Theological Education for Ministry with City-Regions

It is necessary to affirm formal, non-formal and informal methods of education for ministry and influence in the city.

Christians play a major role in transforming a city-or region.

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

Non-Formal Training
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, for example, as he exercised individual influence with key disciples during his imprisonment in Rome.

Informal Training
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. 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.

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).

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. There are many 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. Below are six examples of these and corresponding action steps.

1. Holistic Urban Transformation. Each leader must be grounded in a holistic understanding of urban transformation and an image of what reconciliation might look like between classes, races, castes and 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. And 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 Bible 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.

2. Urban Theology. 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 routinely broken groups of leaders into two groups, one to study Philippians; the other to study Colossians. They are to demonstrate one 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.

3. Contextualization. In order for theology to be linked with specific arenas of ministry in a city, the practitioner must not only know the text, but the context. 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.

4. Biblical Missiology. 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.

5. Women and Children. 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 womens’ shelters or on the streets and then debrief the issues they encountered.

6. Racial Reconciliation and Solidarity. 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 that overcomes racial division. The urban Church must stop perpetuating these divisions and the urban leader must be willing to help the Church 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. And Paul and Barnabas (both 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 firsthand 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.

Redemption and Transformation
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 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.

(This article was written in collaboration with Dr. Atul Aghmkar of India, Dr. Cameron Airhart of the United States, Rev. John Bond of Australia and Dr. Abel Njeraerou of the Republic of Central Africa.)

Dr. Randy White is the USA national coordinator of Urban Projects for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He holds a doctorate of ministry from Bakke Graduate University.