Tackling the Urban Challenge

One of the last major frontiers of world mission is the city! The majority of the world’s population live in cities, and the proportion is increasing.

Cities are extremely complex, and need to be approached differently from relatively simple rural contexts.

David Broodryk and the Two Four Eight team have done a great job helping us put language to the challenges and complexities we’ve been hitting in urban environments over the last couple of decades.

In this post I want to dig into three terms we have found particularly helpful: affinity, champion, and catalyst.

What’s an Affinity?

“Affinity” is a helpful way to break down the complexity of cities.

A rural approach usually focuses on geography (“suburbs” or “estates”) or kinship lines (ethnicity, language groups). But that often breaks down in urban contexts where relationships don’t necessarily flow with geography or blood relations.

“Affinity” is the glue that brings people together in cities where they may not even know their neighbours, and may not connect closely with their families.

“Affinity” usually forms around shared interests, causes or brokenness. People connect and communicate with others they share affinity with. Affinity points us to the things a particular group hold in common, and potentially allows us to serve a larger group in a more focussed way.

What’s a Champion?

A “Champion” is someone with a God-given burden for an affinity group in their city or community.

They can see the struggles and brokenness of this affinity – they may have been or currently are a member of it – and want to be part of the solution. They are actively moving towards the brokenness and the lostness to be part of the solution.

Champions feel a responsibility to be part of healing the practical brokenness experienced by their affinity.

As a natural extension of this they also serve those who are spiritually hungry. They help hungry people discover and listen to God for themselves through the Bible, and support them in their spiritual growth in a way that empowers them to serve others in the same way. This is discipleship.

Champions are aware that the solution has to be way bigger than just themselves and they actively bring others in to contribute. They raise a flag for the affinity God has called them to and rally people to the cause. They build a team around God’s vision for the affinity.

Together the team seeks God for His plans, intercedes for the affinity, serves brokenness and spiritual hunger, helping people of peace lead those around them into discovering and responding to God.

What’s a Catalyst?

A “catalyst” is a champion who is carrying a God-given burden for a more complex environment – it could be a city, or a sector of the economy or a region.

To work towards the vision God has given them, a catalyst needs to find the Champions God is raising up in their harvest field and do whatever they can to serve and empower them.

Why is this important?

“Affinity”, “Champion” and “Catalyst” are helpful in at least two ways.

Firstly, they give us a way to break the complexity of a city down into manageable ‘pieces’ as we consider God’s desire and end vision for our cities.

Secondly, they give disciple-makers language to help them express what God has put on their hearts. In a sense, it provides a vocabulary for the apostolic – those whom God is calling or sending to various groups within a city – and clearly defined roles that help them start (or continue) moving towards what is on their hearts.

The terms are not found in Scripture, and they are not intended to restrict or limit how God may lead, but many people have found them helpful in giving some shape and direction to what they sense God stirring in their hearts.

What about you?

What resonates for you? Do you identify with the champion or catalyst role?

What affinities are you a member of? Has God given you a burden for any particular affinity in your city?

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