

Appendix 2 Glossary of Terms

1. Being a follower or disciple of Jesus Christ

The essence of following Jesus in the New Testament means living fully in the world in union with Jesus Christ and His people and growing in conformity to His person. We could say that it is a grateful and heartfelt yes to God expressed both in act and attitude — the follower of Jesus lives in obedience and imitation of Jesus Christ and walks in the disciplined and maturing pattern of love for God. It is a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.

2. Spirituality

Spirituality is the process of developing a deep relationship with God. It is also about how Christians live their faith in the world. Spirituality cannot be divorced from the struggle for justice and care for the poor and the oppressed.

The interest of Christians in the subject is not new, although there has been a renewed awareness of the subject in the past several years. The word spirituality in theological dictionaries is relatively recent, but the meaning of the term should not be separated from previous expressions like holiness, godliness, walking with God, or discipleship. All of these words emphasize a formal commitment to being alive and very connected with God through a deepening relationship with Jesus Christ and a life of personal obedience to the word of God through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In summary, we can say that spirituality is our self-transcendent capacity as human beings to recognize and to participate in God’s creative and redemptive activity in all creation.

3. Spiritual formation

Spiritual formation focuses our attention on the dynamics of how the Holy Spirit works in us to conform us to the image of God in Jesus Christ. We pursue spiritual formation because of God’s love for us and to fight against the consequences of evil in the world since the fall. It is the Trinitarian work of the Godhead to stimulate followers of Jesus in their individual lives and in the local community of faith to participate in God’s project for human history through the ways and means revealed in Scripture. Spiritual formation is also about those spiritual exercises that the follower of Jesus pursues under the guidance of the Holy Spirit so as to more readily receive God’s transforming grace.

4. Spiritual disciplines

A discipline is any activity within our power that we engage in to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort. The spiritual disciplines are a means to open us to God’s grace and gifts that bring us into more effective cooperation with Christ and his kingdom. These exercises into godliness are activities undertaken to make us capable of receiving more of Christ’s life and power without harm to others or ourselves.

5. Culture

Culture is foremost a network of meanings by which a particular social group is able to recognize itself through a common history and a way of life. This network of meanings is rooted in ideas (including beliefs, values, attitudes, rules of behaviour), rituals and material objects including symbols that become a source for identity such as the language they speak, the food they eat, the clothes they wear, and the way they organise space. This network is not a formal and hierarchical structure. It is defined in modern society by constant change, mobility, reflection and ongoing new life experiences. This is opposed to traditional societies where culture was transmitted from one generation to another vertically within the community structures. Modernity still transmits some aspects of culture like language and basic knowledge, vertically (formally) through the bias of school system, but once this is done, the horizontal (informal) transmission of culture through friendship, peers and socio-professional status becomes more important.

6. Missiology

The inter-disciplinary reflection and actions by the people of God about Christian witness and the mission of God in the world in light of their proper circumstances. It begins on the exegetical level, namely that the Christian faith is a missionary faith rooted in Jesus’ practices, the hope of the rule of God and his justice. This exegesis is then followed with historical, theological and practical reflection and initiatives. It is interdisciplinary because it takes into account cultural studies, holistic community transformational development theory and practice, a critique of the past, contextualisation and strategies that move the people of God in their local situation forward.

7. Mission

Since the middle of the 20th century, missiologists have looked to the notion of the mission of God as a corrective to the theological and practical failings of their respective traditions and in order to develop a theology of mission that is adequately engaged with other theological issues – ecclesiology, christology, pneumatology, and eschatology. The concept of the missio Dei finds its roots in the writings of Karl Barth who, at the Brandenburg Missionary Conference 1932, saw it necessary to emphasize the action of God in contrast to the human-centred focus of the liberal theology of his day.13 Missio Dei establishes the priority of God’s activity in terms of mission and characterizes God as himself being a missionary God. In this case, mission cannot be conceived of primarily or even essentially as an activity or program of the Church but must be predicated of God himself. Jurgen Moltmann has argued that the Church must understand itself in the movements of the Trinitarian history of God’s dealings with the created order, which leads him to suggest that, it is not the Church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the Church, creating a church as it goes on its way.”14 From this perspective the Church is seen to exist because of the mission, rather than vice versa.

