In every large city around the world, Christians are creating vital , effective urban ministries. As a ministry leader you too have a vision for transforming your city for Christ. Yet many urban leaders are overwhelmed by the poverty, trauma, injustice and complexity of their cities. They feel terribly isolated from each other, and inadequately prepared for the demands of urban ministry.
Ironically, those who have worked most successfully in the city will tell you that all the information and resources you need to be effective in urban ministry already exist, either in the form of another leader's personal experience, in Christian or secular reference books, or in public documents, private files or other publications. It is also more than likely that someone knows exactly the right ministry or government contact to help you accomplish what you are trying to do, if only you knew how to find them.
On another level, you yourself have creative inner resources and wisdom in your personal experience that you may not even be aware of.
The problem in the city is neither an absence nor even a deficit of resources for urban ministry. The city itself, and the day-to-day life experiences of those involved in urban ministry, are both rich learning environments. The problem in the city is accessing the resources, both external and internal, that are already here.
Resourcing urban church leadership is the mission of International Urban Associates (IUA), of Chicago Illinois. In 1992, IUA instituted its annual Urban Strategy Institute (USI), an intensive training workshop in urban strategy development and networking for a select core of the world's top urban ministry leaders. The goal each year is to provide advanced professional training that will upgrade their skills and expand their vision of ministry.
IUA's 1994 Urban Strategy Institute was a bold experiment. The challenge? To create and demonstrate a worldwide network of resources, learning and support. The strategy? The Interactive Urban Network.
The Interactive Urban Network is a powerful multi-technology communications/learning system. Urban ministry leaders can use this system to access and share urban ministry knowledge, to form partnerships, to solve problems and to receive and extend support to and from other ministry professionals anywhere in the world. The Interactive Urban Network includes:
1. A new set of high and low tech tools to access existing information and to stimulate new learning on both the external and internal levels; and
2. A technological means to share the information and learning worldwide.
This innovative combination of high- and low-tech tools for evoking and capturing new learning, and the communications technology for distributing this learning worldwide, is the Interactive Urban Network.
IUA introduced its Interactive Urban Network at the state-of-the-art Carter Collaboration Center in Atlanta, GA, in November, 1994. Partnering with three other leading edge organizations: FCS Urban Ministries of Atlanta, The Atlanta Project, and Group Solutions, an internationally renowned groupware, training and consulting company, IUA designed a one-week world-class training experience for twenty five top international urban ministry experts, using a two-part STEP UP/STEP DOWN approach.
That all depends on how you go about it. Give each expert equal time (i.e., one expert on stage, twenty four off): at the end of the week you'd have less than two hours of input per person. At best, there may be significant language and cultural barriers in communicating with such a diverse group.
But put the experts in a room with thirty-three networked computers and the most advanced group planning software. Let them respond to any topic simultaneously, anonymously and in their own cultural terms. Add a team of professional facilitators and editors, and what you have is an unprecedented opportunity to capture the best thinking of each individual about the underlying principles that have made their ministries effective in some of the largest cities of the world.
This is exactly what happened at the November, 1994, Urban Strategy Institute (USI) held in the Carter Collaboration Center in Atlanta, GA. A group of twenty-five adventurous IUA Associates (ministry experts who ranged from computer literate to computer phobic) met up with a sophisticated program called Group Systems V, a multi-tool integrated software package designed to facilitate interactive decision making. Of the seventeen different tools available in this program, we used three: Group Writer (to actually write the document), Group Survey (to poll the group and rank order responses) and Mood Meter (to instantaneously measure group responses to questions on a scale of one to ten). Each of these tools involves an activity known as parallel processing: everyone is on-line and can be entering input at the same time.
IUA gave the Associates two focus questions:
1. What does it take to be effective in urban ministry?
2. How do we communicate what we know about urban ministry?
Twenty-five urban experts, working in four international teams, sat down at their computers. Little by little, then more and more, they began to write. By the end of the week they created this working document: twenty-five experts answered two of the most important questions in urban ministry today. But what now? How do we share this source material (or any other potentially useful information) with the rest of the urban world? And what about input from all the other urban ministry experts who weren't with us in Atlanta? Couldn't they extend the vision and enhance the end product with their individual experiences and the unique lessons they have learned?
The Internet is a cooperative worldwide communications network that allows users to communicate with over thirty million people. With a computer and a modem, virtually anyone can access the Internet through a host computer in a university, a large corporation or a commercial service. The host computers are linked together in a gigantic communications web by cooperative sharing of data links around the world. The costs of maintaining these links are not passed on to the user. Once on the Internet a user can browse through files on various computers almost anywhere on the planet depending on what files the host computer allows them to access.
Internet users all have an address and can send messages to other users as well as download host computer files. This vast electronic networking resource is available to anyone, including the Christian community. Groups of users can set up specialized conferences to share ideas, information and resources without leaving home. Documents, software programs, video, graphics, audio and even smells can be downloaded off the Internet.
Urban church leaders and educators now have an open opportunity, if they will take it, to use the Internet as a powerful tool for building networks and exchanging information to strengthen the urban church and to break down the isolation so many urban ministers endure. The Interactive Urban Network was designed to get this process started.
