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Mission With by Paul Keeble

07 July 2017

Is this ministry model doomed to failure, asks Mike Starkey

ABOUT three-quarters of the population of Greater Manchester live in the urban parts of the city, while three-quarters of the Christian population live in the suburban areas. This, Paul Keeble says, poses a critical dilemma for Christian mission.

Keeble arrived in Manchester as a student from Northern Ireland. He sensed a call to remain in inner-city Manchester, where he set up home and raised a family. This book gathers his experiences and reflections from several decades of living in a diverse and underprivileged area of a great city. It is a thoughtful and inspiring narrative, which conveys the author’s very real passion for his local community. Along the way, he explores important issues of class, culture, and theology, and unpacks a holistic vision of mission rooted in a theology of incarnation.

Historical and cross-cultural parallels are drawn with Hudson Taylor’s mission to China and Vincent Donovan’s to the Masai. Keeble describes his approach as “mission with”, as opposed to “mission to” or “mission for”. He helpfully compares his own approach with similar models of urban mission, and footnotes refer to a range of lesser known and unpublished materials.

The book’s origins in an M.Phil. thesis are apparent, not least in terms, such as “project-praxis”, which may be daunting to the less academic reader. One nettle never quite grasped, moreover, is the question what kind of spirituality actually inspires the urban poor and marginalised. Latin American liberation theology famously expressed a “preferential option for the poor”, while the poor them-selves expressed a preferential option for the exuberance, aspiration, and sheer volume of Pentecostalism.

Keeble’s vision of living alongside the urban poor is a moving one: patient, one-to-one, holistic, and theologically nuanced. I would love to hope that it is effective, too. But, if a critic were to suggest that it is a recipe for burnout among those doing the mission, and not the most helpful approach for the urban poor themselves, the evidence for the defence is not really set out here.


The Revd Mike Starkey is a tutor for the Church Army and author of the Faith Pictures evangelism course.


Mission With: Something out of the ordinary

Paul Keeble

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