Home to one of the country’s larger refugee populations and dozens of city-minded churches, St. Louis has become a testing ground for urban ministry. And Covenant Theological Seminary is in the midst of harnessing this knowledge to better equip future pastors.
Led by Dr. Greg Perry, associate professor of New Testament, Covenant’s City Ministry Initiative is a multipart practicum taught by Covenant professors and urban-ministry practitioners, as well as opportunities for students to pursue internships in contexts such as outreach efforts to refugees and after-school mentoring programs.
“Our posture is that we have a lot to learn,” says Perry. “We want to treat St. Louis as a laboratory that’s teaching us about God’s work in the city. As we learn with other partners, we’re better able to equip future pastors who need to be disciple makers in a changing intercultural America.”
While elements of traditional “urban ministry,” such as racial reconciliation and poverty alleviation, are included, Perry points out that the term “city ministry” better explains the scope of the initiative: to get involved with the gospel in all areas of city life, including education, the arts, and issues of gender and sexuality.
At present, the City Ministry Initiative has partnered with groups such as Engage St. Louis, Oasis, Restore St. Louis, Urban K-Life, and a range of PCA and non-PCA urban churches to give students diaconal experience in refugee communities, church-based sports ministries, the educational system, the arts community, and multisite, multicultural ministry.
In the 2014-15 school year, Perry plans to take the initiative to the next level as a robust pilot program.
“The biggest ‘Aha!’ idea that we’re exploring is that future leaders need a more robust discipleship model,” says Perry. “Seeing discipleship as teaching Bible study skills, prayer, and evangelism isn’t enough. Those things will always be critical, but we need to cultivate in God’s people the practice of walking with Jesus in their jobs, in their roles as citizens and neighbors, as those who care for and steward the earth, and as family members, in blended families, families affected by fatherlessness and divorce. We want to help them make a connection between image bearing and disciple making . . . and that really is dependent on partnerships. We can’t do it alone.”