12 Essential Qualities for Christian Spirituality & Theology in a New Urban World

by | Dec 15, 2023 | Church & Ministry, Culture & Society, Mission Studies & Intercultural Theology | 0 comments

12 Essential Qualities for Christian Spirituality & Theology in a New Urban World

Dec 15, 2023Church & Ministry, Culture & Society, Mission Studies & Intercultural Theology0 comments

To take head on oppressive structures like consumerism, militarism, multinational capitalism, international communism, racism, and sexism, we need a spirituality of missional engagement… Mission without spirituality cannot survive any more than combustion without oxygen. ~ Orlando E. Costas


The world is rapidly urbanizing. More than 6.5 billion people will live in cities by 2050. Most of these urban dwellers will be in developing countries. Around 80 percent of this burgeoning urban population will live in Africa and Asia.

The United Nations claims that the world is unprepared for the challenges this will raise for resources — e.g., the increasing demands for energy, water, and sanitation. The world is unprepared for the challenges urban growth raises for public services, land-use, food scarcity, employment, transportation, education, and health.

The church faces its own challenges as the world rapidly urbanizes, and as the church shifts its center of gravity to the Majority World. As Philip Jenkins writes, “We are currently living through one of the transforming moments in the history of religion worldwide…. Over the last century, the center of gravity in the Christian world has shifted inexorably away from Europe, southward, to Africa and Latin America, and eastward, toward Asia. Today, the largest Christian communities on the planet are to be found in those regions.”[1]

Urbanization and the shift of the church to the Majority World raise important questions for Christian spirituality and theology.

The International Society for Urban Mission (ISUM) held a summit on Signs of Hope in the City, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2014. A few hundred Majority World, indigenous, First Nations, and Western thinkers and activists came together for those days.

Together, we explored the theology and practices of integral, transformational, and urban mission. And, together, we looked for “signs of hope in the city”. We identified places where God is at work bringing hope, healing, reconciliation, life, and transformation.

As part of the gathering, we formed a Working Group on “Spirituality and Theology for a New Urban World”, and spent a few days considering this issue. There were 26 participants in that Working Group. Our conversations were an expression of glocalization. Local stories and global themes enriched each other.

Applying processes of Appreciative Inquiry and World Café, this Working Group explored the shape of “spirituality and theology for a new urban world”. And we did this through conversations, storytelling, prayer, immersion experiences, meals, tears, and laughter.

Together, we identified 12 essential qualities Christian spirituality and theology must embrace in (and for) a new urban world. A new urban world demands new, urban, missional forms of Christian spirituality and theology that are:

  • Glocal
  • Missional
  • Practiced
  • Prophetic
  • Questioning & Experimental
  • Christ-centered & Trinitarian
  • Spirit-empowered
  • Contextualized
  • Community-oriented
  • Grounded in Scripture
  • Joyful in Suffering
  • Pioneering

Around 66% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. But we must continue to see the opportunities present for service among those outside these cities (around 34% of the world will live in non-urban areas, and there’s great opportunities there). These 12 qualities aren’t just for urban areas.

In this blog, I apply these 12 qualities to urban settings because of these reasons:

  1. I’m located in a city, so it’s the environment I know best.
  2. The list of 12 qualities was put together by a group serving among the poorest of the poor in the largest cities of the world.
  3. I have a desire to apply these 12 qualities to the challenges and opportunities presented by modern urbanization (a melting pot of cultures, languages, worldviews, religions, etc., often crammed together in high density, competitive, harsh environments, demanding forms of spirituality and theology that are presently foreign to the church).
  4. I’m convinced that urbanization demands new forms and approaches to (and themes in) contextual theology.
  5. I’m also convinced that urbanization demands new approaches to Christian spirituality (most contemplative approaches to Christian spirituality aren’t missional, and they’ve been designed with a monastic or rural or peaceful setting in mind – not the crazy, bustling, noisy environment that urban missionaries find themselves in).

So, I’ve applied the 12 qualities directly to urban environments, challenges and opportunities (e.g. high density, melting pot of cultures, etc.). It would be fascinating applying these 12 qualities to theology and spirituality that’s appropriate for the unique challenges and opportunities of regional and rural settings.

Theology, spirituality, and mission are deeply connected. Urban missionaries need to cultivate robust expressions of urban theology and spirituality, given the unique challenges and opportunities of cities. Today, a new urban world urgently needs forms of Christian spirituality and theology that express these 12 essential qualities.

1. Glocal

In a new urban world, Christian spirituality and theology need to be glocal.

Majority World, indigenous, and Western leaders, thinkers, and churches can stretch and enrich each other. But they need to be open and attentive to each other. They need learning postures and open hearts and minds. And passion for learning and collaboration, and for Jesus and his kingdom. And their vision and values must align with those of the kingdom of God.

