In my urban congregation I have four couples who were once urban church planters. But it wasn’t the considerable challenges of urban ministry that made them step out of the work. All four of them had to leave the work they loved when they lost support from partner churches in the suburbs. All of them were forced out of their ministries when the suburban congregations who had helped them plant their churches became uncomfortable with the unique work of urban mission. The broken hearts of these friends and the lost opportunity for Christian presence in the city has often led me to lament: “How can we heal this cultural divide within our own Christian family (often even within our own denominations) for the sake of our shared mission? How can the resources of the church flow to the places in the world that most need workers if those who have the resources don’t understand the need?”
As we’ve seen in recent political trends, cities often have more in common with one another than with the suburbs that surround them. Folks in urban Houston and urban Boston may culturally have more in common with one another than with folks in their own city’s suburbs. If we drive from the urban center of any major city, we may quickly find ourselves in what seems like a totally different country. This strange dynamic causes challenges for how we live together as a nation. But it also causes problems within the church as those cultural divides also affect how we imagine and support our mission.
If, as Karina Kreminski writes in her new book, Urban Spirituality, the city shapes the broader culture, what does that mean for the fact that within the church, in large part, culture is shaped by the suburbs? If the predominant voice and influence of the church comes from the suburbs, how will we, as Christians, learn to value and step into the vital work of being present in the center of the broader culture?
We have an opportunity to join the cultural conversation and bring Jesus into it. It may make us uncomfortable and require us to be with people who are different from us, in places that don’t always feel safe. Will we risk it for the sake of mission?
What the Broader Church Can Learn When It Looks to Cities
Urban Spirituality provides the church with a resource that grows from the city, inviting the church to understand—and even get excited about—how the wider culture is shaped by urban culture. It is a resource both to those living in the city and to those living outside the city who want to gain insights into the unique missional opportunities and challenges of that context. Kreminski shapes this work in a way that shows both her focus as a missional educator and her heart as a pastor. She writes as she’s moving from the suburbs into the city to begin a faith community, turning over in her mind what this decision really means, inviting others to do the same.
The book begins with a helpful description of the unique characteristics of the urban context, revealing a need for urban expressions of spirituality. It invites readers to do something we may never have done: to consider our theology of the city. This exploration of urban theology and spirituality is structured according to the themes of community, place-making, discernment, and the other.
Along with these insights, I want to highlight two things Kreminski helps us learn from the culture of the city.
1) Learning from the City Gives Us a Glimpse of Post-Christian Culture
As I read her thoughtful work, I couldn’t help reflecting on this pressing reality for the contemporary church: in the suburbs, it’s easy to avoid or be unaware of the post-Christian nature of the city. If it’s the case that the culture of the city influences the culture of the suburbs, then to neglect the culture of the city is to neglect an awareness of the culture which will soon influence our suburban church work.
Kreminski speaks from her experience in a culture which has been post-Christian for some time. Christians from post-Christian Western cultures (e.g., New Zealand, Australia, Britain, Canada) have grown up as minorities within a broader secular culture: they’re not surprised if the media doesn’t represent their views, and they don’t expect political leaders to be primarily motivated by the church’s mission. These Christian brothers and sisters from post-Christian countries often have a clearer sense of where their true power lies, how to avoid outsourcing the church’s work to political or cultural forces, and how to work with few resources and in humble partnership with God. They have a strange peace about them—and it’s a peace that US Christians need as we watch our cultural power crumbling and our old ministry approaches becoming less and less meaningful. To neglect the culture of the city is to neglect an awareness of the culture which will soon influence our suburban church work. Click To Tweet
2) Urban Ministry Teaches Us Being on Mission Is Whole-Person Work
This book has that peace about it which knows the challenges and also knows the Power behind our call and the presence that He promises. And so not only does Kreminski outline some significant ideas, bringing in recent studies and theological perspective, she also understands that this urban ministry is whole-person work and that it will require a lot of us emotionally and spiritually. It will require us not only to know about God but to know him deeply in our daily lives. So, in the tradition of Yoder’s Body Politics and Fitch’s Faithful Presence, Urban Spirituality invites us into practices which shape us for mission even as we live them. Kreminski describes a prayerful, hospitable, contemplative, restful, reconciling, imaginative, joyful way of being in the city. It creates a wonderful possibility that the work itself might shape us into the kind of people who not only can do the work but also can reflect the God we follow.
If we do it with the right posture, this work might actually form us into the kind of people who draw others to God by our very reliance on him.
Kreminski reminds us that the best mission to the city grows not from programs but from our very identity as participants in our neighborhoods—which requires more from us than professional skills. It’s slower, messier, and more humbling than having great plans. But, at the same time, it’s more transformative—both for us and for the cities we love.
Urban Spirituality: A Resource for the Church
As we step into that kind of whole-person work and transformation, we’ll need friends and guides along the way. This is just such a resource whether we’re working in the city or wanting to learn the postures of humble, whole-person engagement in mission. These patient, Christlike postures that Kreminski has learned in the city, will bless our mission wherever we are.
Urban Spirituality: Embodying God’s Mission in the Neighborhood is available now.