Urban Ministry Reconsidered
Contexts and Approaches
- ISBN: 9780664263928
- Published By: Westminster John Knox Press
- Published: August 2018
The global population in urban areas is growing at a fast pace, nowhere more than in the Global South. Fifty percent of the world population lives in urban areas (see “Human Population: Urbanization,” Population Reference Bureau). The declining influence of institutional religions in urban contexts and, even more, declining religious affiliation among the urban poor is a great concern for churches and has resulted in changes to their ministries.
Edited by R. Drew Smith, Stephanie C. Boddie, and Ronald E. Peters, Urban Ministry Reconsidered is a collection of essays by scholars and practitioners exploring current issues in the context of urban communities. Thirty-two contributors from three continents with diverse academic backgrounds explore the impact of the urban environment on contextual worldviews, community formations, social policy, and ministry adaptations. The book is divided into four sections that reveal promising ministry practices and religious responses in the face of urban changes.
While the first section deals with changes to the worldviews that frame Christian ministries, the second part outlines ways congregations sustain communities in the face of the many countervailing forces that characterize urban spaces. The third part looks at community organizations with a specific focus on policy concerns that impact urban areas, for example, gun violence or economic injustice. The last section outlines details of ministry formations, practices, and methods that occur in 21st-century urban contexts.
The book feels like a compendium or a resource book of “how to minister in urban contexts.” It is written in a very reader-friendly way. The essays are short, between five and ten pages, and in the end, the book offers an index of more than twenty pages which helps the reader find the topics they are interested in. The book strives to give insights into urban ministry on a global scale, but it still has a clear emphasis on the English-speaking world. In particular, it is focused on the USA, specifically the Pittsburgh region, as about half of the contributors have a connection to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
Scholars, pastors from very different Protestant churches, and activists from various faith-based organizations highlight urgent aspects of urban ministry and the social responsibility of churches and para-church organizations in these spaces. The authors not only deal with the structural frameworks and conceptualizations of urban ministry but also honestly acknowledge the challenges urban ministry is facing, for example through immigration, racial equity, education, low income, and poverty. The authors offer constructive ideas for a transforming engagement with these themes in urban ministry contexts.
The authors partly use a pious language, which is slightly detrimental to the academic tone of the book. At the end of the book a summary or a synopsis of the various disparate aspects of the book is missing. A section that draws connecting lines between the individual essays would have been helpful.
Some essays have a special focus on new communities that arise in urban contexts—for example, women and girls of African descent in prisons (see the contribution of Angelique Walker-Smith). What would a more contextualized form of ministry engagement for such newly emerging communities look like? Ministry must not only serve, worship, and pray but also must find ways to empower people and lift up their voices so they can name their own stories and experiences. In this way urban ministries could connect these stories with relevant policies.
Several different essays deal with the topics of immigration and theological education. These two topics are very challenging for churches in urban spaces as well as for academia today. The essays on theological education address mainly the disconnect between theological education and social contexts (e.g., contributions of Anthony Rivera, Stephan de Beer, Peter Choi, Scott Hagley). The topic of migration is discussed in various ways. Immigrants turn to the church with the expectation of generosity and hospitality, yet what are the responses of the churches (e.g., contributions of Laurel E. Scott and Jean Stockdale)? Two especially interesting contributions to the issue of migration in urban spaces come from authors with insider knowledge, which they nicely combine with scholarly insights.
Firstly, Israel Oluwole Olofinjana, pastor of Woolwich Central Baptist Church, a multicultural inner-city church in Southeast London, shows how black majority churches in the United Kingdom need to develop innovative, contextual ministry practices. These practices help move the church away from simply providing social services and instead towards seeking the transformation of the whole society. He argues that churches have to do more to address institutional racism, unemployment, poverty, underachievement in education, inequalities in the health system, immigration policies, and the criminal justice system. Churches can only achieve this if they develop transformational theologies, become prophetic witnesses, train and develop a professional laity, and, last but not least, engage in intercultural ecumenical partnerships.
Secondly, Aurélien Mokoko Gampiot, the son of a Kimbanguist pastor, presents a short history of the Kimbanguist Church and the challenges the French branch is facing. In the diaspora the church finds itself in a minority situation and struggling for recognition and social visibility. Mokoko Gampiot presents an individual and communal framework for how Kimbanguists express their identity. The missionary dynamics of the community are based on cultivating a memory of the Kimbangu epic while the individual’s religious quest combines his own migratory experience with this history.
This anthology provides interesting perspectives into the process of ministry in urban contexts, its challenges, and its opportunities. It highlights specific issues that arise in urban contexts and shows how urban settings shape churches and ministries in different ways. One of the main impulses I took from this book is the importance of placing a priority on listening. Listening is not only important in church contexts and for pastors, but also in academic contexts and for researchers. The researcher as well as the pastor or counselor should carefully listen to the stories and prayers of the people in order to learn about their situations and the ways they reveal societal and structural problems in urban spaces. What kind of new methods in research do we need to do this “deep listening”?
Claudia Hoffmann is a Postdoctoral researcher and Assistant at the Faculty of Theology, Department of Extra-European Christianity, at the University of Basel, Switzerland.
Claudia HoffmannDate Of Review:March 27, 2020