This is a study of how we think and talk about--and subsequently live out— sub/urban ministry. It’s aboutthe life and work of downtown and suburban congregations.
Sub/urban ministry is different. It must include a mission component. But a sub/urban ministry is onelocated in a city, regardless of its program and outreach activities. As we’ll see, one of the challenges to thesub/urban congregation is that while its context has changed, it may not have dealt with that change. Thus, the sub/urban ministry is often unsure about its calling and searches longingly for positive examples in either scripture or tradition. What is the role of the sub/urban ministry in the twenty-first century?
I invite you to join me as we consider several factors that impact on the well-being of the sub/urban ministry:
(1) We need to look at language and the words we have traditionally employed to speak of the church,ministry and the city. We’ll find that, even as we begin to talk about it, the city church encounters someformidable difficulties.
(2) We need to think hard about the city as a subject for our theological and biblical traditions. What can we discover or recover that will aid our efforts?
(3) We need to think honestly about the context of sub/urban churches. I want to suggest that they suffer from an institutional expression of cognitive dissonance.
(4) Together we will look at the tools with which your congregation might build its own theology of sub/urban ministry. One of the realities we will encounter is that all living Christian faith today is inevitablycontextual. That means that, even if I wanted you to, you couldn’t give us a theology for our context anymore than I can give you one for yours.
As we shall see, there are dozens of different metaphors for the church, some of which still function, some of which have become labels, and some which have passed beyond labels into curiosities. These images are extremely powerful. For instance, if the church sees its own role as setting moral and spiritual standards for the country, then it will address public issues in a very different way than if it is one more player in amarketplace of ideas. Similarly, a church that sees itself in terms of, “like a mighty army, moves the church of God,” will behave differently than one that considers, “Come in, come in and sit down, you are a part of the family,” to be its guiding metaphor. In this study, I explore many of the images in current use and suggestways in which other metaphors might be more helpful.
I focus on the sub/urban church because it is different from its rural and small-town cousins. It is neither better nor worse, simply different. The roots of those variations can be identified in tradition, history, and context. What is the nature of the Christian tradition that tends to preference rural and natural settings as opposed to urban and constructed? What is the history of the city, and the church in the city, in relation to faith and popular opinion? How does the context of the city church that brings it most directly into contact with anti-religious and areligious forces, and some of the extremes of wealth, poverty, opportunity, and deprivation in society, affect its mission?
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