Therefore the comprehensiveness of the missionary task in the city requires the proclamation of the gospel, the planting and nurture of churches, and the application of the principles of Christ’s lordship to all areas of community life. It means concern for all that is city, even for the cosmos above and beneath the city, from the quality of the air people breathe to the purity of the water in the river and canals.

Urban discipleship means getting serious about issues like good schools, responsible government, sanitation and clean streets, fairness in the marketplace and justice in the courts. It means working to eliminate squalor slums and every depressing condition that dishonours God by degrading human life. Once urban disciples see the big picture of what it means to be citizens of the Kingdom in the cities as they are, they begin to work from a new and enlarged perspective. Obedience to Jesus takes them to every nook and cranny of city life. They find the challenges innumerable and the cost often high. But they know that while the dark powers are awesome, God’s rule is greater and its advance is worth every sacrifice.

Furthermore, mission may be understood as the participation of disciples in the liberating mission of Jesus in a city-region, wagering on a future that verifiable experience seems to belie. It is the Good News of God’s love, contextualized in the witness of the community of His followers, for the sake of the world.15

8. Evangelisation

That set of contextual, intentional initiatives of the community of followers of Jesus within the mission of God to demonstrate in word and deed the offer that God gives to everyone to change one’s way of living and follow Jesus in every area of life as Lord.

9. Contextualisation

The process of weaving the Good News into a specific context begins by attempting to discern where God by his Spirit is at work in the context. It continues with a desire to communicate the gospel in word and deed and to establish groups of people who desire to follow Jesus in ways that make sense to people within their (cultural) context, presenting Christianity in such a way that it meets people’s deepest needs and penetrates their worldview, thus allowing them to follow Christ and remain within their culture.

10. A City/region, urban geography and urban theological reflection

A city/region is a human settlement in which strangers are likely to meet. When we shape this discussion contextually and pursue this reflection for a city/region, we are seeking to relate both urban geography and mission. The former analyses the reasons for the spatial differences of human activity in urban areas. Missiology seeks a more adequate understanding of the apostolic mission of the Church while remaining faithful to the exegetical task of understanding the mind of the biblical writer. But this “fusion of horizons” is fraught with danger. As Minear reminds us, “When, therefore, the exegete deals with the apostle Paul, and when missiology accepts Paul’s apostolic work as normative for the continuing mission of the Church, then these two aims coalesce.”16 In reality, as we study and listen to Scripture and walk through the various contexts of metropolitan life, we are faced with the basic question: “How will the Church reflect biblically about the city and pursue relevant mission in her context in the years ahead?”

11. Urban Growth: the demographic function

This describes the city in absolute numerical terms. For example, no city in a country such as Canada is growing rapidly in comparison with some African cities that are growing four percent a year. How are cities in the developed world growing? The growth is primarily through immigration and municipal fusions.

12. Urbanization: the structural function

This term is used to describe the redistribution of rural populations to urban settings. If urban growth represents the demographic dimension of cities, urbanization is the structural change in the redistribution of population as it moves toward larger, human agglomerations. Three processes are at work. First, urbanization happens because of the natural growth from the number of births over against the number of deaths and second, the migration of large numbers of people from rural areas to the city increases the population. It is estimated that better than 40% of urban growth is from this process alone. Finally, in the larger cities of the “developed world” the incorporation of peripheral areas into one city metropolis is causing cities to grow.

Urbanisation also underscores the extent to which poverty is a present reality in our city-regions today. The nature of poverty is that it affects one’s identity and one’s vocation. The poor often see themselves as God-forsaken and as servants that have nothing to offer. The non-poor live out of privilege, believing that their wealth and power mean they can do as they wish.