The global church needs global theologies. And it needs local theologies. Local and global theologies are both necessary if we are to shape theological reflections that are adequate for a globalized world.

The church needs theologies that are ready for the emerging shape of Christian spirituality and mission in a new urban world.

The church needs both a globalized and glocalized theology. A glocal theology happens when local voices engage global conversations. And it’s a theology rooted in spirituality and mission.

What do I mean by glocal? The local (the local, contextual, homogeneous) and the global (the global, universal, heterogeneous) interconnect. Our globalized world has blurred the boundaries between the local and the global. The local is a dimension of the global. The global shapes the local. The two are interdependent. They enable each other. They form each other, reciprocally. While tensions exist, the global and local are not opposing forces. They connect — deeply and inextricably.

Al Tizon says, “Not only are the global and the local inseparably intertwined; they also determine each other’s respective forms. From a sociological perspective, the glocalization means generally the organic and symbiotic relationship between the global and the local.”[3]

All local Christian theologies and spiritualities can contribute to glocal conversations. We need Western, indigenous, First Nations, and Majority World voices. Local and global conversations must meet and enrich each other in constructive ways. When they do, we end up with worthwhile glocalized theologies and practices. I believe that we must develop urban missions through glocal conversations.

Glocalization can help us apply urban theology in the concrete practices of urban mission and spirituality. Worthwhile glocalization is about dialogue, learning, and partnership. It is about the courage to listen to others, and venture into the unknown. And it is about investing in theology in local voices and languages.

And, as my friend Juliany Gonzales recently said on Facebook: “If your way of responding to the “theological famine” is just translating theological works written in English by white-economically-privileged-evangelical-males, let me suggest you to fund evangelical theologians from the Majority World so they can publish in their native language.”

2. Missional

In a new urban world, Christian spirituality and theology need to be missional.

Karina Kreminski has described some of the features of this new, urban, missional spirituality well. See the link here

Karina is right when she says that missional spirituality is:

  • Embodied not disembodied
  • This-worldly not other-worldly
  • Service-oriented not self-actualized
  • Engaged not withdrawn
  • Incarnational not excarnational
  • Cruciform not upwardly-mobile
  • Trinitarian not individualistic

At a recent lecture at Morling College in Sydney, Australia, Charles Ringma defined missional spirituality this way:

“Missional spirituality is a way of life in Christ through the Spirit, supported by the community of faith and the spiritual disciplines, that animates our whole life and our witness and service.”[4] It’s a “participation in the saving mission of Jesus.” It’s “based on the conviction that action and involvement in the world constitute a path to holiness and to union with God.”[5]

Tite Tiénou and Paul G. Hiebert describe missional theology in this way:

“The task of the mission theologian is to translate and communicate the Gospel in the language and culture of real people in the particularities of their lives so that it may transform them, their societies and their cultures into what God intends for them to be. Missional theology seeks to build the bridge between Biblical revelation and human contexts. It seeks remove the gap between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and between truth, love and obedience.”

“One strength of missional theology is its focus on mission. It takes humans seriously, in the particularity of their persons, societies and cultures, and their ever changing histories. It integrates cognition, affectivity, and evaluation in its response to biblical truth, and defines faith not simply as mental affirmations of truth, nor as positive experiences of God, but as beliefs and feelings that lead to response and obedience to the word of God. It rejects the division between pure and applied theology, and sees ministry both as a way of doing theology and as a form of worship.”[6]

[bctt tweet=”Mission without spirituality cannot survive any more than combustion without oxygen ~ Costas” username=”GrahamJGHill”]

Christian spirituality and theology grow in mission. They resource mission. They’re inseparable from mission. They’re the oxygen for mission. They need mission to flourish.

The great South African missiologist, David Bosch, says we don’t have to choose between spirituality and mission. “Spirituality is not contemplation over against action. It is not a flight from the world over against involvement in the world… The involvement in this world should lead to a deepening of our relationship with and dependence on God, and the deepening of this relationship should lead to increasing involvement in the world. Pouring out our love on people in selfless dedication is a form of prayer… Spirituality is all-pervading.”[7]

3. Practiced

In a new urban world, Christian spirituality and theology need to be practiced.

As Christians, we need to develop approaches to prayer and theologizing that allow Jesus to turn our values, practices, priorities, and desires upside-down. This includes scrutinizing these things in the light of the words and example of Jesus Christ. He wants to turn our worldview and values and lifestyle upside-down, and he often does that as we practice our spirituality and theology.

Jesus shapes our Christian spirituality and theology through his grace. But he also uses our practices. So, we need prayer, meditation, fasting, spiritual reading, and biblical memorization. And we need spiritual friendship and worship in community. We nurture Christian spirituality and theology through our engagement in social justice. We enlarge them through our involvement in mission.

