When my family and I arrived as church planters in a European city of 12 million people, I quickly realized that I was only partly prepared for the task before me. My sending agency had trained me well for the majority culture I encountered every day on the street, on buses, on trains. What became abundantly clear, though, was that this seminary-trained, suburban southern boy was not quite ready for the city.
I am a firm advocate of theological education for missionaries in all contexts. Engaging intercultural church planting – whether in Shanghai or Nashville – without a solid foundation of Scripture and theology is like building a house without tools or plans. Almost as important, however, is experience in the field. Students who actively share their faith, who ardently engage lost peoples, and who boldly stretch themselves in “foreign” contexts will be better equipped on their future field.
Ministry education should take place both in the classroom and in context. Nothing will impact your understanding of sin and human frailty than working in the streets of a city. Little can prepare you to share your faith better than having to do so during a twenty-minute wait for a train or in the two minutes between bus stops. Working on the ground in a city will help you better understand biblical themes such as “the least of these” and “sojourner.” The intensity and pace of urban work will give you new insight on counseling and pastoral ministry.
Internships along with classroom instruction are the best ways to prepare for urban ministry and church planting. At the Dehoney Center, we arrange urban internships for Southern Seminary students. Our students will have the opportunity to serve alongside experienced church planters, missions strategists, and local church pastors as they work in some of North America’s great cities.
Over the next few months, our writers will expand on this theme of “training for the city, in the city.” If you’re working in an urban context, I’d love to get your feedback. You can email me at email@example.com. If you’re a student, consider one of the urban internships by visiting Training & Internships.