Poverty in our cities is creating two cultures, if not two solitudes, that have nothing to do with culture, religion or language. There is one culture that is educated and increasingly rich and another that is uneducated, increasingly poor and decidedly feminine. The feminisation of poverty in our cities is a striking fact.

13. Urbanism: the behavioural function

This is the ensuing philosophy of how a city culture affects the behaviour on the greater population of the nation and the world. Urbanism is closely linked with globalization and the forces that are at working in the democratization of information, the expansion of global capitalism and the extension of homogeneous expressions of culture and styles. Robert Schreiter, (inspired by Roland Robertson and Peter Beyer) succinctly defines globalization as “the extension of the effects of modernity to the entire world and the compression of time and space, all occurring at the same time.” For reasons that defy logic, metropolitan areas continue to be home to the emerging informational technologies. I say this because there is no logical reason in the age of digitization, high-speed Internet and 24-hour investment, why large cities need to be home to the sector. One can just as easily “practice globalization” from a small rural center like Chibougamau, Quebec as from the new technological park that is (literally) in downtown Montreal and the world center for aerospatial, pharmaceutical and cinematic animation research and development. Now the compression is truly urban. Admittedly, there is no “meta-theory” that helps us to explain globalization and urbanization.17

Appendix 3 Urban Mission bibliography

Aghamer, Atul. Insights into Openness: Encouraging Urban Mission. Bangalore: SAIACS Publications, 2000.
Ansay et Schoonbrodt, Penser la ville. Bruxelles: AAM éditions, 1989.
Bakke, Ray. A Theology as Big as the City. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997.
________. The Urban Christian. UK: MARC, 1987.
Bakke, R., Pownall, A., Smith, G. Espoir Pour la Ville: Dieu dans la ville. Québec: Les Éditions de la Clairère, 1995.
Bauckham, Richard. Bible and Mission. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2003. Multnomah Press. 1985.
Beatley and Manning. The Ecology of Place: Planning for Environment, Economy and Community. Washington: Island Press, 1997.
Bevans, Stephen, Models of Contextual Theology. (revd ed) Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2002.
Boff, Clodovis. Theology and Praxis: Epistemological Foundations. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1987.
Bosch, David. Transforming Mission. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1992.
________. Believing in the Future. Harrisburg: Trinity Press, 1997.
Bruggemann, W. Living Toward a Vision: Biblical Reflections on Shalom. United Church Press, 1976.
Camp, S. L. Cities: Life in the World’s 100 Largest Metropolitan Areas. Washington: Population Crisis Committee, 1990.
Clark, David. Urban World\Global City. London: Routledge Press,1996.
Conn, Harvie M. The American City and the Evangelical Church: A Historical Overview. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994.
________. A Clarified Vision for Urban Mission.Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library, 1987.
________. Eternal Word and Changing Worlds. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984.
________. Evangelism, Doing Justice and Preaching Grace. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982.
________. Planting and Growing Urban Churches : from Dream to Reality. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997.
________. The Urban Face of Mission. : P&R Publishing, 2002.
Conn, H. and M. Ortiz, Urban Mission. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001.
Costas, Orlando. Liberating News: A Theology of Contextual Evangelization. Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans, 1989.
Cox, H. La Cité Séculière. Bruxelles: Casterman, 1970.
Dawson, John. Taking our Cities for God. USA: Creation House, 1989.
Dubose, Francis M. How Churches Grow in an Urban World. Broadman, 1978.