We earth Christian spirituality and theology through our care for creation. And we enrich it through our earth-keeping practices. (Among other things, earth-keeping practices include planting gardens, tending trees, growing vegetables, recycling waste, conserving energy, producing and consuming locally, and campaigning for ecological wellbeing and justice).

We form Christian spirituality and theology for a new urban world as we express:

Care for urban dwellers and groups, and their wellbeing: Urban missionaries commit to caring for the broken, silenced, ignored, wounded, marginalized, and those at the “bottom of the ladder.”

Concern for the real needs of communities: Urban missionaries commit to meeting real needs, being present among people, and building meaningful relationships. They care for whole communities and engage in community development.

Connection with urban communities: Urban missionaries commit to listening, learning, hearing concerns, and to communicating authentically. They connect with the needs and insights and histories of the slum communities among whom they serve.

Witness to the kingdom of God in urban settings: Urban missionaries commit to being people of joy, mercy, hope, justice, love, faith, gentleness, encouragement, and liberation.

Compassion for people and their wellbeing: Many urban missionaries are compassionate servants who are passionate about justice, healing, reconciliation, mercy, mission, and community.

Here’s a story of a theological college in Asian that exemplifies this commitment to new, urban, missional forms of theology and spirituality. (I’ve intentionally obscured its identity).

This theological seminary is committed to equipping pastors, missionaries, and ministry leaders for effective ministry in Asia. The seminary’s commitment to holistic training includes equipping leaders to serve among transient urban dwellers in Asia. Many of its seminary students came to its context as migrant workers or refugees. Ministering in churches of transient urban dwellers poses particular challenges for these young leaders. Training transient urban dwellers for mission and ministry poses other challenges for this theological seminary in Asia.

This innovative Asian theological seminary is exploring fresh approaches to urban mission, theology, spiritual formation, and ministry training. They are training people in new ways to serve and empower transient urban dwellers (e.g., asylum seekers, migrants, refugees, stateless people, people in refugee-like situations, and others of concern).

Their city is a strategic location for this, since it has around 250,000 such people — Myanmarese, Persians, Afghans, Iraqi, Tamils, Indonesians, Somalis, Sri Lankans, Nepalese, and other groups. These arrive in their country and apply for refugee status through the UNHCR (the United Nations refugee agency).

This seminary is asking important questions as it trains men and women for mission and ministry. It wants to equip them to build spiritualities and theologies adequate for new urban environments.

Here’s a sample of some of these questions:

  • What does contextual theology and spirituality look like for particular transient and vulnerable populations? (E.g. Myanmarese, Afghan, Iraqi, Tamil, Indonesian, Somali, Sri Lankan, and Nepalese refugees).
  • How do we do contextual theology, given these groups’ sense of attachment and non-attachment to their cultures and societies? (Their feelings about their cultures and societies are often mixed).
  • How do particular missiological themes shape our approaches to theological reflection and spiritual formation? Such themes include holism, transformation, comparative religions, cultural studies, and contextualization.
  • How does Christian theology and spirituality change when individuals and Christian communities immerse themselves in the love, service, and fellowship of the poor and marginalized and transient?
  • What does it mean not only to read the Scriptures but also to do the Scriptures (individually, as churches, and as theological colleges)?

When this seminary was first planted, its aim was to train middle class Asian Christian leaders. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. But, over time, the focus has shifted to training leaders in urban mission. This is especially training for mission among the urban poor, and among vulnerable people groups. This makes the seminary innovative missiologically. But it’s also vulnerable to the fates of these transient, marginalized, and persecuted urban dwellers.

Two students of this seminary illustrate the theological, missional, and spiritual concerns of its faculty and students. The first is a Myanmarese student and the second is from a country in Western Asia.

The Myanmarese student is working with Myanmarese refugee communities. Many Myanmarese in this country are awaiting resettlement in Australia, Europe, or North America. This student holds English language classes and Bible study groups at midnight many nights of the week. (Myanmarese refugees work such long hours that this is the only time they’re available for fellowship and training.) People in power “shake down” these refugees regularly (easy money). This makes them fearful, insecure, and uncertain about their incomes and futures. It prevents their children from getting a proper education. This Myanmarese theological student serves among this refugee community. He visits Myanmarese in factories and homes. He provides pastoral support. And he offers theological, biblical, and English language training.

The second student is from a country in Western Asia. Many people from his country seek asylum in other parts of Asia, but are prevented from working. Their families struggle to survive. They can’t find opportunities for work and education and social connection. There are few churches that cater for people from this country. So, mission activities and worship gatherings among this group are rare. Asylum seekers from this country are often depressed, financially desperate, and lonely. They are often forced to work illegally, and fear arrest and deportation. They are emotionally affected by persecution and violence (both in their home country and since they left). They often don’t trust other refugees and asylum seekers from their country. Their country has spies who monitor refugees and asylum seekers. So, they’re fearful of the consequences for them and their families. Another challenge for mission among this group is the reason for their conversion from Islam to Christianity. Sometimes conversion is a protest against Islam, and not a real conversion. The seminary student from this nationality is serving among this group at great personal risk and cost. But he’s passionate about mission. And he’s committed to healing and reconciliation among people from his country.

