Archive for the ‘cities’ category

Aspects of Urban Mission in Europe

November 21, 2012

Did you know Europe’s historic cities are only three per cent of the world’s land mass, and  could comfortably fit inside South Africa?  Nevertheless, European cities have had a disproportionately massive influence on the rest of the world, through both urban history and Christian identity.

Urban history

Harvie Conn says two of the four big ‘urban waves’ began in Europe.  In the second urban wave of commercial and feudal cities from the eleventh century, Europe’s walled cities gave protection to its citizens and enabled commerce that would takeover the world.  In today’s fourth wave of global cities, Europe’s great metropolitan areas of London, Paris and Berlin are linked. Rotterdam connects the Randstad of the Netherlands to the Rhine-Ruhr of Germany. There are urban corridors between London and Frankfurt and between Milan and Barcelona.  Europe’s sheer number of multinational companies, banks and organisations suggest it is still a continent of influence, if not inspiration.

Christian identity

Crucial points of development in the historic church have been in Europe. Think of Celtic Christianity, monastic mission movements, the Reformation and the World Missionary Conference in 1910, and today of church planting networks, the migration of new Christians and emerging churches.

Today, Europe is made up of about fifty sovereign states (mostly democratic republics), each with their own histories, cultures, languages and a wide spread of Christian traditions. Western Europe (Protestant/mixed) is different from Southern Europe (traditionally Roman Catholic), Nordic Europe (Lutheran), Eastern Europe (Orthodox) and Central Europe (largely atheist). Through migrant Christians, Pentecostalism is everywhere.  The contours of Europe’s map of faith is not so much being withdrawn as being redrawn.

Understanding urban ministry

Photo credit: European Commission

Today’s cities are a dazzling constellation of global cultures, a kaleidoscope that resembles a world atlas.  In the urban centres of Europe today, we meet the whole world. There is more Christian ministry going on in them than we usually give credit for, ranging from serving people in pain, developing leadership, community transformation, to church renewal and multiplication.

I believe that:

  • Christ is already present in the urban world. We do not bring Christ for the city. Cities have had their share of leaders with messiah complexes. In dark places is God’s presence.
  • Church is the agent of God’s mission in the city. God has not given up on his people, whether local churches or missions, new or old forms, European or African/Asian partners.
  • Cities are more of a gift than a problem. The city is a gift of grace. The church is often sick and unhealthy but where hurt and pain is engaged with there is hope of renewal.

Cities are extraordinarily successful and overwhelmingly destructive.  David Harvey’s recent book “Rebel Cities” is a Marxist critique of urbanism, and although secular, has more zeal for a healthy urban world than do many churches.

Though Europe is home to large numbers of Christians, we do not think spiritually about cities, either blaming them for what is wrong with the world or taking a glossy view that ignores its darker side.  Harvey’s critique, based on the work of sociologist Robert Park, is that cities are under the control of wealth producers who have dispossessed masses of people to any right to the city. Power is kept in the hands of small political and economic elites who shape the city after their own needs and heart’s desires.

Urban mission needs a similar but biblically informed critique if it is not to be condemned to putting patches on the sores of the broken in the city. Bible-believing Christians are increasingly aware that the Gospel is not only about personal sin and individual salvation, but are still slow to recognise public sin and corporate spirituality.

Lausanne III affirmed that there is a mission to the market place. Recently Dr. Chris Wright spoke about the Lausanne III commitments in the Netherlands and concluded with the urban mission commission.  Jeremiah 29:7 says “Seek the peace and prosperity (shalom) of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  I never heard a European evangelical leader speak like that before.  So can our broken churches change peoples and cities?  This is the Gospel.

The Good News redeems people

All people are created in God’s likeness and they all need faith and life. We seek deep change. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) The Gospel is not anti-urban but is transformative of people and worlds. Urban ministry serves and heals, prays and forgives, preaches and teaches, trains and empowers., reaching the parts of people that others (including Marxists) cannot reach.

The Good News redeems cities

God cared for Nineveh more than Jonah. Jesus cried over Jerusalem. What are cities but created human institutions and environments? A Church of England bishop recently spoke of his PhD entitled: “Can companies sin?” You can guess the answer!

All human structures are accountable to God and we need to call the city’s human service departments to serve the people they were intended for. We must confront principalities and powers through prayer and action. The city longs for human institutions and an urban environment that is liberated to serve. “Creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:12)  Since Christ has overcome Satan, we can confront and call these structures to their true purpose.

