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Ministry Among the Urban Middle Class

Dr. Atul Aghamkar B.D., M.Th., Ph.D.

Today we are on the threshold of living in a world that for the first time will be numerically more urban than rural." (John Palen. The Urban World. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1987). Urbanization of Christian missions is an urgent and serious need. Cities determine the destiny of nations, and their influence on the every day affairs of individuals is incalculable. Beyond question, the new chapter in world and mission history is entitled "Cities" and the church of tomorrow will be largely an urban church." (Roger Greenway and Timothy Monsma. Cities: Mission's New Frontier. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989). Most of our focus is a micro focus. We look only at the people we are reaching that we leave out the rest. We are moving more and more into a more and more informed world but the information we want is selective.

What is our motivation to get involved in cities? What is Gods concern for the city? Love. If we are motivated out of need, problems, opportunities, strategic issues we are missing the real motivation that we must have for the city. Gods motivation is love. He wept over the city. We must look at the city from God's perspective. Otherwise we will end up doing what others are doing. NGO's are motivated out of the same motivations reflected above.. need, opportunities, problems, change. These are good motivations but not sufficient. Gods Heart for the City is the most important.

What does God want to see in our cities. This gives us a theological framework for our vision of what God wants us to do. More people are living in cities in India than in any other country in the world. The trend of urbanization in India is irreversible. Urbanization in India is not new. However the modernization of cities took place through the colonial rule. It is only after independence that Nehru introduced industrialization. It was only after the 1970's that modernization took place in our cities. Cities are growing because of migration. Rural to cities, town to cities, cities to cities. These people are poor landless people. Half of the people in our cities are living in slums.

Most of our cities are not very well planned. They are caste based. The temple resides in the centre of the city. Lower caste reside on the outside of the down town area. When the British came they did not disturb the high caste area but they established their own cities called cantonments for their military and civil areas. This would include their churches, polo grounds, race course, and railway stations. In the minds of the city dweller they looked at these areas as foreign places and did not have anything to do with them.

After 1970's the cities began to expand. It went beyond the indigenous and cantonment areas and went into suburbs were there were centers on the periphery industrial, educational, and business areas which has formed our urban agglomeration. The smaller villages around the city become a part of the city. Even though the city has grown the Christians have not moved out of the cantonment. In cantonment, class and rank dominated whereas in the downtown area it was the high caste. Religion dominates in the downtown and money dominates in the cantonment.

We must take the indigenous sections seriously and move our ministries into these areas. Cities are the centre of education. There are very well educated and rich people in our cities. The business man, politician, information tech and mass media people are the ones who shape our cities. Most of the people in our churches today are second and third generation Christians and  migrant people. In the western world urban missions mainly means reaching out to the blacks and poor in the downtown area. Most western urban missions is motivated out of their guilt for what they have left in the downtown area after leaving for the suburbs.

Foreign missions when they could not find a response from the Brahmins shifted their focus to the shudras instead of considering the kshatriyas and vaishiyas. Even after 200 years of missionary efforts we have not scratched the surface of our caste structure because our focus has been on the outcaste and the tribal and rural areas. In the Brahmin, kshatirya, and vaishiya areas are the media, business, thinking people software and small scale industry people. We must move the church out of the low caste into the middle class and upper class. Communist, hiduvta, and independence movements were led by the middle class.

The concept of Indian middle classes was imported from the British East India Company. To satisfy the needs of the growing economy they developed education for Indians. Thus the powerful middle class began to emerge in India with people who started to realize the value of education and the power of money. Urban middle class, at least during the British Raj, consisted of those who have had western type of English education and earned substantial living by working for the British. Contemporary urban middle class consists of a heterogeneous social layer of different caste, religious and ethnic group of people. They also form a composite intermediate layer consisting of a wide range of occupational interests but are bound by a common life-style, and stand for certain values.


Different Types of Middle Classes:

1. Businessmen: These are non-salaried people who own small-scale industries, shops, hotels or they are self-employed. Some of the main people who fall in this category are the Gujarathis, Marawaris, Sindhis, and the Punjabis, some Boharas, Udippies and the Nadars.

2. Show business people: These include people who are connected with the cinema, television, drama and other entertainment industries. They are also non-salaried people with their own income.

3. Salaried white collar people: These include the government bureaucrats, high level executive officers, journalists, industrial administrators, IT and other professionals.

Key Characteristics of the Middle Classes:

The middle classes are recognized by what they earn rather than the caste they belong to, though most middle class people are derived from the higher and middle castes. These people generally have more than one source of income, speak business language including English, own property and vehicles, have surplus money and pay their income tax. It is estimated that about one third of the Indian urban population falls into this category.

Their Worldviews and Values:

1. Education: They value education and are willing to pay any amount to get their children the best education. They realize that the way to success is through education. Education exposes them to a new world of opportunities.

2. They are more informed: Their higher and specialized education makes them think technologically.  They can access modern technological gadgets like t.v., telephone, fax, Internet, computer and now cell phones.

3. Materialism or consumerism: The central interest of the middle classes is economic. They value money so much that they tend to weigh everything from a materialistic perspective.