These stories show us where God is forming new and life-giving approaches to urban spirituality and theology. These are hope-filled and hopeful stories. They are Christian spirituality and theology practiced in a new urban world.

4. Prophetic

In a new urban world, Christian spirituality and theology need to be prophetic.

By prophetic, I mean that Christian spirituality and theology must speak into a range of issues in church and society. Here’s some examples of the issues Christian spirituality and theology must speak into:

Dichotomies in the Church

The presence of dichotomies in the church. (E.g. evangelism vs. social action, conservative vs. emerging forms of theology, and so forth). These dichotomies are often artificial, divisive, and unhelpful.

Dualistic, Fragmented, Disembodied, Excarnational Approaches to Spirituality and Theology

I’m concerned about the scarcity of resources enabling holistic approaches to evangelism, ministry, theologizing, and spirituality (especially as developed among the urban poor). Theology is fragmented into disciplines: systematic, biblical, historical, missional, applied, pastoral, etc. And, as Karina Kreminski says, Christian spirituality is often dualistic, disembodied, pious, other-worldly, self-actualized, withdrawn, excarnational, upwardly-mobile, and individualistic. We need to move from a world-denying to a world-engaging and world-forming faith.

Christian spirituality and theology—if it is going to be adequate to new urban environments—needs to challenge the fragmentation of theological discourse, and the failure to integrate intellect, ministry competencies, and spiritual passion.

Christian spirituality and theology in the West is often dualistic. Sacred is separated from secular. Body is separated from spirit. Individual is separated from communal. Event is separated from process. Evangelism is separated from social action. Public is separated from private. Objective is separated from subjective.

But, as Christians, we must seek integrative spiritual formation. We must break down these divisions. We do this by nurturing a discipleship that’s holistic and integrative. What do we integrate? Mission and discipleship. Rejoicing and suffering. Body and spirit. Prayer and political holiness. Evangelism and social action. Bible and Spirit. Worship and liberating action. Contemplation and selfless service. Theology and prayer. And that’s just the start.

Dominance of Western Ideas & Practices

Western forms of theology and spirituality dominate. Voices from the Majority World and indigenous settings are neglected. As C. René Padilla says, “A xeroxed copy of a theology made in Europe or North America can never satisfy the theological needs of the Church in the Third World. Now that the Church has become a world community, the time has come for it to manifest the universality of the Gospel in terms of a theology that is not bound by a particular culture but shows the many-sided wisdom of God.”[8]

Such theology is often written from a Western, middle-class, suburban, rural, or monastic perspective. Such spiritual theologies — and resources in spiritual formation — are inadequate for urban missionaries. Often, they don’t help those serving among the urban poor in densely populated cities.

Superficial Contextualization

There are too many superficial attempts at contextualization of theology and spirituality in new urban environments.

Again, C. René Padilla writes: “The contextualization of the Gospel can never take place apart from the contextualization of the Church… The truly indigenous Church is the one that through death and resurrection with Christ embodies the Gospel within its own culture. It adopts a way of being, thinking, and acting in which its own cultural patterns are transformed and fulfilled by the Gospel. In a sense, it is the cultural embodiment of Christ formed within a given culture. The task of the Church is not the extension of a culture of Christianity throughout the world, but the incarnation of the Gospel in each culture…

“The contextualization of the Gospel will not consist of an adaptation of an existing theology to a given culture. It will not be merely the result of an intellectual process. It will not be aided by a benevolent missionary paternalism intended to help the young church to select those cultural elements that can be regarded as positive. The contextualization of the Gospel can only be a gift of grace granted by God to a church that is seeking to place the totality of life under the lordship of Christ in its historical situation. More than a wonder of nature, the incarnation is a wonder of grace.”[9]

Speaking into Global Issues

Our spirituality and theology must address pressing global issues.

These include gender, aid and development, marginality, poverty, pluralism, undocumented immigrants, Muslim-Christian relations, politics, economic rationalism, public theology, witness in a digital age, arms control, the gun culture in the US, “black lives matter”, fair trade, free trade, GM food, G8 politics, human population, conflicts in the Middle East, creation care, terrorism, educational inequalities, domestic violence, nationalism, justice, Palestine/Israel, reconciliation, Third World debt, human trafficking and slavery, child soldiers, same-sex relationships, world hunger, consumerism, globalization, and more.

5. Questioning & Experimental

In a new urban world, Christian spirituality and theology need to be questioning and experimental.