References:

1.   Harvie M. Conn and Manuel Ortiz, Urban Ministry, Downers Grove, IVP, 2001, 33-79.

2. David Harvey, Rebel Cities, London, Verso, 2012.

3. Urbanization is about the density of people whereas urbanism is about the values of the city. Urbanization has reduced space but urbanism has recreated it. Urbanization has condensed space but urbanism has conveyed it across the world.

4. “In 2010, 73% of Europeans live in urban areas. 72% of these urbanites adhere to Christianity. 49% of the fifty largest European areas have Christian majorities.” Todd M. Johnson, Kenneth R. Ross, eds., Atlas of Global Christianity, Centre for Study of Global Christianity, Edinburgh University, 2009, 248.

  Robert Calvert is minister of Scots International Church Rotterdam with more than forty nationalities.  Over the decade he has co-ordinated a European network for urban ministry practitioners. Robert organizes consultations and trails, supervises student placements and teaches on urban ministry.

“Theologizing” the City in Europe

November 7, 2012

The unprecedented phenomenon of urbanization since the European Industrial Revolution has gone global, and shows no sign of letting up. Today, more than half of humanity is in, or within the domain of, a city. European Urbanisation is currently over 75% and is predicted to reach 82%.

The Industrial Revolution produced an entirely new urban reality requiring new paradigms for church and mission. Since the end of the Second World War, a new form of the city, the post-industrial, postmodern, globally-connected megacity or global city, is proliferating worldwide. All indicators suggest that this wave of urban expansion represents more than a mere extension of the Industrial Revolution: the emergence of the megacity portends another fundamental metamorphosis in human sociology with its own set of spiritual perils, missiological challenges and opportunities.

Urban missiology in the developed world is woefully out-of-touch and out-of-sync with today’s city-builders, each out to create his/her own idea of urban paradise. Inadequate theologies of the city and consequent non-theological understandings of modern urbanization have stifled the growth of urban churches and movements in European cities, and contributed to the demise of urban Christianity.

Harvie Conn argued: “Current evangelical discussions, as rich as they are, largely orbit around a missiology of the city more than a theology of the city…. Our missiological vision for the city must also be a theological vision of the city.” These new urban phenomena require fresh theological reflection, missiological creativity, and united action if Christian mission is to address the unprecedented opportunities, as well as potential new levels and forms of hardship and conflict for city dwellers, generated by the emergence of global cities. Urban thinkers and actors must give priority to a re-examination of the biblical data with regard to the theological meanings of the city and their significance for Christian mission.

French city theology pioneer Jacques Ellul, in his groundbreaking The Meaning of the City (1970), demonstrated that the abundant biblical data with regard to cities – human and divine, temporal and eternal, as places of rebellion and of devotion, as objects of judgment and of blessing – are, in fact, evidences of a well-developed theology of the city. For Ellul this theology seems prophetically intended to aid the church in her understanding and practice of mission during this age of global urbanisation. Ellul is probably the first biblical commentator to truly “theologise” the city not as a metaphor of human culture (e.g., in the tradition of Saint Augustine’s The City of God, early fifth century), but as a concrete social reality (e.g., in the line of Lewis Mumford’s The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformation, and Its Prospects, 1961).

Ellul wrote: “We are in the city, and this is one of the most important facts of our generation. It is absolutely indispensable that we realize what that means for us, for our actual life: the undeniable presence and influence of the city are of infinitely greater importance than the urban problem itself…. If the Word of God is clearly marked out for us in our concrete situation, and if at the same time as it takes hold of us (for our condemnation and salvation) it enlightens our understanding of that situation, and if we are truly involved in the city and the Bible shows us what we are in the city for and what the city signifies for us and our relation to her, then all that we have learned should form the proper nucleus for a science of the city.”

It is precisely this spiritual and theological “science of the city,” which is begging to be nourished so that it might mature and bear fruit in the form of a thoroughly biblical and missional theology of the city. Such a theology of the city would be a sufficient foundation on which to build sound urban missiology, allowing for the discovery and development of new paradigms and strategies of mission to Europe’s urban centres.

Such a theology would ensure that the church-in-mission

… comprehend that the essence of the city is not a random collection of sociological phenomena under purely secular powers, but rather a profoundly spiritual entity – the locus of spiritual powers vying for the souls of men.

… rejoice in the knowledge that the Scriptures portray a merciful and loving Creator who progressively takes pains to accommodate man’s insistence on city-building and city-dwelling, sovereignly carving out spaces in cities where his redemptive purposes may operate in the midst of human rebellion and perversion.

