Urban Ministry: People I

In my last urban ministry article, I suggested that it was important to separate the principles (valid in all ministry situations), from the application.  I think this really helps us when we come to thinking about people.

One of the big buzzwords in mission and evangelism at the moment is contextualization.  At it's best, this is thinking as clearly as possible about how to present the unchanging gospel to different cultures and people groups.  However, I think it's possible to jump too quickly down the contextualization route - especially because it's quite interesting.

A Reader in my previous church often used to say when he came to the application section of his sermons that although the particular Bible passage was written X number of years ago, that people are basically the same now as they were then.  I think that's an important point to grasp when reaching urban people groups, especially if they are very different in lots of external ways to the people group we come from.

We need to remember that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23 ESV).  We need to remember that "whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16 ESV) and "whoever does not believe is condemned already" (John 3:18 ESV).  These alls and whoevers cut across class, wealth, race, religion and so on.  In other words, there's a sense in which we need to get our biblical anthropology right before we contextualize.

I think it's true that within many urban contexts you will see people caught up in sin and consequences of sin in ways that many of the middle classes find hard to grasp.  Reading the Daily Mail gives you a good insight into some of the outrage this can provoke!  It's true that some of the morally liberal middle class who try to impose their values and ethics on society, but who are shielded from the effects by their money, could do to be exposed to the consequences of their views amongst the poorer people.  Just start with the more liberal attitudes to sex and marriage that have worked through society.

However, the risk is, that without a faithful biblical anthropology, we won't see either that whatever area of society we are in, sin is the problem and Jesus is the solution.  Specifically, in poorer urban areas it is so easy to lose the focus on Jesus and his death for our sins, because we are caught up in caring for people with what seem to us to be terrible and pressing social needs.

Please don't mishear me.  I believe Christians should be at the forefront of caring for the poor and this involves physical, social and many other sorts of help.  However, you only need to see the ineffectiveness of government programs to see that if you take the gospel out you've lost.  When Jesus told us that our job as the church was to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20), he meant it.  The transformed community is the church and the church is disciples of Christ.

Now having said that, I'm all for contextualization after that.  For example, recently I've been at a few things where 1-1 Bible study is pushed.  That's brilliant, but the model on offer is quite hard to follow through in a context where quite a lot of people can't read, or struggle to read.  Here we move from principles to application.  I need to teach the Bible.  I need to proclaim the good news of Jesus.  These are core principles.  How I do it?  Well that's the application.  And thinking on that will come in future blogs.

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