The church faces many challenges in a new urban world. Unquestioning spirituality and theology has no future in that environment. We need to probe, question, and enquire. And we need to do that in an environment of experimentation, innovation, and pioneering. We need churches that encourage people to develop robust forms of personally owned theology and spirituality. These are only forged as people are encouraged to think for themselves, and to question to shape and future of Christian spirituality, theology, mission, faith, ministry, worship, and discipleship. And robust forms are also only forged in an environment where questioning and experimentation are combined.

Here are some questions that emerge for spirituality and theology in a new urban world, and that demand experimentation and innovation:

When we talk about an “urban world”, do we mean the poor, marginalized, and exploited, or do we mean all those living in urban settings? And how does this affect our theology and spirituality? Do theology and spirituality look different for different groups living in urban settings?

How does Christian theology and spirituality need to be re-missionalized, and reshaped for specific, local urban settings?

How does Reformed theology need to be truly reformed for urban settings?

How does Pentecostal and Charismatic theology need to truly see the breadth of the work and power of the Holy Spirit in urban settings?

How do evangelical, charismatic, activist, mystical, holiness, contemplative, and missional theologies and spiritualities need to be reimagined and integrated for a new urban world?

What’s the point of Christian theologies and spiritualities specific to an urban world? And how do we pursue and practice Christian theologies and spiritualities specific to urban environments?

How do Christians put Christian spirituality and other spiritualities into conversation?

How do Christians lead with the Spirit cross-culturally?

What should be the role of a privileged Western person in a developing community? How can such a person join in the shaping of indigenous Christian spiritualities and theologies?

How can theology be multi-voiced and multi-peopled?

How can we know Jesus more deeply when serving with the urban poor, middle-class, and rich? How can we express this relationship through our spirituality and theology?

How are theology and spirituality enhanced through food, laughter, tears, celebration, rituals, and community development in a new urban world?

What does spiritual formation look like in an urban world and among the urban poor, middle-class, and rich? Much of the literature on spiritual formation suggests a quiet and tranquil setting. But the settings urban missionaries serve in are densely populated. And people have little free time and personal space. What do rest, peace, and spirituality look like in noisy, busy, mega-cities and slum settings?

How do theology and spirituality change in the context of urban mission and service? How do they grow, mature, and deepen?

How do we find rest and stillness in the city (stillness in the midst of cacophony and frenetic activity)?

How does the urban church connect urban theology, urban mission, and urban spirituality?

What does it mean for the urban church to move from invitation (evangelism and social concern) to hospitality (discipleship and welcome) to embrace (reconciliation and community)?

What processes facilitate the growth of theology and spirituality relevant to particular urban communities?

What is the meaning of the incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection in the context of urban poverty and affluence?

What do theology and spirituality look like when they are relevant to specific communities and contexts?

What does spiritual warfare look like in urban settings, slum communities, and among the poor and marginalized? How about among the wealthy and powerful?

How do we create a spirituality that sustains and inspires not just “expats” — that is, not just a small, foreign, Christian group living among the poor — but everyone in that context?

How do spirituality and theology connect with the reason we do what we do among urban people?

What does it mean to be a part of a kingdom of peace and non-violence? And to be witnesses of the now-but-not-yet of the kingdom of God? How does this shape Christian theology and spirituality?

What does it mean to formulate theology and spirituality in urban practices?

What aspects of spirituality and theology does our mission within urban settings illuminate?

How can we embody faithful theological practices that deepen our spirituality? And what can we do to make this possible in our communities?

As we live and serve among the urban poor, how can we live between grief and hope, between exhaustion and renewal, between isolation and community, between the present realities and the coming kingdom?

How do we live out and live in the kingdom of God in a new urban world?

These are just some of the questions that a new urban world raises for Christian spirituality and theology. The church will enrich its theology and spiritual vitality as it explores these questions through local-global conversations.

6. Christ-centered & Trinitarian

In a new urban world, Christian spirituality and theology need to be Christ-centered (Christocentric) & Trinitarian.

Christian spirituality and theology—if it is truly Christian—is both Christocentric and trinitarian. Such spirituality and theology grows through discipleship to Jesus Christ. It’s living in and for the kingdom of God, with the people of God, in communion with God the Son, by the power of God the Spirit, in the will of the Father. It’s living the resurrection life and its personal and community transformation and restoration.

Christian spirituality is radical communion and union with Father and Son and Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowers Christian spirituality. He enables us to be disciples of Jesus Christ for the glory of God the Father. Christian spirituality is a lived experience of faith in Jesus Christ. We develop it through relationship with others and union with the triune God.

7. Spirit-Empowered

In a new urban world, Christian spirituality and theology need to be Spirit-empowered.

Wherever Christian spirituality and theology are at their most vibrant, people are depending on the power, presence, and provision of the Holy Spirit. Urban mission demands a missional pneumatology and a pneumatological mission. 

