2009 Photo by Lambert Wolterbeek Muller, flickr

Often, I find myself preaching to the choir with regard to urban mission--these folks don't need convincing that urban mission is an important and urgent agenda item for the Church and we need to do all we can to learn about urban mission if the Church is to be faithful to God’s mission.

But others will need more convincing. “I won't be moving into the city to live and minister there; my role is a pastor in a suburban church or a small town context. Why should I care about urban mission? My plate is overflowing as it is.” I will try to speak to them through this series of blog posts. If you are the choir, perhaps you will be find these posts useful as points of apologetics for urban mission. (Past posts in the series:

Chances are, if you are reading this particular blog, you are a believer in the missional nature of the Christian faith. You are convinced that the Church in the West needs to rediscover its identity as a part of God’s mission in the world, and that it needs to come out of its fortress Christendom mindset into a mode of being in which it winsomely engages the world with the good news of Jesus by word and deed. You don’t hesitate to brand yourself missional and your ministry the same. So you’re missional. Now what?

Could “Missional” become another buzzword bereft of substance? Conceivably, one can proclaim one is missional without working out the word’s deeper implications. The Western mindset can be a hard habit to break. Theological positions (missional or otherwise) are arrived at and affirmed after a great deal of effort and time--all without leaving the realm of your mind. Are we engaging the world more in deeper, missional ways now rather than before the labeling?

Perhaps Urban Mission might supply few of the answers to the question, “Now what?” In the missional paradigm, pastors and other Christians living in the West are for all intents and purposes missionaries, because they too are living in an unchristianized society, a mission field. No longer do we see an essential distinction between foreign missionaries and the rest of us. Therefore, it follows that in order to live out his missional purpose, Regular Joe Christian should become more and more versed in what missionaries have been getting trained in.

This is the premise of Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission, by Larry McCrary, Wade Stephens, Caleb Crider, and Rodney Calfee (Urban Loft Publishers, 2013). They would like to see the local churches in N. America benefit in their missional calling by becoming students of the knowledge and experience gained by culture-crossing missionaries. According to the authors, “The most underdeveloped basic Christian skills are those related to missionary thinking and practice.” (p. 24) There are certain skill sets that should be included in the missional tradecraft--such as understanding and exegeting culture, ethnography, urban studies, and contextualization, among others. Urban Mission has been giving these areas keen attention for some time now and stocking the missional tool chest. The missional church is invited to take and use.

Missional practice (informed by Urban Mission, among other disciplines) therefore makes concrete missional theology--it is missional theology not only in the abstract, but enfleshed and holistic, with hands and feet, living in concrete contexts and real people, today. Without the practice (or the tradecraft), theology becomes formless; it is unable to engage the world in the full-orbed way that missional believers envision their faith as capable of being.

But the practice in turn also needs the forming hand of a thoroughly biblical theology, or it will lose its soul. Missional practice will merely become another human-centered effort to make the world a better place according to our own understanding, which is in the end finite and even potentially more destructive than life-edifying. Missional practitioners live and act under the authority of God and his revealed word. So they bring their tradecraft daily under the examination of the Scriptures, and re-situate themselves in the larger work of the kingdom, the mission of God.

This sets off a dynamic of constant conversation between theology and practice. One refines and energizes the other, and vice versa. And so the Church matures as it treads this circular path between praxis and theology; action and reflection. We call this the hermeneutical spiral; the spiral leads us closer to Christ.

Again, you are invited: take up the tools developed by missionaries and Urban Mission over the years, learn to use them well, and join the task of mission in the world.

Dr. Kyuboem Lee serves as Adjunct Faculty at Biblical Seminary. He is the founding pastor of Germantown Hope Community Church in Philadelphia, and the General Editor for the Journal of Urban Mission (http://jofum.com).

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