page background - downtown Minneapolis

Teaching Christians to Build and Lead Cross-Cultural Ministries.

Building Your MissionShift Institute

Vision Statement

The Challenge

In 1800, only 2.5% of the world’s population lived in cities. In 1900, it had grown to 10%. Today, half of the world’s population lives in vast metro areas. By 2025, 75%! How will we reach them with the Gospel? That question created the MissionShift Institute.

The Universal Need of the City

Cities worldwide share the same problems: single generation families; poverty; chemical dependency; mental illness; housing and development issues; gangs, justice and prison systems, prostitution; HIV/AIDS and much more. These swirling, teeming cities are multi-cultural, and each sub-group requires a meaningful approach with the Gospel within their own cultural milieu, in the midst of their own needs. To serve in the city, we need an understanding of what makes up a culture and how to cross cultural boundaries. We need to understand other world cultures, world religions and access points for the Gospel. We, as the church, have never faced a situation like this. The book needs to be re-written. Our American cities will be reached only in the same way. We need to teach entrepreneurial leaders to build the urban church here and worldwide!

The Tri-Partite Model

The central task of the church is proclaiming the Gospel and making disciples of Jesus Christ; however, this doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it happens in a world of profound human need. The Gospel is most fully shared in the midst of these needs by building relationships. Where these three parts intersect, Gospel proclamation-Need- Relationship, that is holistic ministry. Whenever the church rediscovers this, it thrives, whether we look at Jesus, Hudson Taylor, Wesley, Francke, Hauge or Yongii Cho.

The Local City as an Urban Laboratory

We use south Minneapolis as our learning lab. Minneapolis, because of our rich tradition of refugee resettlement, is unique. Here we are, a Midwestern metro area of almost four million people, landlocked in the center of the continent, with great supporting human services, and now our city is filled with people from all over the world. The pattern is not unique, but the level of diversity is! Here we sit, in the midst of at least 150 people groups! We have here a God-given laboratory, with all of the educational riches of our metro area, with committed Christians all around us, with the ability to train believers to reach almost any culture on earth! Let’s get going!

Local mission is now global; global missions (and all mission) are local. We need to study and deeply learn our neighborhoods, their people-groups and their needs in order to effectively serve. At the same time, each neighborhood is changing in hundreds of ways. Property values are going up or down. Groups of people are moving in or out. Resources are flowing in or out, etc. We build ministry to meet what is coming, not what is. To do that, we have to intimately know and understand the area in which we work.

Together we Have Many Strengths

MSI uses the Leaders of the City to Teach the City to the People of the City. Our congregation has had a history of being a catalyst to bring people together in ministry. We bring this history, along with our knowledge of the city, our program, an ability to organize and teach, and our facilities. To this list of strengths we add the partnering of people of many backgrounds who share their gifts. We are pairing city and suburb with the educational resources around us. Like the old children’s story of “The Stone Soup,” if we each bring a bit of what we have, together we can make quite a soup!

The Beginnings of School

So it is with the MissionShift Institute. St. Paul’s provides the laboratory and the organization. We do the publicity, and gather a board. However, many teach the classes on cultural boundaries, social needs, building ministries, and on and on. College professors, medical people, social workers, missionaries, seminary professors, business people and more teach the content. Since 1995, it has been built with a coalition of educational institutions, congregations, organizations and leaders. Almost three hundred people have been trained. The curriculum is made up of two sixteen-week semesters, meeting three hours every Monday night. The purpose of the MissionShift Institute is “Equipping Christians to Build and Lead Cross-Cultural Ministries.” Independent study credits can be arranged at area colleges and seminaries, and professionals can use it for cross-cultural CEUs. People from high school age through senior citizens have attended.

We invite you to come and to be trained. We need to warn you: A high percentage of our graduates end up sensing God’s call to make a difference in the city! The whole world now lives 20 minutes from your door. Who will reach them? Several new ministries have had their startup in MSI projects. Are you ready to make a difference?