This book, as a working resource for urban ministry around the world, was deliberately uploaded to the Internet even before it was published. High technology is making this document as accessible as possible to as many urban leaders as possible.
However, as you read this book it you will see there is more to it than high technology. The Interactive Urban Network, which was used to produce and distribute this book, also creatively applies low or "soft" technology (what we are calling STEP DOWN technology) to the practice of urban ministry.
To help the twenty-five urban experts access these inner dimensions of urban ministry, Urban Strategy Institute planners set up a metaphor/art (visioning) room across from the high tech group writing room. Drawing people together in a stimulating, creative environment, the USI planners also hoped to offset any side effects of the high technology setup across the hall. In the metaphor/art room technology took a different form: four-by-eight-foot foam core panels, colored markers, and two incredibly talented graphic artists. (There were computer terminals in the room, but only for writers to capture the comments of the international teams as they worked on the panels.)
The two artists were in charge of sketching out the Associates' vision of a large urban ministry, using a house and its various rooms as a metaphor for a large urban ministry with its many different ministry functions and leadership requirements.
One of the reasons for choosing the metaphor of a house was to provide the international teams with a transferable concept that was applicable and adaptable to any cultural location. In this way the teams could agree on symbols which communicated a common understanding of urban ministry, but which also allowed for personal interpretation. In describing for the artists the furnishings each particular room contained, the ministry experts were led to approach the questions of what it takes to be effective in urban ministry from a right-brain (conceptual) perspective rather than from the left brain (analytical) perspective they used in their writing. This cognitive shift brought a new level of insight about their work which they could then incorporate into their writing when they returned to the high-tech room.
Each room (actually, three four-by-eight-foot panels) had three common elements: a window, to represent connection to the secular world; a skylight to represent relationship to God; and a mirror, to stand for the ministry's (or leader's) sense of self, purpose or identity. Depending on the room (kitchen/dining room, study, bedrooms, etc.) the teams chose different furnishings for the artists to draw, defining in the written descriptions the unique significance of each element. The room illustrations, with panel-by-panel descriptions, are included in Appendix D. Although the house itself, like the Kingdom of God, is not finally complete, all thirteen rooms and their furnishings taken together, give a more or less complete picture of what it looks like and feels like to be involved in urban ministry.
Storytelling was another low technology strategy of the Interactive Urban Network. Encouraging participants to relate and reflect on their own and others' personal histories, provided one more rich opportunity for inner learning. It also turned out to be an important bonding experience with fellow urban leaders at the Urban Strategy Institute. Some individual stories appear in the text. All the stories are collected in Appendix B.
In storytelling, metaphors and art (the STEP DOWN technologies of the Interactive Urban Network), the objective is to reach more of the whole person in order to create a more balanced urban minister. Through the STEP UP technologies of Groupware and Internet, the Interactive Urban Network takes advantage of the latest technology to reach more people in absolute numbers. What this means is that urban ministers need no longer work in a vacuum or in isolation. They can work smarter and harder, without feeling that they are in it all alone.
All of the STEP UP/STEP DOWN technologies of the Interactive Urban Network were integrated into the creative production and distribution of this book. However, the Interactive Urban Network and its STEP UP/STEP DOWN methods offer other applications outside the highly structured environment of the Urban Strategy Institute.
Setting up the high tech STEP UP processes (Groupware and Internet) may be somewhat more problematic. Of course, some urban ministries have the all the resources and technical expertise they need right now to implement GroupWare and get started on the Internet if they choose. Other will need outside funding and technical support.
However, in principle, both the STEP UP and STEP DOWN approaches are entirely transferable to any culture and appropriate in any urban ministry setting , even without technical setup. Although it is not customary to think of software as embodying values, let alone Christian values, groupware is just a series of tools to empower interactive decision-making, and to make sure all voices are heard. If you think about the nature of groupware apart from the hardware, the principles hold; the process just takes a little longer.
The USI utilized facilitators instead of lecturers and modeled a collaborative co-leadership style that is now emerging in the most powerful and innovative organizations and businesses. USI leaders knew their objectives and believed in the participants who, as significant leaders themselves, not only followed but simultaneously led where it was appropriate. Thus the USI as a whole was a learning/training experience in the latest management theory, which participants may apply to their own ministries to make them more effective.
This book is a demonstration of what can be done using techniques that have never been combined before to create a book in just one week. For this we owe special thanks to Group Solutions President, Brett "Trust Me" Boston. As we upload it to the Internet for reflection, comment, revision and expansion, the Interactive Urban Network is officially open.
IUA is calling this version 1.0. It is far from complete, but it is historic. It goes out with our prayers for all those who labor in the city. With every person it reaches, it carries the potential to streamline and transform the way urban ministry is carried out.
We hope you will find in this book something of value to guide or encourage your urban ministry. But the book itself is not the final message; the message is: Look at what the Interactive Urban Network can do.
To quote IUA Executive Director, Ray Bakke, "The seven last words of the church are: 'We've never done it that way before.'"
To paraphrase Global Solution's unstoppable Brett Boston: If we've never done it that way before, great! Who better than us, who love the church and are committed to the city, and want to see its people made whole?