4. Globalized: Most middle classes are exposed to an international market economy, thus they are more globalized than localized.

5. Changed and modern lifestyle: More modern and contemporary lifestyle and living conditions are adopted. This is also reflected in choosing marriage partners.

6. Professionalism:  Efficiency and a fast pace lifestyle are reflected at every phase of their lives.

7. Clash between the old and new values: The tension between the traditional and modern worldviews in the minds of the middle classes is evident. In most cases they tend to compromise the old values and adapt to the new worldviews.

8. More mobile and open to change: Since they have a strong materialistic approach to life, they are always eager for upward mobility. Thus they are open and willing to adapt to new ideas.

Possible Christian Approach:

Recognizes that the middle classes are the shakers and movers of Indian society. They have the power, influence and resources to change the nation. They are the most neglected group of people as far as the gospel is concerned. Perhaps they are more open and accessible than ever before. Many urban Christians also fall into these categories and have the great potential of reaching their own colleagues. By and large the English speaking Indian urban church is comprised of these classes. These people need a different, more innovative, appropriate and contextualized approach. The world views, mindsets, perceptions, aspiration and felt needs of the middle classes should be studied before we approach them with the gospel.

Both Jesus and Paul took the so-called middle class people of their time seriously and won them for the kingdom of God. New insights, tools, skills, training and approaches (strategies) are needed to reach the middle classes of modern India. The emerging urban middle class should be considered as a mission field and missionaries should be urgently and specifically recruited to work among them. This would require different types of people, different training, different mind sets and resources. The need for planting churches among various segments of middle classes is evident.

Ministry Among Urban Women (Red Light Area):

Some of the hardest things about raising children in the city are crime, drugs, air, noise, water pollution, insecurity, violence, and vulnerability of women and young girls. Although prostitution is a worldwide phenomena, it is primarily an urban phenomena. Millions of women and children are caught in prostitution and in most cases it is forced upon them. Three parties are involved in running prostitution business: The client, the prostitute, and the pimp or procurer.

The Client:

It is the clients desire for illicit pleasure that creates the market for prostitution. These clients come in many forms: single men like divorced, unmarried, or sick people. Travelers like merchants, business people, tourists, soldiers, migrants, criminals or bandits etc.

The Prostitutes:


Broken homes, victims of rape, addiction to drugs or alcohol and prostitution is the means they use to support their addiction, emotional frustrations, disturbed family life, extreme poverty, indifference to moral values, and attraction to the city

The Procurer.

They come in various guises: pimp, recruiter, brothel owner (madam), or operator of massage parlor, topless bar or roadside hotel owners. In most cases prostitution involves a third party of this kind. These people are involved in an organized market. These procurers use different means to subjugate women. They employ effective disciplinary techniques like violence, threats, and isolation from others. This way they are reduced to the point of having lost all self-esteem, even their personal identity. This scars a woman's character so deeply that very few manage to escape.

How do we minister to the Prostitutes?

We as Christians should understand that next to willful abortion and murder, prostitution is the ugliest scar on humanities face. Nothing could be more obnoxious (offensive) to our holy God than the prostitution of his image-bearers by the sex industry. Prostitution is a far broader and sinister (doomed) evil than most people imagine. Because powerful people from local politicians to crime syndicates are involved in the prostitution industry, any individual or organization daring to oppose it will have rough going. These individuals should be considered largely to be victims of exploitation, in need our compassion, the message of the gospel and adequate rehabilitation. Our traditional attitudes need to be reevaluated in the light of the Bible and the real situation of the underworld.

Gods righteous indignation against adultery is clear throughout Scripture, but so is his power to forgive and restore public sinners. There were plenty of prostitutes in Palestine in Jesus' day and many responded to the gospel call (Matthew 21:32). There were fallen women among the converts of Jesus. One of them, a Samaritan, Jesus taught deeper truths about God than are found almost anywhere else in the NT (John 4:7-29). On one occasion Jesus said that through repentance and faith more prostitutes would enter the kingdom than religious leaders whom everyone considered respectable (Matthew 21:31). Jesus demonstrated deep compassion for the woman caught in adultery. After dismissing the Pharisees who had accused her, Jesus said to the women," Neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin" (John. 8:11). 

Few women and teen age girls, can escape the bondage of prostitution without adequate outside assistance. Bands of trained and committed Christians can do significant things. The risks are high, but someone has to take them. There are locations where prostitutes can be talked to and the gospel presented in clear and simple terms. Prostitutes need to hear that caring people are willing to help them get out of prostitution and begin a new life. Homes must be provided for ex-prostitutes, and security for the children involved, as well as job training, counseling, medical care and a lot of patient, compassionate Christian discipleship. Gods grace can transform anybody. The rehabilitation of public sinners is a noble Christian endeavor. It is not what most church people think of as evangelism, but in order to reach the lowest it is necessary to go where they are.