The Seven Units of MSI

1) The City- Learning about the city and how it works

This unit includes getting to know the designated laboratory neighborhood- its history, geography, trends, people groups, business structure, ownership patterns, recreation patterns, demographics, assets, money flow, resources, leaders and more. General readings (like Bakke, The Urban Christian) are important, but more important are the experiential, confidence-building field trips and other exercises that get the student out, learning to meet the people.

2) Culture & How to Cross Cultural Boundaries

Culture is a new concept to many people, so MSI spends a great deal of time considering this topic. Central to the learning is Patty Lane’s A Beginner’s Guide to Crossing Cultures. We also use readings by people including missiologists like Ralph Winter. Field trips and individual assignments that create cross-cultural experiences are helpful. We look at what it means to cross these boundaries by watching the film Hudson Taylor. We bring in guest speakers who are individuals from our culture who have served abroad; we have speakers from other cultures who have come here, and we hear from individuals from long-term embedded cultures, such as African-American and Native-American.

3) Entrepreneuring the Church

A key part of MSI, really the backbone of the course, is this section which teaches people how to step into a situation, analyze it, and begin to build a cross-cultural ministry, with no money! It begins with an eight-hour course, is revisited in visits for analysis of a non-profit, and is brought to fullness in the final unit, where students create a plan to reach an unreached people group. This “mini-MBA” teaching looks at the biblical presuppositions on discerning and building a ministry, the role of the leader, and a theology of resourcing.

4) World Religions

Today, as never before, we are surrounded by people of many other world religions; this unit, combined with Halverson’s The Compact Guide to World Religions, gives a good overview of the world’s major religions and their access points for Christian witness.

5) Resourcing & Grant Writing

Taught from a theology of abundance, this short unit looks at approaches to communication, vision casting, fundraising and grant writing.

6) Challenges of the City

This unit, which is a large part of the second semester, teaches how to begin ministry to people who are need- things like chemical dependency, prostitution, homosexuality, city politics, immigration law, kids and gangs, etc. We use the leaders of the city to teach the city to the people of the city. Now, two hours on chemical dependency doesn’t make you a CD counselor, but it does teach some resources- what is AA, what’s a 12-step program, big book, Al-Anon, etc.

7) The Unreached People Group Project

This is the capstone project for the course, where students, in small groups, create a plan combining human need, relationships and proclamation of the Gospel. In a four-part sequence they study the people group, talk to service providers, meet the people group and make a plan. Many of these become functioning mini-ministries. Start on bare dirt, with no money, and build!

Developing a Local Branch


In the fall of 2012, the Minneapolis MissionShift Institute planted the first branch of its successful cross-cultural urban ministry course in St. Louis, Missouri. Having experienced more than a decade of success in developing a nationally-recognized, congregation-based course, a limited number of congregations will be invited to become branches.

The principles of MSI are straightforward:

  1. The MSI Objective: "Equipping Christians to Build and Lead Cross-Cultural Ministries."
  2. The course is taught from an evangelical perspective: Bringing people into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the center of all ministries created by MSI
  3. The MSI Course of Study is made up of two 16-week semesters offered consecutively during a nine-month evening survey course covering the breadth of issues faced by life in the city
  4. The MSI format is experiential learning in the city and includes readings videos and lecture outlines
  5. The locally-developed course on how the city works is taught by local experts
  6. Concepts learned are transferable from one city to another
  7. A congregation—St. Paul’s—in an ideal central city location becomes the teaching-hub for colleges and non-traditional learners

MSI reaches out to a mix of four student groups:

  1. Suburban people who want to help in the city or build in the suburbs
  2. Urban people who want to learn to entrepreneur their ministry
  3. College/Bible school and seminary students
  4. Missionary candidates/those on furlough who wish to become effective in the city

The MSI key outcome:

  1. Entrepreneuring inexpensive grass-roots cross-cultural ministries
  2. The MSI vision lives with individuals and with groups of students sponsored by a single congregation or school
  3. Students hone their own sense of personal call as they grow in their awareness and understanding of the complexity of the city, its needs, people and processes.
  4. Graduates and graduate groups are prepared to entrepreneur grass-roots cross-cultural ministries in their own city of opportunity
  5. Sponsoring congregations or schools become ministry networking hubs for local ministry entrepreneurs, educators, community leaders, students learning institutions, ministries and churches and cross-pollenization happens
  6. The congregation is strengthened by students who are drawn by its ministry
  7. New ministries are created
  8. Neighborhoods and non-profits become stronger, schools develop new programs and the city is changed.

Requirements of Sponsoring Congregation:

  1. A five year commitment to developing the program
  2. Application and selection by the national MSI board as a site
  3. A week-long training session in Minneapolis
  4. An agreement to use the form and methods of MSI
  5. A commitment of 10 hours of paid staff leadership per week by the sponsoring church
  6. A formation of a local board of leaders, educators and sponsoring churches/ministries/institutions

The Concepts

-A One-Year, One-Night per Week Class


MSI is not a cookie-cutter program; most of its local contents cannot be directly transferred to another city; each city needs to be studied and learned individually. However, the format of the class is readily transferable, because there are structural commonalities shared by all cities. It’s taught by local experts. It puts students into repeated, direct contact with leaders, practitioners and ministries in which they can participate.


MSI is not simply a classroom experience. Emphasis from the first session is to experience the city, developing personal expertise and self-confidence in being “on the street.”


Understanding the nuances of a given neighborhood is a key to success in urban ministry. This means understanding the history, function, governmental, economic, racial, cultural, religious, legal and relational identity of the neighborhood. To do urban ministry, a student must understand the city from a neighborhood level. Further, this knowledge must be multi-dimensional with a good understanding of the inter-relatedness of all these functions.


To build an urban ministry means to become an entrepreneur. A key expertise is learning to start on bare ground and build a simple ministry. This key skill, of starting with no money, learning to share a vision and gather resources is central to the future of urban ministry.


MSI approaches urban ministry from a missiological standpoint. It is not a continuation of mid-20 th century urban ministry paradigms. There is a great deal of information on urban problems and people care, but the focus is on bringing people to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. We believe that Jesus Christ is the most important resource for urban people. We also believe that the strange 20th century American split between “social gospel” and “evangelical gospel” is unbiblical and a false dichotomy. Jesus reached out to the whole person, and both aspects of ministry belong to the Church. One cannot exist without the other.

Introductory Level

The design for MissionShift Institute is to give students enough training so they would feel confident beginning or assisting in an urban non-profit ministry. It is “City 101”-providing information, but more importantly, a conceptual framework on which to build additional training. For example, two hours of training in chemical dependency is not enough to do chemical dependency ministry; but if the student has had no background in the area, knowing the significance of AA, the disease model, the twelve-step program, family systems theory and intervention will provide the tools to continue study. It also gives them the resources necessary to see chemical dependency as a root cause of urban problems and where to go to get help for a chemically dependent person.

Accessible Technology

From the beginning, MSI was created with the Third World in mind. The focus is on the live facilitator and presenters, whose interaction teaches contextually, relationally and experientially. Using the best of modern technology, we want to re-discover the training methods of the fourth century- training people experientially in the city! The program is paper-based and people-based. Currently, a few videos are used, but even these are replaceable by live presentations.

MissionShift Institute Inter-connects a City

Through MSI, a rich network of congregations, ministries, schools, practitioners and ethnic leaders is developed. Students meet the practitioners and experience this networking. Each of the entities is enriched by the interaction. Suburban churches develop contacts in the city. Students plug into existing ministries. Non-profits have a source of eager, trained volunteers or staffers, etc.

