By Juliet Kilpin
Posted by Darren Cronshaw

More people are moving into cities every year, but churches are often moving out. 2008 was the first time in history when more people lived in cities than not. The need for rethinking a theology of urban mission and reprioritising mission in cities, especially in inner-urban and inner-city areas, is more urgent than ever. I’m a pastor in an inner-suburban context, and work as a Mission Catalyst with a denomination that is eager to promote pioneering church planting and congregational revitalisation in inner-city areas, so I am always eager for fresh inspiration and welcomed Juliet Kilpin’s book.

Kilpin has been working with Urban Expression since its beginning in 1997. In Urban to the Core she discusses Urban Expression’s core values and some of their stories and prayers. Urban Expression challenges Christians to relocate into marginalised city areas for mission. 100 members in 20 teams in Britain, and others in Europe and USA, have committed usually three years or more to neighbourhood mission. They are rethinking their whole approach to church planting in ways that are more incarnational and committed essentially to community development. They have adopted 21 core values and 7 commitments that guide their work. For example, they value working on the margins, fostering shalom, working ecumenically, really being at home in their new locations, prioritising relationships as life-giving and mutual, and seeing God’s grace in everyone. Kilpin has collected dozens of stories to illustrate how the different teams live out these values and commitments. Team members share their experiences of nurturing witness and faith communities in diverse contexts – relating to sometimes difficult and complex people, responding to drugs and violence, starting and closing ministries, teaching parenting courses, getting back to the basics of church and seeking to practice “triple listening” – to God, their teams and their neighbourhoods.

I especially appreciated Urban Expression’s commitment to catalysing creativity and change in their neighbourhoods, through empowering local people. For example, Jim Kilpin worked hard with Shadwell neighbours and groups to restore a playground. It was a shared project with two important results – play space for children, and new community partnerships as different people and groups worked together.

The book offers inspiring insights into the sometimes fruitful and often challenging experience of urban mission. It is ideal reading for anyone interested in cross-cultural mission and fresh expressions of church planting in Western cities.

A highlight of the book for me, that I have been using, are Sian Murray-William’s prayers that accompany each section. For example:

Lord your surprise us in so many ways!
A smile from a person we hadn’t even noticed;
A flower defying the ugliness around it;
A laugh heard from an open window;
The scent of a curry floating down the road;
The glory of a sunset lighting up the flats.
You are God!

You care for each person living here.
You love us overwhelmingly
and passionately.

You have invited us to be your people
of salt and light
and smiles and beauty
and joy and fragrance
a people who reflect your glory.

And you have invited us to work together with people like
us and people not like us.
Lord, show us what your
kingdom-shaped communities
can look like here;
encourage us in the building of them, and lead us into
deeper ways
of faithful and risky living.

URBAN TO THE CORE: MOTIVES FOR INCARNATIONAL MISSION, by Juliet Kilpin (Kibworth Beauchamp: Matador, 2013). This review was originally published in New Urban World journal (2015).