Spirit-empowered discipleship, spirituality, theology, and mission pursues holy indignation, self-sacrificial action, and political holiness. It desires the gifts and fruit of the Spirit. Spirit-filled discipleship shows solidarity with the poor and powerless. It cultivates crucified and risen minds. It receives the power and presence and provision of the Spirit. It’s holy and loving and righteous. It joins in the missio Dei. And it witnesses to the gospel through its spiritual and theological witness, in word and action and presence.

8. Contextualized

In a new urban world, Christian spirituality and theology need to be contextualized.

Much has been written about developing local, particular, contextual forms of Christian spirituality and theology. In then end, all theology and spirituality is local. Reliance on excarnational, imported, pre-packaged, “foreign” forms of spirituality and theology will never help us meet the challenges and opportunities of new urban environments.

Sure, we need glocal conversations: The local is always in the global, and the global is always in the local. But we must privilege and prioritize local, contextual forms of Christian spirituality and theology.

As Christians, we must examine how our culture has shaped our spirituality and theology, and vice versa. For example, when you consider Christian approaches to money, sex, work, and family, how much of your conclusions are formed by Scripture or by your culture? When you build a theology of family and marriage, how much of that is shaped by your context? Our spiritual life cannot flourish without a critical engagement with culture and context, and their influence on our spirituality and theology.

Part of that critical process is putting our expressions of faith into conversation with other forms of Christian theology and spirituality from other cultures. This shows us how culture influences our faith (positively and negatively), and how our faith can embrace fresh expressions.

9. Community-Oriented

In a new urban world, Christian spirituality and theology need to be community-oriented.

Christian spirituality and theology is a collective adventure. It’s trinitarian. We must relinquish spiritual individualism and pursue spirituality in community.

This is one of the reasons why our spirituality and theology must be grounded in Scripture and the traditions of the church. As we engage with these, we are engaging in a community of faith that spans many thousands of years.

Individualism distorts much Western spirituality and theology. But these cannot occur outside of communion with others and with God.

The Trinity is perfect community.[10] By grace, the Father and Son and Spirit invite the church into that community. The church participates in the fellowship and mission of the Trinity. As we engage in communion and mission with the Trinity and the church, we become disciples. Theology and spirituality is a community affair. “The following of Jesus is not, purely or primarily, an individual matter but a collective adventure. The journey of the people of God is set in motion by a direct encounter with the Lord but an encounter in community: ‘We have found the Messiah.’”[11] Together we develop as disciples, and form Christian theologies and spiritualities for new urban environments.

10. Grounded in Scripture

In a new urban world, Christian spirituality and theology need to be grounded in Scripture.

Our theology and spirituality needs to be grounded in, and measured by, the commands, witness, and revelation of Scripture. The Scriptures are the infallible, authoritative Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit. They have absolute and final authority in all aspects of corporate and individual faith, ethics, conduct, and witness. We don’t worship Scripture: We worship Christ. But we do soak ourselves in his Word, and allow it to shape our Christian spirituality and theology in new urban environments.

11. Joyful in Suffering

In a new urban world, Christian spirituality and theology need to be joyful in suffering.

A recent Pew Research Forum report showed, “More than 2.2 billion people—nearly a third (32%) of the world’s total population of 6.9 billion—live in countries where either government restrictions on religion or social hostilities involving religion rose substantially over the three-year period studied [mid 2006 to mid 2009].” Christians are persecuted in 131 countries. It is hard to get an exact figure but close to 100,000 Christians are martyred every year.[12]

Discipleship comes at a cost. As Leonardo and Clodovis Boff remind us, Christians often suffer because of their solidarity with the suffering and oppressed and silenced. Christian spirituality and discipleship is forged in suffering. Ajith Fernando says, “If the Apostle Paul knew fatigue, anger, and anxiety in his ministry, what makes us think we can avoid them in ours?”[13]

Rene Padilla links discipleship and mission and suffering. “Christian mission and Christian discipleship are two sides of the same coin. Both derive their meaning from Jesus, the crucified Messiah, who even as Lord remains crucified. The Christian mission is the mission of those who have identified themselves with the Crucified and are willing to follow him to the cross. Mission is suffering.”[14]

Jesus reminds us that he is present with us in suffering. And he gives us his joy in our suffering.

12. Pioneering

In a new urban world, Christian spirituality and theology need to be pioneering. 

When we think about Christian theology and spirituality, we rarely associated these things with a pioneering spirit. We think of church planters, large church pastors, entrepreneurs, apostles, and evangelists as pioneers. But we rarely consider theology and spirituality to be the domain of the pioneering spirit.

But that time has passed. The hour is urgent. The old ways no longer serve the church or the world well. The time for sitting on our hands has passed. We must pioneer. New urban environments pose fresh opportunities and challenges for Christian spirituality and theology.

