What is an effective urban ministry leader? To answer that question we must begin with a working definition of leadership. The one outstanding characteristic that is found in all materials about leadership is that leadership is always about change. At SCUPE we define effective urban ministry leadership as “when one assumes responsibility for transforming a reality to the glory of God”, emphasizing that leadership is always about change.
Such leadership requires three things:
- a solid grasp of the existing reality with all of its political, social and cultural complexities and investments,
- a vision of an alternative reality and three
- a strategy of how to move from the existing reality to the alternative reality.
When all three things are present there is hope and hope is what education is all about.
The first step in the process is often the hardest. It means putting to one side all of our stereotypes, prejudices, opinions, attitudes and all those things we have learned from culture and school that reinforce negativity regarding those we do not know. This is necessary because an important ingredient in contextual theological education is empathy and negative perceptions based on limited experience block empathy. Here is the hard reality for those of us who planned and worked hard to be comfortable in life. If we are serious about being effective leaders in ministry in the city we will need to leave are places of comfort, wherever that is, and willingly move to situations, circumstance and places where we will be not be recognized or acknowledged for who we are. We will have to have sufficient faith to allow ourselves to be steeped in a culture where we are the minority. The incarnation is the model.
I repeatedly tell seminary students that they are first and foremost practicing theologians and their task is to do theology both from the pulpit and in the streets. Theology cannot be done without the second aspect of transformative leadership, vision.
Foundational and essential to the challenge of doing theology in the city is the exercise of prophetic imagination. Imagination is a gift from God given to every human being. It is one of the delightful things that separate us from the rest of creation. We humans have the capacity to see a reality beyond the reality that is immediately before us. Unfortunately, however, for many, if not most, of us our imaginations have been sorely neglected and dulled.
Prophetic imagination is sanctified imagination, imagination that is set aside to see first and foremost, what a place would look like if it glorified God. When one is captured by prophetic imagination you can be sure change is coming. When one is captured by a vision about what a place would look like if it glorified God the gates of hell will not be able to prevail against such a vision.
The third and critical practice of doing theology is developing a strategy and plan to move from the existing reality to the prophetic vision. This is the ultimate task of the contextual theologian the unveiling of hope. It is hope, not grounded in fantasy, but grounded in our understanding of God and God’s will for the city. As theologians it requires us we to see a reality beyond the reality that is immediately visible, God’s reality.
Hope is our grounding place for urban ministry. As theologians, it is hope that informs the way we look at communities. At SCUPE, therefore, we do not focus on ministry based on meeting community needs but rather ministry based on the spiritual, material and personal resources existing in that community. Only then are we fulfilling our calling to educate for hope.
– Dave Frenchak