Window. This panel reveals the view of the city the urban Christian worker sees when she looks out of her study window. The window also allows the city to look in at the worker.
The window is divided into two panels, representing the difference between what is and what ought to be. The left panel is the city as it now is, a mixture of good and evil. The right panel is the view of the city as we hope and pray it will be.
From the left panel we see the institutions of the city struggling for control: government, commerce, education. In the lower left hand corner, power brokers are enjoying a game of Monopoly. They have a vested interest in retaining the system. The people in this game are happy; they think they have all the answers. They are totally unaware of what is going on outside their game.
Just across the street are those who have been excluded from the official power game. Some of them are looking on with envy, plotting a way in. Others are starting their own games: drug dealing, gambling. In their own way they are emulating what the power brokers are doing around the game table. Some of these side games were even created by the power brokers, to keep the disenfranchised happy (Lotto!).
The people to the right are outside the system altogether. Some, like the homeless person, are powerless and hopeless, while others are building in the midst of the destruction. Here we are surprised by God's grace as his Spirit appears in the midst of the rubble.
The church in this panel is somewhat removed from the suffering in the city (although it is not geographically distant). It may want to be involved in urban ministry, but does not know how. Church leaders in a tug of war are struggling on how to respond to the city.
In contrast, the view from the right half of the window is one of open possibilities. From the right panel, the urban worker sees a building site for the New Jerusalem, for what the city could be.
VCR/ Music Shelf. When we designed this side of the room, the question we had in mind was "What do we, as ministers, do to recreate ourselves?" We were careful to consider the term "recreation" both as "entertainment" and as "re-creation," in the sense of "rejuvenation" or "renewal". The notion of "renewal" emerged from our discussion as a higher priority than the simpler concept of entertainment. The first image we chose (pictures of family and friends) symbolizes the importance of surrounding ourselves with of like-minded people, be they family, friends or colleges in ministry, who understand what we go through spiritually and psychologically. These are the people with whom we can best share our enthusiasm but also our doubts, failures and frustration. They help us start anew.
The picture of the beach scene represents the need we sometimes feel to escape from the city, to see new horizons and new landscapes. Getting away for a little while allows us to better come back to our ministry. In terms of the communities we serve, this picture corresponds to the need people have to dream of a better life.
Theater tickets, detective novels and cultural classics side by side with the Bible. illustrate the need for secular reading and entertainment as well as spiritual input.
Bookshelf Ladder(steps/stairs). The bookshelf ladder represents social structure and class differences within a country. Each step or social level presents new opportunities and challenges for urban ministry.
The bookshelf ladder is also a model for the ongoing cycle of learning and development that is necessary for personal and ministry growth.
Ground Level. On the bookshelf next to the ladder are resources for the the minister herself, as well as books that would be available for the community. However, while reading provides access to information, the knowledge gained through reading is incomplete. It must be complemented not only by actual experience, but also by reflection on that experience. People who do not read, or who read poorly, can still learn how to manage their lives by thoughtful analysis of their life experiences.
Rung 1. In addition to reading, the urban minister learns by watching others, by observation. She may also learn by "story telling" (personal stories, not tales). Oral history, especially in non-western contexts holds a wealth of information. Some of these stories form a peoples' cultural identity.
Rung 2. With a broad base of life experience, and strong skills in experiential learning, the urban minister can reflect on what experiences mean, not just for herself, but also for those she ministers to. Considering individual stories as part of the whole community pieces all the stories together. This combination may end up being something entirely different from the mere sum of the parts. Taking all these building blocks and making something new out of them creates a dynamic and interactive set of themes.
Rung 3. In the city, urban ministers are dealing with powerful social (e.g., class) and institutional structures. Often, we have to work with the established systems, i.e., political authorities, city planners, financial institutions, the school system, if we hope to succeed. Reflection helps us understand these systems, particularly where the constraints will be found. Like it or not, the official conference table is where negotiation and approval takes place. Our actions or desires may put us into conflict with our governing structures. When this happens, we may not be in a position of power at the table, or we may not even be sitting at the table, in deliberate protest. However, it is good to attempt to use the formal process first. If this should fail, creation of another route, through civil disobedience, or some other strategy outside the official system, may be in order. If one of these alternative routes is used, it is best to do it publicly, using the power of public opinion through the media.
Another possible alternative to political leverage is to use other power centers, such as the business community. If local authorities or businesses are not responsive, it may be possible to create a whole new power base, such as an united church front. The point is that there is a need to find creative ways to manipulate sources of power.
Rung 4. As successful experience acculumates, the urban minister needs to start thinking about how to teach what she has learned. It is important to create a body of knowledge that can be used again. This next step of the ladder could also be another time for reflection, a time where the tasks ahead can be evaluated. These might include job creation, social programs, and the promotion of community values from which industry can benefit. At this stage, a growing sense of health pervades the community, supported by its holistic ministry programs.
Rung 5. The final step is the codification of these achievements, benchmarks and hallmarks into a formal body of knowledge such as a report, video, or how-to book. This is something that could be presented to other communities, or perhaps to authorities to influence future policy development. One has to be careful, however, not to take that knowledge as prescriptive, but rather as a source of options. The strategies are to be explored; they may not work in all contexts. The alternatives we are discussing are part of a dynamic process, because the healthy community is always evolving to new levels. The very notion of a healthy community also evolves along with its population (i.e., when the percentage of older citizens increases).