The Procurers:

Christians should organize to put procurers on the run. Combating procurers is not easy, but is isn't impossible either. Christians and others who are concerned for decency and human rights should organize and develop wise strategies against the sex industry. Not just the pimps must be targeted, but the owners and managers of topless bars, massage parlors, houses of prostitution and the publishers of pornographic material. Tackling a procurers require coordinated effort. The city and the community need to be educated as to what is going on. Various protests should be organized against brothels, massage parlors, and sex tours.

The Clients:

When we examine this group, we discover maladies far deeper and broader than most people want to acknowledge. For prostitution strikes at the very worth and dignity of human beings. Our attitude toward women must change. We must look at them with equality and dignity. We value women far less then men. It is this underlying sinful attitude that keeps the prostitution industry going. To those who regard women as an object designed for men's pleasure, use, and disposal, prostitution makes sense. This false image of women must be eradicated and the biblical image established in its place. The Bible teaches that women of all races and nationalities are made in God's likeness, and as such they are equal in value and dignity with men.  Any attack on, or exploitation of, women and girls is a serious offence to God as well as an ugly blemish on human society. Prostitution is not a necessary evil in society. It is rather the most degrading activity devised by Satan against womanhood.

Some possible methods to reach them:

Friendship evangelism (probably woman to woman), counseling centers, coffee houses, children's home for the prostituted children, adult literacy classes, and house making.

Industrial Population:

Blue collar workers make up a significant part of the mosaic of any large city. Blue collar workers have jobs, and no careers. Their work is often dirty and dangerous, repetitive and dull, and they are supervised by others. For most of them there is no job satisfaction. They work in order to live and support the family, they don't live in order to work. Work is something to be endured not enjoyed. Most of them work on shifts. This disrupts family and social life and often affects workers physical well being. They live with considerable insecurity and depend on physical health and strength to perform their duties. They often live in financial insecurity and are the first to feel the effects of unemployment during a recession.

Some spend a lot of time in an all male environment. They have only sufficient education and not necessarily a degree level education. They are skilled in some vocation, so their knowledge is limited. They are classified as non academic, therefore, they look at other white collar professionals with distrust and hostility. Most workers value the union. They generally tend to be more family focused and look at home as a place for rest, solace and comfort. A good number of them are alcoholics and gamblers. They tend to be rough in their relationships and abusive in their treatment toward their wives and male children. They are always suspicious about everything and everybody. They give an impression of dissatisfaction with life. They lack a learning posture in life. Many suffer with quick anger, insubordination and addiction. They have a common tendency to lie, cheat and be dishonest. They have their own language and culture and are comfortable with their own environment.

Their view toward religion:

Generally, they tend to be religious, attending to their religious duties faithfully. They tend to have doubts about certain religious matters, but do not waste time in arguing about them. They are also suspicious of religious leaders. Their faith is not deep but very superficial. They normally are content to leave religion to the women and children. They are not interested in sermons or high level lectures but are more attracted to the experiential events such as miracles, healings and deliverance from evil spirits. Power encounters and  the display of the power of Jesus over demonic forces are an integral part of the message. They are more emotional too as well.

John Wesley from England, during the industrial revolution, reached out to these blue collar workers. Wesley's method was to awaken people to their need for God through open air preaching. Those awakened were invited to enroll in the Methodist class meeting where Wesley instructed them to receive baptism. Others have tried to use trained factory workers to establish rapport with them and then bring them into similar worker's fellowshipsStill other tried to contact them through their children. The other approach was the straight forward rough approach by presenting the clear cut demands of Christ.

Try too learn to put yourself into their shoes and experience what it means to work as they do. They work day and night in a considerably hostile atmosphere, earn little money, have no college education, hold no position of power or authority or status, and have low self esteem. Their perception about the church may be wrong. Your approach should fit their style of living and decision making. The kind of church they may want to attend will have convenient timings and meet more frequently. Pastors should develop strong relationships because they expect the pastor to be a strong shepherd type leader with authority and command over their lives.

" Today we are on the threshold of living in a world that for the first time will be numerically more urban than rural." (John Palen. The Urban World. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1987).

Urbanization of Christian missions is an urgent and serious need. Cities determine the destiny of nations, and their influence on the every day affairs of individuals is incalculable. Beyond question, the new chapter in world and mission history is entitled "Cities" and the church of tomorrow will be largely an urban church." (Roger Greenway and Timothy Monsma. Cities: Mission's New Frontier. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989).

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Ro, Bon Ring Urban Ministry in Asia. Cities: The Exploding Mission Field. Taichung: ATA, 1989.

Conn, Harvie M. A Classified Vision for Urban Mission. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987

Cox, Harvey The Secular City. McMillan,1965

Ellul, Jaques The Meaning of the City. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970.

Greenway, Roger S. Apostles to the City: Biblical Strategies for Urban Missions. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978

Greenway, Roger S. & Timothy Monsma Cities: Mission's New Frontier. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989.

Grigg, Viv Champion of the Poor. Monrovia: MARC, 1990.

Hunter, George How to Reach Secular People. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992.

Palen, John J. The Urban World. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1987.

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Van Engen, Charles & Jude Tiersma Eds. God So Loves the City. Monrovia: MARC. 1994.

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