Ministry in a Mega City

Delhi has been our home for the last six years. On our visits back to the United Kingdom, we are often asked what it's like to live and work in such a city.

 

Living in such a difficult environment like Delhi, for an extended period, is a great challenge. Sometimes, simply surviving takes so much time and energy that there is little 'fuel left in the tank' for Christian ministry. This can lead to a sense of frustration and even to questioning the value of being here. We do not claim to understand the plight of all Delhiites, especially those who are desperately poor. However, it is a comfort that, as we face these challenges, we are given an understanding of the context in which our colleagues, friends and neighbours live. This enables us to disciple believers and witness to unbelievers with greater insight and integrity.

 

Three of the most significant challenges that those engaged in Christian ministry here have to overcome are, that distances are too far, there is too little time for effective discipleship, and the relationships are too superficial.

 

DISTANCE

Like other megacities, it can take hours to drive across Delhi. Public transport in the form of a growing metro system is improving travel times, but a lot of time and energy is still spent in travel. From a local church perspective, the size of the city and the distance from which our members come - some travelling more than 20 km - makes growing a truly 'local' church challenging. In order to partially overcome this we try to make the most of the time we have together on a Sunday morning, holding our monthly prayer and praise meeting, and special classes, after our main Sunday service. These classes cater for new Christians, those considering baptism, membership or for newly married couples and parents. This arrangement minimises the time and cost of people travelling to a central point in the city multiple times each week. In addition to this, a lot of our teaching and discipleship work is conducted through cell groups, which meet in different homes across the city. We currently have six groups of around 10-15 people which meet during the week for teaching, prayer and fellowship.

 

Like many churches in large cities, with members of our church family scattered throughout Delhi, there is a danger that corporate evangelism lacks focus, as the church is not integrated into one local community. We strongly encourage people to live their lives focused on sharing the gospel with others in their neighbourhood and workplace. However, it is often difficult to invite friends, neighbours and colleagues to church events. While we still organise corporate events, especially for occasions like Christmas, as a family the vast majority of our evangelism takes place in our home - over meals or as part of family celebrations. We intentionally invite different families from the church to be part of these events, giving them opportunities to witness to our unbelieving friends and encouraging them to do similar things with their friends and neighbours.

 

TIME

In addition to the challenge of distance, many people in the city have little spare time. This is an acute problem for men, as they are usually the family breadwinner and this often involves working on a Saturday. A challenge is created for local church ministry as, after a hard week at work, men want to shy away from further responsibilities. However, we have been blessed by an increasing number of men showing a willingness to take on leadership roles in the church, despite their many other commitments. Recently we have consistently preached the message of not delaying serving God until later in life, but to make a commitment to faithfully serve the local church at a young age.

 

In terms of evangelism, persuading unbelievers to get up early to come to church on a Sunday morning is almost impossible. Sunday mornings, especially among the middle classes, are seen as a time for rest and taking it easy with the family. On weekday mornings there is often time for personal witness to ladies, while their husbands are at work and children at school. However, opportunities to reach the whole family are largely restricted to weekend evenings. Building deep and meaningful relationships with men can therefore be difficult. A lot of effort is needed to maintain connections between meetings, for example sending short messages on Facebook or WhatsApp. This means that when we spend time together, deeper conversations can be entered into more quickly.

 

RELATIONSHIPS

In an environment where people are scattered across a great space and have so little time, it is easy for relationships to be no more than superficial. When we meet with people it feels as if they are constantly distracted - something even we feel guilty of at times. Everyone knows a lot of people and our phones are constantly receiving new messages, but there is often a dearth of real and deep relationships. Recently a senior business person shared with me about the struggles he is going through. While the conversation felt quite normal for me, it obviously wasn't for him. At the end of our discussion he told me he had never spoken to anyone, not even his wife, about such things.

 

Delhi attracts people from all over the country and from across the world, and many of them feel disorientated, isolated and lonely. In such a context, the church is unique. Most people experience social lives with people similar to themselves - the church is genuinely different. It allows people to relate across national, cultural, religious, caste and economic boundaries in a way that nothing else does or ever could do. Indians often talk about 'unity in diversity', but the only place in which we have truly experienced this is with our Christian brothers and sisters. Even though we are from diverse backgrounds, with five or six Indian states represented in the cell group that meets in our home, we are genuinely a body united around the person of Christ. As unbelievers see this depth of relationship, we notice that they are at a loss to explain it and find it attractive.

 

Delhi is a fragmented city, and living here brings many challenges. However, it also brings a wonderful opportunity. The gospel is the only hope for the future of Delhi. Only the gospel of grace can reassemble our fractured city and indeed this broken world. We often feel that we are just a small, insignificant group of God's people living in the great mass of humanity who call this great city home, but we know we hold the words of life - the only hope for each and every person here.

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