Dyrness, William A. Learning about Theology from the Third World. Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, Zondervan, 1990.
________. The Earth is God’s. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1997.
Ellul, Jacques. The Meaning of the City. Grand Rapids, MI: William B.Eerdmans, 1973.
Engel, James F., H. Wilbert Norton, What’s Gone Wrong With the Harvest?. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1977.
Engel, James F., William A Dyrness,. Where Have We Gone Wrong?. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000.
Engen, Charles Van, Jude Tiersma, God so Loves the City: Seeking a Theology for Urban Mission. Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1994.
Escobar, Samuel. The New Global Mission: The Gospel from Everywhere to Everyone Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003.
Flanagan, William G. Contemporary Urban Sociology. USA: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Forbes, D.K. The Geography of Underdevelopment. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1984.
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Continuum, 1981.
Frick, Frank S. The City in Ancient Israel. Society of Biblical Literature, 1977.
Gollings, Richard. God So Loves the City: Seeking a Theology for Urban Mission. Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1994.
Gornik, Mark. To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City.Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2002.
Greenway, Roger S. Apostles to the City. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978.
________. Discipling the City. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992.
Greenway, Roger S., Timothy Monsma,. Cities: Mission’s New Frontier. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989.
Grigg, Viv. Companion to the Poor : Christ in the Urban Slums. Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1990.
_________. Cry of the Urban Poor. Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1992.
Goudzwaard, R. Globalization and the Kingdom of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001.
Gugler, Joseph, ed. The Urban Transformation of the Developing World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Hadaway, C. and Rose, L. An Urban World: Churches Face The Future. Nashville: Broadman, 1984.
Hall, Douglas. The Cross in Our Context. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.
Hall, Sir Peter. Cities in Civilization. New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.
Harley, Lloyd. Cities and Churches, an International Bibliography [1800-1990]. London: Scarecrow Press, 1992.
Held, D.,A. McGrew, D. Goldblatt, , & J.Perraton. Global Transformations. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.
Hesselgrave, David J., et Edward Rommen,. Contextualization, Meanings, Methods, and Models. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1989.
Hiebert, P. Missiological Implications of Epistemological Shifts. Harrisburg: Trinity Press, 1999.
Hope A. and Timmel S. Training for Transformation: A Handbook for Community Workers. Harare, Zimbabwe: Mambo Press, 1984.
Hunsberger, George R., Craig Van Gelder. Church Between Gospel & Culture. The Emerging Mission in North America. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1996.
Hunter, George G. How to Reach Secular People. Nashville: Abingdon, 1993.
________. Church for the Unreached. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996.
Jacobs, J. Cities and the Wealth of Nations. New York: Random House, 1985.
________. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House, 1961.
________. The Economy of the Cities. New York: Random House, 1969.
________. Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics. New York: Random House, 1992.
________. Dark Age Ahead. New York: Random House, 2004.
Jenkins, P. The Next Christendom. New York: Oxford, 2002.
LeGates, R.T. et F. Stout. The City Reader. (2d ed) London: Routledge, 2000.
Linthicum, Robert. Transforming Power: Biblical Strategies for Making a Difference in your Community. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003.
