Newbigin School for Urban Leadership (CIC) is a seed-bed for urban change, raising- up more compassionate, innovative and resilient Christian leaders for our new urban world. The world has rapidly changed and is challenging the very nature of Christian faith as we know it. A fundamental transition with significant implications for Christian discipleship is how and where humans live together. In 1800 only 3% of people lived in cities, but now more than half of all humans live in urban areas with over one third facing severe urban poverty. With over 70% of people predicted to be urbanites by 2050, the increased disparity, diversity and density of living will leave no person, place or culture untouched.
Areas of urban deprivation and poverty are especially complex places to make a long-term impact, but they are some of the most critical frontline contexts for Christian leaders today. A resilient, compassionate and thoughtful theology and spirituality as well as innovative skills and frameworks are needed if faithful, effective and sustainable responses are to be found.
To cultivate a seedbed for urban change,
raising-up more resilient, compassionate and innovative urban leaders,
able to shape our new urban world from the ground up.
Newbigin School for Urban Leadership is based in Winson Green, Birmingham, UK. This multiracial, inner city neighbourhood is where some of the first urban industrialized neighbourhoods began over two hundred years ago. It was the seedbed for the industrial revolution, where the first steam engines and modern factories where developed, but is now a place needing urgent renewal and re-imagination. Perhaps best known for the 1400 prisoners incarcerated in HMP Birmingham and the controversial Channel 4 documentary series ‘Benefits Street’, Winson Green provides an important, live context for honest personal growth and urban engagement.
Winson Green is also where Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998) served as a Minister in the 1980s after he returned from thirty years of Christian service in India. Mission historian Wilbert Shenk described Lesslie Newbigin as “one of the decisive influences on the theology of mission in the twentieth century.” Geoffrey Wainwright, Newbigin’s authoritative biographer, considers him comparable to the early Church Fathers by nature of his heart and mind, pastoral work, ecumenical endeavour, missionary strategy, social vision, the comprehensiveness of his ministry, and his sheer stature as a man of God. While in Winson Green, Newbigin wrote such influential books as ‘Gospel in a Pluralist Society’, ‘The Open Secret’ and ‘Foolishness to the Greeks’. A man before his time, he articulated the tough urban questions and dedicated his life to finding and living the answers in both Majority and Western World urban contexts. It is hoped that Newbigin’s life and insights will inspire a new generation of Christian workers able to respond to growing urban injustices in our day and to help see abundant community cultivated from the ground up around the world. The Newbigin family gave special permission for Newbigin House and Newbigin School for Urban Leadership to be named in honour of Lesslie Newbigin.
The Founding Director of Newbigin School for Urban Leadership is Rev Dr Ash Barker. After 25 years as immersed urban Christian activists and leaders based in Melbourne and in Bangkok’s largest slums, they sensed a call to Winson Green to be immersed again in a front line urban neighbourhood and focus on investing in a new generation of urban leaders. Since its beginnings in late 2014, the Barkers’ hard won insights and approaches have informed and inspired the Newbigin School.
What makes a long-term difference in urban people and places? We have found that where urban leaders and their communities grow in their capacity for more compassionate, resilient and innovative urban leadership then a momentum for change becomes unstoppable. Miss any three for long and change can quickly dissipate.
- By compassion we mean leaders channeling God’s tenderness, fidelity and solidarity in ways that informs the long term well being of their people, teams, missions and organizations.
- By resilience we mean leaders rising-up after disappointments, finding deeper authenticity, responsibility and growth from these experiences.
- By innovative we mean leaders finding relevant, practical, even surprising responses to new challenges and opportunities.
If we can raise up enough diverse urban leaders who can grow in these capacities, then the new urban world we are facing can be influenced.
We Have Three Aims…..
Cultivating Urban Seedbeds
The best way to bring about urban change is to empower local people in their local context to come up with local solutions that work and link with others. Mostly new kinds of urban engagement is caught more than taught. That is why the Newbigin School is based in Newbigin House (a residential community of hospitality and welcome) as well as partnering with Newbigin Community Trust (a local charity seeking the long-term renewal of Handsworth and Winson Green) and Bishop Latimer Parish Church (Lesslie Newbigin’s former church, that is a Local Ecumenical Partnership between CofE and URC). This way Newbigin School can help find ways to invest in urban leaders and cultivate a community context for sharing urban life and discipleship together. There is also a hope to take up invitations and invest in ‘seed beds’ beyond Winson Green too.
Raising-up Urban Leaders
We raise-up diverse steams of urban leaders who can make a difference in their sphere of influence. It takes people to reach people and communities to reach communities. We especially focus on mobilising, forming and equipping three types of strategic urban leaders:
‘Relocators’ who can pioneer new urban initiatives in places they are not originally from.
‘Remainers’ who stay in the urban neighbourhoods they grew up in for the sake of seeing urban shalom.
‘Returners’ who leave the neighbourhood they are from to gain skills, confidences, but then return to seek urban shalom.
We help identify and develop these urban leaders through various specialised programs, courses and activities. Much of this is based at Newbigin House, but opportunities are also taken up where invitations come. Some of the ways we do this is through Urban Change Makers, immersion courses and accredited MA and PhD programmes with Nazarene Theological College (University of Manchester) .
Shaping Our New Urban World
We influence our new urban world through leadership development, but also though connecting together Christians for solidarity, advocacy and praxis. If we join with others we can find better ways to change the climate of opinion, tackle injustice and make urban shalom more possible in our world. A key way we do this is working through Urban Shalom Society and Red Letter Christians.
Just gaining more information will not be enough to see real urban change from the ground up. We believe Christian faith can make a difference in urban contexts, but that Christian leadership is first and foremost an expression of Christian discipleship. Creating lived experiences of Christian discipleship, therefore, is crucial in inspiring, informing and empowering urban Christian leadership. We especially seek to create opportunities for these invitations:
> Embrace: God is Compassion and embraces us unconditionally. Therefore we can be immersed with the lives of our neighbours, seeking to welcome, embrace and to be embraced, taking an incarnational approach to community transformation.
> Encounter: To truly love another person is to see the face of God. The Risen Jesus is a living person, and to encounter Jesus is especially possible when we are in personal solidarity with ‘the least of these’, that is, those who are suffering hunger, prison, sickness, broken heartedness or oppression.
> Engagement: God’s vision for our world is for an intimate harmony between God, people and the earth. When we fully engage with God in us, our neighbours and neighbourhood in the power of the Spirit we can see a local sign of ‘what is to come’ in the whole cosmos.
> Exploration: To see change we need to find fresh insights. When we explore what is happening around us and in us through the cycle of committed action and thoughtful reflection with others and the Bible we can become more alive to what God is doing and better able to join in.
We seek to create learning environments where these four invitations can inspire and inform all who join with us.