[bctt tweet=”New urban environments demand pioneering forms of Christian spirituality & theology” username=”GrahamJGHill”]

So, how can we get proactive, and pioneer new practices and habits that enhance urban Christian spirituality and theology?

The Christian church—and especially the urban church—needs to do the following over the next decade:

  1. Explore fresh ways to nurture urban Christian spiritualities and theologies. We need ones that sustain, challenge, and inspire those living and working among the urban poor, and among urban people more generally. Urban missionaries need spiritual and theological resources. They need help to express the kingdom of God in their communities, and draw people into the ways of the kingdom.
  1. Discover ways in which a lifestyle of peace enhances spirituality, theology, and mission in a new urban world. A peace-filled Christian lifestyle is less frenetic and “blindly active”.
  1. Gather examples of ways that those working and living among urban people express Christian spiritual practices and disciplines. Learn from these examples. Develop resources and tools that sustain urban mission, urban communities, and urban faith.
  1. Expand our ideas and practices of prayer in urban contexts. Appreciate how prayer is practiced among and with the poorest of the poor, in some of the largest and most densely populated cities of the world. Appreciate how urban forms of prayer can empower us for mission among the urban rich also.
  1. Investigate practical and rigorous answers to the questions our ISUM Working Group proposed above. (See “In a New Urban World, Christian Spirituality and Theology is Questioning.”). Don’t just come up with theoretical answers. Pursue local and concrete practices and responses.
  1. Support the church to fulfill her urban mission and the missional mandate God has given her in the world. Seek to be a Bride without blemish. Such a church puts faith and love into action. It witnesses to the kingdom of God on earth. And it does this through liberating forms of urban mission, theology, and faith.
  1. Facilitate Christian spirituality that emerges within built environments — cultures, poverty, buildings, smells, noise, connections, etc. Discern where God is at work there.
  1. Discover how poverty, difficulties, and challenges provide opportunities for connections, mission, and justice. Trials and troubles often bring people together — the Spirit is present and working.
  1. Find ways to be agents of peace, justice, hope, and reconciliation in urban settings. Witness to the kingdom of God amidst the brokenness, injustices, and woundedness of cities.
  1. Understand that love is better than mere theories, theologies, or strategies. Genuine love is better than “best practices”. Let this truth permeate the urban church’s spirituality, mission, and theology.
  1. Foster a lifestyle of invitation, hospitality, and embrace (even of enemies and persecutors).
  1. Cultivate habits of quietness and stillness (internal and external). Do this through personal and communal spirituality. And do this in the midst of the noise, busyness, and chaotic natures of large urban centers.
  1. Nurture capacities for celebration, lament, liberation, and meaning-making in urban settings. Such practices can enrich both churches and their local communities.
  1. Explore ways to make Jesus infectious in diverse, pluralistic, and sometimes hostile environments.
  1. Develop a deeper theology of the kingdom and an associated kingdom-oriented Christian spirituality. Ask, “What does it mean to be a part of a kingdom of peace, hope, reconciliation, justice, love, and non-violence?” And, “How can the urban church witness to the now-but-not-yet of the kingdom of God?”
  1. Celebrate being in diverse and urban contexts. Form Christian spiritualities and theologies characterized by peace-making, truth-telling, and justice-bringing, but also by celebration. Celebrate a wide range of things, such as those that follow. (1) In slum areas there’s hardship, poverty, and suffering. But there’s also community, love, and joy. (2) We can celebrate the food, languages, relationships, innovations, and cultures in urban settings. (3) The urban context is often invigorating. It brings energy. And it can make us aware of God, life, humanity, redemption, and personal and communal transformation. (4) We can celebrate how urban and diverse contexts enlarge our faith, spirituality, and theology. If we let them, they can inspire the church to be truly ecumenical, multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-peopled, and multi-voiced. There are so many things we can celebrate about being in new urban settings. (And we celebrate while striving to be agents of peace, healing, and change where there is sin and brokenness.)
  1. Develop a theology and spirituality of missional engagement. This sustains urban faith, discipleship, obedience, community, and mission amidst suffering, struggle, liberation, and celebration.

Orlando E. Costas writes, “To take head on oppressive structures like consumerism, technology, militarism, multinational capitalism, international communism, racism, and sexism, we need a spirituality of missional engagement: a devotional attitude, a personal ethic, a continuous liturgical experience that flows out of and expresses itself in apostolic obedience. Prayer, Bible study, personal ethics, and worship will not mean withdrawal from the world but immersion in its suffering and struggles. Likewise, participation in the struggles of history will not mean an abandonment of piety and contemplation, but an experience of God from the depths of human suffering.