________. City of God, City of Satan. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.
________. Empowering the Poor. Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1991.
Marchant, Colin. Signs in the City. London, UK: Hodder and Stoughton, 1985.
Meeks, W. The First Urban Christians. New Haven: Yale University, 1983.
Metzler, J.E. From Siagon to Shalom. Scottsdale: Herald Press, 1984.
Müller, K., T Sundermeier, S.B.Bevans,R.H.Bliese, eds Dictionary of Mission. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1998.
Myers, Bryant L. Walking with the Poor. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999.
Newbigin, L. Foolishness to the Greeks.. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1986.
________. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Grand Rapids: MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1989.
________. Truth to Tell: the Gospel as Public Truth. London, UK: SPCK, 1991.
Nichols, B. Contextualization, Towards a Theology of Gospel and Culture. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1979.
Ortiz, M., S. Baker, eds. The Church and Mission in the 21st Century, Essays in Honour of Harvie M. Conn. Trenton: Presbyterian and Reformed Press, 2001
Orum, Anthony M., Xiangming Chen. The World of Cities. USA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.
Paul VI,. Evangelisation in the Modern World – Apostolic Exhortation. UK: Catholic Truth Society
Ramachandran, R. Urbanization and Urban Systems in India. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Ro, Bon Ring. Urban Ministry in Asia ; Cities : The Exploding Mission Field Taichung: ATA, 1989.
Schreiter, Robert J. Constructing Local Theologies. London, England: SCM Press, 1985.
________. The New Catholicity. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1997.
Scobbie, C. H. H. The Ways of our God : An Approach to Biblical Theology.Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2003.
Scott, Waldron. Bring Forth Justice. Grand Rapids, MI:William B. Eerdmans, 1980.
Sennett, R. The Fall of Public Man: on the Social Psychology of Capitalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1974.
________. The Conscience of the Eye: The Design and Social Life of Cities. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.
Sjoberg, G. The Pre-industrial City, Past and Present. Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1960.
Slattery, Martin. Urban Sociology. England: Causeway Books, 1985.
Smith, Glenn, ed. The Gospel and Urbanisation. 4th ed, Montreal: Christian Direction Inc. 2002.
________. Exègése du quartier. Montréal: Direction Chrétienne, 2001.
Smith, Herbert. Social Problems and the City. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Stark, Rodney. The Rise of Christianity. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1997.
Stott, J.R.W. and R. Coote, eds. Down to Earth: Studies in Christianity and Culture. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1980.
Stuart, Murray. Church Planting: Laying Foundations. Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001.
Taber, Charles R. The World Is Too Much With Us. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1991.
Taylor, W. ed. Global Missiology in the 21st Century. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001.
Theissen, Gerd. The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity: Essays on Corinth Fortress Press, 1982.
________. Sociology of Early Palestinian Christianity. Fortress Press, 1978.
Tonna, Benjamin. Gospel for the Cities. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1985.
Trivedi, H. Urbanism: A New Outlook. Delhi: Atma Ram & Sons, 1976.
Turner, R. ed. India’s Urban Future. Berkley, University of California Press, 1980.
Van Engen, C., and J.Tiersma, eds. God so Loves the City. Monrovia,CA: MARC, 1994.
Venkataroyappa, K. N. Slums : A Study in Urban Problems. New Delhi: Sterling Publications, 1987.
Warren & Warren. The Neighbourhood Organizer’s Handbook. South Board: Notre Dame Press, 1977.
Weber, Max. The City. USA: The Free Press, 1958.
White, R. Journey to the Center of the City: Making a Difference in an Urban Neighborhood. Downers Grove, Inter Varsity Press, 1997
Winter, Bruce W. Seek The Welfare of The City. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1994.


