effective Ministry considers context
By Glen Smith
Welcome to the New Hinge Page
look here over the next few issues
of Faith Today for introductions
to some of the key concepts discussed at the hinge conference
on church and mission, held in
November 2010 and facilitated
by The Evangelical Fellowship of
canada (EFc). This hinge page
will highlight the central themes
each of the keynote speakers
addressed and suggest related
Glenn Smith, executive director of
Direction chrétienne/christian Direction in montreal, addressed the
important question of why context
matters for christians who are engaged in God’s mission to reconcile the world to himself in Jesus
christ. an additional resource
from Dr. Smith, “Key indicators of
a Transformed city: The church in
Dialogue With its context – Observations From montréal,” is available at www.direction.ca.
another helpful resource related
to this topic is The Community Research Guide for Church Leaders,
a handbook on how you can learn
about your neighbourhood. This
was produced by the EFc’s centre
for research on canadian Evangelicalism in partnership with Outreach canada. You can find it and
links to other related resources at
in 1983 I worked at a ministry to university students. One day, as I was looking out the window from the sixth floor of our office, I
asked myself a question that initiated a reflec-
tion that continues to this very day. “I wonder
what is being done in my city to reach people
who work in the downtown core from Monday
at 8 a.m. until Friday at 5 p.m.?”
I investigated and, much to my cha-
grin, I learned that very little was hap-
pening. I began to read about ministry
with people in the marketplace and
saw the relationship to the needs of
At that same time, I was reading
in Jeremiah. Having been raised in a
family that placed a high priority on
the Bible and the church, I am not sure
how many times I had read that particular book
or skimmed this particular chapter. But in that
cold winter of 1983, the words of chapter 29: 4-7
took on a new meaning.
As God Almighty had called those 10,000
exiles to seek the shalom of the foreign city, I began to see that the spiritual needs of downtown
Montreal could not go by me easily.
My personal context – beginning to think
about urban ministry – shaped how I listened
to the Bible. I understood that Jeremiah passage
in a new way and felt called to join with others
to pursue a contextualized action and reflection.
It was a defining moment in my life. It led
me to switch from university ministry to Direction Chrétienne, an urban ministry in Montreal
that I have been with ever since.
Along the way, I learned that one single
Bible text should never inform all that is the
mission of God in the city. Harvey Conn taught
me well when he said, “Picking one biblical text
to sum up my view of urban ministry is an assignment too awesome and dangerous for me.
Too awesome because wherever I turn in my
Bible it shouts ‘urban’ to me. Too dangerous
because the text I select could leave out a piece
of the picture too crucial in another text and
distort the whole. We need a hermeneutic serious enough to link Genesis to Revelation in the
unending story of Jesus as an urban lover and
what the church looks like now
It is in vogue today to ask, “Where is the church?”
and then rush to critique her lack of significant
involvement in the complexities of the Canadian
city. I would rather ask, “What will the
church look like?” in the midst of the
cultural diversity and the competing
worldviews of this time and place.
This question is not as easy to
wrestle with as it appears to be at first
glance, for social context is complicated. Many people do geographical
and demographic studies and wrestle
with notions of place. On a different
track, many ministry practitioners try to get
their heads around the philosophies that make
up the personality of our cities (sometimes referred to as a worldview or a social imaginary).
We begin to see that place is space with
historical meanings, different identities and
varied societal preoccupations. Thus we need
to help urban ministry practitioners put these
two approaches together so that in examining
the city as a place we are also learning to look
very closely at the worldviews that are reflected
in the urban context.
To pursuing the mission of God in a place
and time, we need to understand both the socio-cultural characteristics of our specific population and also the worldviews and thinking.
The unending biblical narrative that we find
ourselves in always needs to be woven into the
fabric of place a little differently.
The complexity of the Canadian city means
we must constantly ask foundational questions.
How do we know a context when we see one?
How big is a context? How long does it last? Who
is in it and is out of it, and how do we know?
To discern answers to such questions requires that we regularly relate to a broad forum of Christian ministry practitioners. FT
The mission of God may be timeless, but it’s important to
consider its nuances in a particular place and time
the church as God’s copycat.”
I realized that I needed to keep studying the
text, and I still do.
glenn SMi Th is the director of Direction
chrétienne, a ministry in montreal.