… marvel at God’s sovereign election of the human city – the very symbol of man’s rejection of God, – as the epicenter of his salvific act in Christ and his ongoing loving actions in human history, and understand that God’s election has resulted in the localization of the conflict of the ages in the world’s cities.

… be liberated to be intentionally, proactively, and strategically present in the cities, to engage their inhabitants both intelligently and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

… might labour with the assurance that the fruits of mission among redeemed peoples of diverse nations and in their centers of culture, their cities, will have some kind of real continuity in the New Jerusalem, and therefore, have eternal value.

With such a renewed theology, might Christian mission to the global city, as Harvie Conn once conjectured, in fact “provide the contextual instrument for fulfilling David Bosch’s prediction of an emerging paradigm shift in the theology of mission for our day”?

Ben Beckner

References:
Harvie Conn, 1993, “A Contextual Theology of Mission for the City,” in The Good News of the Kingdom: Mission Theology for the Third Millennium, eds. Charles van Engen, Dean S. Gilliland, Paul Pierson, Maryknoll, N, Orbis Books, p. 101.

Ellul, 1970, The Meaning of the City, Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, p. 147-148.

Harvie M. Conn, 1994. “Introduction” in God So Loves the City: Seeking a Theology for Urban Mission, Charles Van Engen, Jude Tiersma, eds., Monrovia, California, MARC, p. v.

Benjamin Beckner, former urban church planter in several European cities and based in Lyon, France,
serves as professor of missiology, missions consultant, trainer and mobiliser for the church in French-
speaking Europe.

This article first featured in Issue 11 of Vista.
You can download the full pdf and previous issues here

Missional responses to the financial crisis

May 22, 2012

Homelessness, debt and human trafficking that have become even bigger issues since the onset of the economic crisis. How are churches and mission agencies responding? 

The figures make depressing reading. In 2010, around 23% of the EU-27 population – nearly 116 million people – were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. This means they met at least one of the following criteria: they were below the poverty threshold, experiencing severe material deprivation or living in a household with very low work intensity. But while less than 15% of those living in the Czech Republic, Sweden and the Netherlands were at risk, over 40% of Bulgarians and Romanians and more than 30% of Latvians, Lithuanians and Hungarians struggled with these issues.

Responding to need – working with volunteers
Serve the City was founded in Brussels in 2005, and “inspired by the life and message of Jesus Christ”, the movement now spreads across Europe and beyond, with the most recent launch being Athens, Greece. As an organisation, they connect volunteers with the local charities or associations working with people in need. Carlton Deal is Serve the City’s founder.

“Today we see more homelessness, more refugees, more people with no certain future,” says Carlton. “They have lost their families or their jobs or they are still pouring in from even more difficult circumstances elsewhere.”
“Single men in particular receive very little support. Last year Afghan refugees told us stories of approaching the police and identifying themselves as illegal aliens, asking to be arrested just to have a meal and a place to sleep indoors. The police ignored them.”

Anyone can volunteer with Serve the City – and Carlton considers helping volunteers who are not yet Christians to recognise Christ’s love in action to be part of the organisation’s missional response.

“We see a decreasing satisfaction in delegated compassion and an increasing desire for personal involvement,” says Carlton. “We believe these are Kingdom values, giving volunteers a new access point to the message of Jesus. People are increasingly motivated to acquire and spend the currency of the kingdom, whether or not they yet recognize Jesus as its King – in fact, I’m not sure we see as much growth in generosity from Christians as we do from those who are not yet followers of Jesus.”

Responding to debt – local churches get involved
One of the indicators of severe material deprivation mentioned above is “the inability to face unexpected financial expenses”, with 36% of the EU-27 population in this category. More than 85% of the Swedish population are able to cope with sudden strain on their finances. Over 75% of people in Austria, Luxembourg, Denmark and the Netherlands are similarly prepared. At the other end of the scale, only 20-40% of people in Lithuania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Latvia could withstand this kind of financial pressure.

There is a clear East-West divide to these statistics. Interestingly, figures for the ratio between household debt and income also display a divide across East/Western lines, but in the opposite direction. While in 2009, it would have taken two years of disposable income for the average household in Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark to pay off their debts, in Central and Eastern European countries levels of household debt are such that it would take less than a year. Given that these countries also have a smaller average disposable income, personal debt appears to be a much bigger problem in the more affluent West.

Christians Against Poverty (CAP) is a UK-based organisation offering local churches a practical way to help people around them in debt. In contrast to Serve the City, each CAP centre is set-up and resourced in direct partnership with a specific church in an area, so it becomes a ministry of that church. CAP centres offer a free debt counselling service helping clients to work out a realistic budget and negotiating affordable payments to creditors, as well as support if people go bankrupt. Clients have a professional case worker in the main CAP office but they are also befriended by trained volunteers from the local church.

