By Israel Galindo, Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning
Jenell Paris and Margot Eyring have prepared a most useful tool for those involved in missional efforts, whether leader or participant. Urban Disciples: A Beginner’s Guide to Serving God in the Inner City (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2000), is a workbook for persons or teams participating in, or planning on engaging in, urban mission experiences. The content is adaptable for various kinds of missions groups, including, as listed by the authors, “church Bible study groups, college ministry groups, small groups, cell groups, urban plunge programs, short-term mission projects, urban ministry courses at seminaries and colleges, and people in the first years of long-term ministry.”
The book consists of twenty-four lessons or sessions in five units. The units cover the themes: Beginnings, Learning and Ministering in the City, Growing in Faith, Building Community Together, Endings. There is no substantive content in either the units or the lessons that would help the reader shape a theology of missions, or to discover a biblical basis for missions. Rather, the book provides a more experiential approach to engaging in theological reflection on the experience of urban mission experiences. Each lesson or session moves the reader from scripture to life application with an additional emphasis on a prayer activity.
A “Digging Deeper” section gives readers and leaders ideas for additional learning activities. Several of the learning activities are quite creative and imaginative and provide for excellent ways to engage missions participants to learn meaningful lessons through activities, questions, dialogue and interaction with their mission environment. An underlying assumption in the book is that to engage in missions means that one will not so much change the mission field and others, but that one will be changed through the experience. The structure of the learning experiences goes a long way to ensure that that insight is not lost on the participants.
The book includes seven appendices, some potentially more helpful than others. The reviewer found Appendix B: Important Contacts, for example, to be superfluous (one cannot imagine that someone away from home for an extended period of time would not take along a list of important contacts on their cell phones). By contrast the appendices on “Learning from Important People and Places,” “Visiting a New Church,” and “Personal and Corporate Spiritual Disciplines,” are succinct but substantive.
Urban Disciples is, overall, and excellent and useful resource for churches and missioner-sending agencies or groups. It provides a model for what is most lacking in the missions engagement experience: a structured and intentional approach to theological reflection on the meaning of the missions engagement experience.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.
His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H).