Mission without spirituality cannot survive any more than combustion without oxygen. The nature of the world in which we live and the gospel that we have been committed to communicate therein demand, however, that it be a spirituality of engagement not of withdrawal. Such a spirituality can only be cultivated in obedience and discipleship, and not in the isolated comfort of one’s inner self. By the same token, it can only be verified in the liberating struggles against the principalities and powers that hold so many millions in bondage.”[15]


Barrett, Frank J. “Organizational Dynamics: Creating Appreciative Learning Cultures.” American Management Association (1995).

Branson, Mark Lau. Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change. Herndon, VA: Alban, 2004.

Brown, Juanita, and David Isaacs. The World Café: Shaping Our Futures through Conversations That Matter. 1st Ed. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2005.

Costas, Orlando E. Christ outside the Gate: Mission beyond Christendom. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1982.

Jenkins, Philip. The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. 3rd Ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Ott, Craig, and Harold A. Netland. Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.

Padilla, C. René. “The Contextualization of the Gospel.” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, no. 24 (1978).

Tizon, Al. Transformation after Lausanne: Radical Evangelical Mission in Global-Local Perspective. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2008.

Watkins, Jane Magruder, and Bernard J. Mohr. Appreciative Inquiry: Change at the Speed of Imagination. Practicing Organization Development Series. 2nd Ed. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer, 2011.

Whitney, Diana Kaplin, and Amanda Trosten-Bloom. The Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive Change. 1st Ed. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2003.


This is a modified version of material that I’ve published in these 2 books:

Graham Hill. “Shaping Christian Spirituality and Theology for a New Urban World”, in Graham Hill (Editor), Signs of Hope in the City: Renewing Urban Mission, Embracing Radical Hope. (ISUM: 2015).

Graham Hill. “Developing Spirituality and Discipleship”, in Graham Hill, GlobalChurch: Reshaping Our Conversations, Renewing Our Mission, Revitalizing Our Churches. (IVP Academic, 2016).

Graham Hill

Dr Graham Hill is the Founding Director of The GlobalChurch Project – www.theglobalchurchproject.com. He’s the author of “GlobalChurch: Reshaping Our Conversations, Renewing Our Mission, Revitalizing Our Churches” (IVP, 2016), and 3 other books.

© 2016 All rights reserved.
Copying and republishing this article on other Web sites, or in any other place, without written permission is prohibited.


[1] Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 1.

[2] Craig Ott and Harold A. Netland, Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 30.

[3] Al Tizon, Transformation after Lausanne: Radical Evangelical Mission in Global-Local Perspective (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2008), 207.

[4] Charles Ringma in a lecture at Morling College (March 2016).

[5] Michael Downey, The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality (Michael Glazier, 1993), 51–52.

[6] Tite Tienou and Paul G. Hiebert. “Missional Theology.” Mission Focus: Annual Review. Volume 10, 2002.

[7] David J. Bosch, A Spirituality of the Road, Missionary Studies (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1979). 13–14.

[8] C. René Padilla, “The Contextualization of the Gospel,” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, no. 24 (1978), 28.

[9] Ibid. 28–30.

[10] Boff, Holy Trinity, Perfect Community.

[11] Gustavo Gutiérrez, We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1984). 42.

[12] PewResearch, “Rising Restrictions on Religion: One-Third of the World’s Population Experiences an Increase,” Pew research Religion and Public Life Project(2011), <http://www.pewforum.org/2011/08/09/rising-restrictions-on-religion2/>.

[13] Ajith Fernando, “To Serve Is to Suffer: If the Apostle Paul Knew Fatigue, Anger, and Anxiety in His Ministry, What Makes Us Think We Can Avoid Them in Ours?,” Christianity Today 54, no. 8 (2010). 31.

[14] C. René Padilla, “Bible Studies,” Missiology 10, no. 3 (1982). 338.

[15] Orlando E. Costas, Christ outside the Gate: Mission beyond Christendom (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1982), 171–72. Italics added for emphasis.

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Graham Joseph Hill

Rev. Dr. Graham Joseph Hill OAM serves as Mission Catalyst for Church Planting and Missional Renewal with the Uniting Church in NSW and ACT, Australia. Previously, he was the Principal of Stirling Theological College (Melbourne), the Vice-Principal of Morling Theological College (Sydney), and an Associate Professor at the University of Divinity, Australia. Graham is an ordained and accredited minister with the Baptist Churches of Australia. Graham received the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2024 for “service to theological education and to the Baptist Churches of Australia.” He has planted and pastored churches and been in ministry since 1988. Graham is the author or editor of 15 books. Graham writes at grahamjosephhill.com

Graham's qualifications include: OAM, Honours Diploma of Ministry (SCD), Bachelor of Theology (SCD), Master of Theology (Notre Dame), and Doctor of Philosophy (Flinders).

See ORCID publication record: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6532-8248


© 2024. All rights reserved by Graham Joseph Hill. Copying and republishing this article on other Web sites, or in any other place, without written permission is prohibited.

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