To complete the metaphor, one goes up the ladder to select a book, then comes back down to read it. Then the book has to be returned to its place. The point is that we must continue to go through this cycle of thinking, learning, doing, and modifying in order to achieve success in this dynamic urban environment.
A Teen and Child Shelf. The teenager's bookshelf should include works on other religions. They need to know the truth, and avoid misconceptions especially if the influence of these religions is growing and attracting the youth. For instance, in the USA, the teenager needs to know about Black Muslims, in France about Orthodox Islam. This would also include information about voodoo, cultism, and all of the other popular superstitious practices.
It should also have books about famous people who have converted, and other stories that would provide the youth with a positive role model. Stories that can show that being religious can be a really "cool" thing.
Management Shelf. In our minister's library, there are many professional books. For instance, the topic of organizational development should be of critical interest. The urban minister will be leading a team of diverse people. She needs to understand how a team of people work together in an organization. At the very least, if she herself is not strong in management, she must have someone on the staff needs who understands the concepts of organizational development and is allowed to deal with it.
Leadership is another critical area. The urban minister must be aware that she can not do it all herself. She needs to learn how to be the kind of person that others will be willing to follow. She must understand the need to communicate her ideas and vision, then to enable others to adopt the vision as their own.
Financial Planning: It is a fact of life is that we can not spend more than we earn. We must be able to anticipate the cost of doing the ministry. It is totally unfair to the people that support us to begin a work, ask for their commitment, and then not have a plan to pay them. This does not mean that a large capital source is required before we begin: We need also to learn how vision does not have to be restricted by immediately available finances. There is much work of a preliminary nature that can be done "up front" and implemented in the here and now.
Closely allied to budgeting is Project Management. The urban minister, as any other project manager, need to be able to see the full scope, not just the financial cost, but the order in which steps are to be implemented to build toward a completed result.
Fund Raising may be THE major task for all urban ministries. To achieve our vision, others need to be made aware of project vision. This must be communicated along with the plan on how it will be implemented. This process of "selling" the vison to others also provides a great check on whether it is actually needed and/or is a good idea.
Nurturing the Board: A supportive Board of Directors is crucial for the sustainability of the ministry, and there are books available on this complex subject. Our board needs to make the ministry a primary focus of their efforts. They need to be contributing financially as well as be involved in fund raising. If we can not count of this level of support, they are probably not the right people for the job. The point is that our heart is where we put our money. The board's heart will not be in the ministry unless they are contributing financially.
Our board also needs to be willing to work in any other areas where they may be useful. The board should be the primary support network for the executive. But for this to happen, clear communication and an equal (or at least mutually acceptable) distribution of power between the executive and the board is crucial.
Community and Public Relations is another topic for our minister's bookshelf. A good project may be noticed by some, but if it could be highlighted in the community, it will bring about wider support. This wider support will not only bring in more finances, it will also lessen barriers from the existing structures. All of this serves to foster cooperation and will result in an expansion of the impact of the ministry. On the other hand, a lack of community support means that our ministry will not be maintained. The community at large needs to understand that our works are for the good of the community at large, and all of those living there.
Sociology/Urbanology. The last shelf in the minister's library should be devoted to the fields of sociology and urbanology. The complexity of the urban landscape and the level of change that is going on necessitate a rich and multidimensional understanding. In other words, a multi-disciplinary perspective is crucial. Thus, it is essential to capitalize on the social sciences as well as ethical and theological reflections in order to begin to understand the issues and conditions found in the environment of our urban ministry.
This rich body of sociological knowledge and understanding is there to assist the minister [lay or clergy] to engage a target that is ever evolving outside the domain of conventional biblical and theological study. To ignore such rich learnings is to limit our pool of resources and, perhaps, the extent to which God can truly use us.
Mirror. Reflected in the mirror in the library, we see the minister, burdened with feelings of inadequacy. But if God has placed her here, He will make her adequate to the tasks she faces. We must see all ourselves in the mirror: The answers are within ourselves, and we have to have trust in that, in spite of our own feelings.
The person in the mirror has a role to play, a mission, has something she has to be doing. She is at peace, understanding that she does not have to have ALL the answers. Her reflection holds something, to symbolize that she has answers, hope, and keys representing acquired knowledge, understanding, and eternal life.
Also in the mirror, we see the Bible, It is not viewed as an object of worship, but as God's word internalized and fleshed out by our own actions.
Door. There is a door leading out of the study. Many of the things that we see out the window can be seen through the open door, but off in the distance, more anonymous. We take these things with us when we go out, along with our knowledge and faith, and our fears and doubt.
Also at the door are people wanting to come in, looking to the minister for answers, advice, explanations. They are seeking the minister to fulfill their needs in terms of pointing them to Christ. Not in a simplistic notion of telling answers, but in the engaging of people to help them find their own answers.
Mirror/Door. An urban minister, well grounded in scripture walking in the Spirit, will sense God's presence everywhere and grow in understanding. The mirror reflects this. Yet, as she/he leaves this place of reflection and study to go out into the community, it is often with a sense of inadequacy and fear, in combination with faith and knowledge.
Skylight. What we learn through study, as represented by these famous sayings and references, reinforces our commitment to urban ministry and renews our faith in God.