Bakke, Ray. “Christian Witness to Large Cities.” Charlotte: LCWE, 1980.
Beaudry, M. « L’urbanisation à l’époque du Fer » Dans Où demeures-tu? Édité par J. Charron. Montréal : Fidès, 1994, 31-51.
Beavans, S., N.E.Thomas, “Selected Annotated Bibliography on Missiology: Contextualization/Inculturation/ Indigenization”. Missiology 19 (Jan. 1992), 105-108.
Bjork, D. “A Model for Analysis of Incarnational Ministry in Post-Christendom Lands.” Missiology: An International Review. XXV 3 (July 1997), 279-291.
Bradshaw, York, W. “Global View of Society: How Can Sociology Help us Understand Global Trends”. In York W. Bradshaw, Joseph F.Healey and Rebecca Smith. eds.1997, 1-34.
Brooks, David. “Kicking the Secularist Habit: A six-step program.” The Atlantic Monthly, March 2003. 26-28.
Cadwallader, M. “Urban Geography and Social Theory.” Urban Geography, 9:3 (1988), 227-251.
Conn, H. “Contextual Theologies: The Problem of Agendas.” Westminster Theological Journal. 52 (1990). 51-63.
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Appendix 4 Participants

Smith, Glenn (editor) | Canada

Aghamkar, Atul |India

Barker, Ashley | Australia/Thailand

Bessenecker, Scott | USA

Bond, John | Australia

Cameron, Airhart | USA

Devemesam, Samuel | India

Gurram Sita, Evangeline | India

Hariston, Romanita | USA

Keid, Klaus | Germany

Kupp, David | Canada

Nüesch-Olver, Delia | Argentina/USA

Peebles, Robyn | Australia

Petrus Nawawi, Handoyo | Indonesia

Thew, John | Australia

Upplapati, Mark | India

White, Randy | USA

Svoboda, Timothy | USA/India

Bradley, Edward | USA

Imbumi, Nakuku | Kenya

  1. The following reflection will appear in article written by Delia Nüesch-Olver.
  2. We are intentionally using the term “practitioner” to encompass followers of Jesus doing mission in the large city/regions of the world. This includes lay persons, ministers, professors, civil servants and municipal politicians relating faith to urban concerns.
  3. One of the few texts on urban geography that takes these two distinct categories seriously is by A. M. Orum and X. Chen, The World of Cities: Places in Comparative and Historical Perspective. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003). For these authors place is the specific locations in space that provide an anchor and meaning to who we are. (See pages 1, 15, 140 and 168) Our sense of place is rooted in individual identity, community, history and a sense of comfort (11-19). Space, on the other hand, is a medium independent of our existence in which objects, ideas and other human persons exist behaving according to the basic laws of nature and thought (see pages 15, 140 and 160-170).
  4. This approach to urban mission hermeneutics is intentional on the editor’s part. A lived experience in context is a preliminary step in all contextual theologies. This is certainly true in theologies of liberation. Leonardo Boff and Clodivis Boff call this the preliminary stage of all theologising, a living commitment with the poor and oppressed. Robert Schreiter summarizes the biblical foundation well, “…the development of local theologies depends as much on finding Christ already active in the culture as it does on bringing Christ to the culture. The great respect for culture has a Christological basis. It grows out of a belief that the risen Christ’s salvific activity in bringing about the kingdom of God is already going on before our arrival. From a missionary perspective there would be no conversion if the grace of God had not preceded the missionary and opened the hearts of those who heard.” (Constructing Local Theologies. Maryknoll: Orbis, 1986), 29.
  5. Marva Dawn shapes a similar question in pondering the implications of our culture’s postmodern condition for the Church’s worship. She writes, “The real issue in our culture, which is less and less Christian, which is post-Christian, sometimes anti-Christian is this: What does it mean to be the Church for the sake of the world when we worship and for the rest of the week?” A Royal Waste of Time (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmanns, 1999), 59.
  6. We are grateful to Ray Bakke for the idea on this representation. He first presented it to Glenn Smith when Glenn was completing his D.Min studies in 1990. Together, they played with it in urban courses and consultations around the globe. It helps the urban practitioner to understand that a city is about functions and roles, not just geography. The present diagram represents Montreal as the urban ministry, Christian Direction, understands their census metropolitan area.
  7. See footnote 2 in the Introduction.
  8. This reflection is inspired by an article by David Whiteman “Contextualization: The Theory, the Gap, the Challenge” IBMR, 21:1, January 1997, 2-7.
  9. We invite the reader to consult the web page http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/index.shtml that describes the goals.
  10. The reader can order “Exegeting your Neighbourhood” that includes case studies on how to study one’s neighbourhood from [email protected].
  11. In the appendix to “Exegeting your Neighbourhood” (see previous footnote) there is a whole outline on how to do effective prayer walks.
  12. This text is inspired from Anne Hope and Sally Timmel’s book Training for Transformation: A Handbook for Community Workers. Harare, Zimbabwe: Mambo Press, 1984.
  13. J. McIntosh “Missio Dei” in Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions ed. A. Scott Moreau (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2000), 631. See also David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1991), 390.
  14. Jurgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit (London: SCM Press, 1977), 64.
  15. Adapted from reflections in David Bosch, Transforming Mission. (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1991), 519.
  16. Paul Minear, Gratitude and Mission in the Epistle of Romans.(Basileia, 1961), 42.
  17. Charles Taylor, “Defining Globalization”. Ecumenism,139 (March 2003), 6-13.