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Holistic and Locally Present Engagement: A Long-Term Analysis

The work of community engagement and organizing has become a crucial skill for church planting teams. During the pandemic, church leaders were faced with not only asking how their churches were doing but also how their communities were doing.
Now to consider the theme of Holistic and Locally Present Engagement in the Long-Term, let’s begin with context, and I will use mine.
In spite of the strict conditions that the provincial government imposed on March 13th, Montréal and Québec have an incredibly high number of COVID-19 cases (as of this morning 53,341 – 63% of the Canadian total) and tragic deaths (64% of Canadian total). Montreal is Canada’s hot spot. 1,253 cases per 100,000 people. After an earlier Spring break than the rest of Canada and our close ties to Florida, New York, and France the numbers grew rapidly. Montreal, with about 5% of Canada’s population, has over 40% of the country’s deaths. As I say, “We became a petri dish!” Tragically, 80% of those deaths have been in long term seniors’ residences. Québec has three times more people placed in those facilities than for example Ontario.
Missiology is the exegetical, theological, and cultural study about the mission of God in the world and the ensuing ministries of the church. For that reason, it is often defined as an interdisciplinary field of reflection and action. It is inter-disciplinary because it takes into account cultural studies, holistic community transformational development theory and practice, a critique of the past, contextualization, and strategies that move the people of God in their local situation forward.
When we shape this discussion contextually and pursue this reflection for a city/region, we are seeking to relate both urban geography and mission. The former analyzes the reasons for the spatial differences of human activity in urban areas. In missiology, we seek a more adequate understanding of the apostolic mission of the Church while remaining faithful to the exegetical task of understanding the mind of the biblical writer. But this “fusion of horizons” is full of potholes (an intentional metaphor for our North American cities). The biggest pothole of all right now is this invisible virus.
To go to our specific issue Holistic and Locally Present Engagement in the Long-Term. Here are two specific things that I think I sense God is saying to the church with three applications: Pandemics are about public health, not individual health. One can only grasp what is happening and why it is happening if we grasp how social systems work. COVID–19 means we must be better students of social systems as followers of Jesus in our ecclesial communities.
This confinement should also remind us all that we need to get our structures right when things are going “well” so that in a time of turbulence, we can adapt quickly. Few may have seen COVID-19 coming, but attention to church health and disciple-making during all seasons helps us thrive when changes come rapidly.
There are three points of application that naturally follow. First, the church is moving toward small, missional communities. These groups are nimble and take seriously the embodiment of the gospel in their community. Second, the church needs to take its local borough much more seriously. The church needs to become increasingly local. Finally, we need to have a grasp of what God is doing all the time and join Him in that work without a hyper-focus on Sunday-centric ministry models. COVID-19 gives us a unique chance to see God in the everyday rhythms of our lives.
Check out this video for more from Glenn on this subject.

Glenn Smith

Glenn has been the Executive Director of Christian Direction in Montreal since 1983—a multi-faceted ministry committed to the spiritual transformation by Jesus Christ of all of life in the cities of the Francophone world. He is a professor of urban theology and missiology at the Institut de théologie pour la francophonie and at the Université chrétienne du Nord d'Haïti. He is a sessional lecturer at McGill University. He also is a professor at Bakke Graduate University. He and his family have been involved in pastoral ministry with an Anabaptist Francophone congregation in Montreal, Quebec for 20 years.

He is co-author of three books: Espoir pour la ville; Dieu dans la cité, Éduquer les enfants: une vision protestante de l'éducation and L'histoire du protestantisme au Québec depuis 1960 and the editor of The Gospel and Urbanization, a 250 page reader that is into its 5th edition in French and English on urban ministry. He also wrote the book, Following Jesus: God invites us to transformative discipleship, which was published in English, French and Spanish. He edited Towards the transformation of our city/regions in the LCWE Occasional papers series. His forth-coming book is entitled City Air Makes You Free: Transforming the city through a fresh, biblical hermeneutic. He is the author of numerous articles on urban mission.

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