Since beginning in 1996, the charity has grown rapidly and its vision is to see a local church-based centre in every UK town and city. Their free CAP Money money management course teaches people “the skills to get more in control of their finances, so they can save, give and prevent debt” and is on offer in Norway as well as the UK.

Responding to trafficking – joined up thinking
“The global financial crisis is having a marked impact on human trafficking… its effects are felt within the EU” (OSCE, 2009). Potential employment in another country is a major pull factor for migrants from areas of high unemployment. In desperation, they are tricked by traffickers who promise them a job – only to end up in prostitution or slavery of some sort when they eventually arrive.

There are many grass roots projects organised by churches and mission agencies across Europe reaching out the victims of trafficking, as well as advocacy movements such as Stop the Traffik.

At a pan-European level, the EEA’s European Freedom Network (EFN) connects ‘active and emerging ministries and other stakeholders across Europe…providing the encouragement, advice, resources and prayer that they need for effective action and cooperation’. A host of resources for prayer and information are available on the EFN website, and they produce a partners’ newsletter with more resources and contacts.

Responding as ourselves
This article highlights just three of the hundreds of ways Christians across Europe are responding to the financial crisis. But the Christian community is also feeling its impact. A 2009 survey amongst over 2800 UK Christians found that almost a quarter struggled with debt or financial issues, and more than half of those in employment “faced high levels of time pressures and fatigue”.

57% of people answering the questionnaire saw themselves as ‘an apprentice of Christ’ and a similar number were ‘’praying about how God could use them to make a difference’ – but 63% felt the church equipped them at best ‘only a little’ to face the pressures in the workplace.
In response to these needs, the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity’s Engaging with Work project seeks to resource Christians to ‘honour God in their work and bring Him into their workplace’. Their Imagine project goes further, aiming to help churches change their focus from ‘what happens on a Sunday’ to equipping people to live as disciples the other six days of the week.

And so, when considering mission in a time of crisis and our role as individuals and churches, our challenge is to respond in distinctive, counter-cultural ways, drawing our strength from God and his amazing love for the world.

Joanne Appleton

Sources:
Eurostat epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu
OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) http://www.osce.org/what/trafficking
Serve the City Intl. http://www.servethecity.net
Christians Against Poverty UK http://www.capuk.org and Norway http://www.capmoney.org/nb_NO/home
Stop the Traffik http://www.stopthetraffik.org
European Freedom Network http://www.europeanfreedomnetwork.org
London Institute of Contemporary Christianity http://www.licc.org.uk – download the survey of UK Christians from http://www.licc.org.uk/about-licc/resources/licc-resources/?parent_categoryID=39

Mapping Migration: Mapping Churches’ Responses: Europe Study

March 7, 2012

Darrell Jackson and Alessia Passarelli’s report on migration in Europe was prepared for the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe and set out to inform as wide an audience as possible about the realities of migration in contemporary Europe.

Migration studies is particularly complex and the facts have to compete with the rhetoric and misinformation that often predominates in popular debate.  This report, though now three years old, remains an important resource for empirical migration studies setting out statistics for 47 European countries.  It also includes introductory chapters which describe the nature and patterns of contemporary migration in Europe, theological approaches to the subject, and highlights some examples of how churches are responding to migration.

We are very happy to make it available for free download – just click below for the pdf
Mapping Migration: Mapping Churches Responses 

Urban Church Planting in Europe

May 17, 2011

City to City – Europe‘ describes itself as a growing network of church plants and pastors throughout Europe with an annual meeting. The next meeting of the network takes place in Berlin between the 25-27th October, 2011 at the ‘Gospel and the City’ Conference.

Network members are working in major European cities, represent various denominations and minister in different urban contexts. The network  values an approach to effective urban ministry that applies the gospel to every aspect of life and church ministry and believes that church planting needs to be thoroughly contextualised. It appreciates secular culture while maintaining the historic confessions of the Christian faith. The network draws inspiration from the practical example of Redeemer Presbyterian Church and the teaching of Timothy Keller, founding pastor of this church.

The 2011 Conference is being opened up more widely and will include important input from European speakers including Dr. Stefan Paas of the Netherlands who will offer a comparative evluation of the main differences between European and American church planting in the urban context. For further details of the event, or to follow links to the City to City site, check out our ‘Events’ pages.


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