New Ministries are Created

A key component of MSI is the “Unreached People Group Project.” By the end of the year, each student will be a part of a team that will develop a very specific plan to reach an unreached people group in the area. Several of those plans have become working ministries, and several more are being used by specialized ministries to expand their work.

MSI is Life-Changing

The most surprising outcome of MSI is how it changes the lives of the students. Most say that it is the most exciting, compelling course they have ever taken. Seminary students say that it is the most practical course they have experienced. A high percentage of MSI graduates become involved in some form of urban or cross-cultural work.

Practical Matters

The Meeting Room

The meeting room should be of adequate size, with environment controllable for optimum learning- temperature, volume, lighting, etc. Beverages appropriate for the group should be available, typically de-caf coffee, hot water for tea and cocoa, etc.

Students will need some sort of table; emphasis on small group work makes regular church tables ideal.

Room should be set up with whiteboard/markers, podium, and sound system (if group is large enough) and with appropriate electronic equipment. A VCR/TV or VCR/Video projector is required. Presenters who use PowerPoint will need a computer. Some presenters may require an overhead projector.

Most evenings there will be handouts or other materials for students. These should be done with respect to copyrights, and duplicated in a manner that makes them easily readable. A ‘headquarters’ table should be set up, which the students will normally pass by when entering each evening.

Rather than using name tags, provide each student with a 5 ½” x 8 ½ “piece of card stock, which they fold lengthwise and write their names on each side. This “name tent” will be used each week and placed at their spot on the table so all students’ names will be available for learning and for guest speakers. These can be decorated!

Handouts must be prepared each week; each week’s outline has been provided. Required books will be purchased by the local school and made available for students.

The Structure

Original, Minneapolis Model

The Director oversees the daily work of MSI. This is a part-time position, requiring five to ten hours per week. Duties include publicity, recruitment, teaching, class administration, materials production and scheduling of experts.

Staff: In the last few years, in Minneapolis, the Director has been assisted by a Secretary working five hours per week. The secretary’s job is to contact and schedule experts, make sure they are paid, order materials, do mailings, etc. This is the only paid position.

Teaching Assistants: The Director is assisted by Teaching Assistants in the classroom, about one per ten students. These teaching assistants pass out handouts, take roll, correct papers, prepare coffee and facilitate small group discussions. These TA’s have either been volunteers returning from previous classes, or are particularly apt students from the current class. In which case they receive free tuition.


MSI is run by a local Director, partnering with a Working Board who actually ‘do’ the work of the organization. The Board is composed of interested, entrepreneurial individuals with varying expertise. It is helpful to have individuals on the board from sponsoring congregations, but it is more important to have individuals with expertise in building ministries than a democratic representation, depending on local political realities. It is helpful to have some MSI graduates on the board. It is good to have individuals from backgrounds such as, educators, media, publicity, urban practitioners, entrepreneurial pastors and business individuals.

In Minneapolis, MSI began and will continue to function under St. Paul’s congregation for the foreseeable future. Part of the MSI vision is to make a particular congregation the hub for urban training in that metro area. We think it is best to begin simply, working under the auspices and headship of a functioning organization.


Because MSI is a three-hour block, breaks are important. Plan for at least two breaks each night. Treats and coffee should be available throughout the sessions.

Attendance is critical. We would like all students to attend all sessions, because each session is three hours of class. Even so, in a real world, people occasionally have to miss. In the beginning of the class, it is important to stress the importance of regular attendance and timeliness in arriving. Taking roll regularly to impress on the students the importance of attendance is helpful. We have found that allowing one absence per semester is necessary. It is helpful to meet individually with students who have missed a session to understand the reason for the absence, to review the attendance rule, and to help the student search for ways to avoid future absences. The goal is for the student to be exposed to the experiences and learning of the class. When a student misses a scheduled class, make-up research and a two-page paper on the topic to enable the student to delve into the material missed during class. This practice does a great deal to discourage absenteeism.

The move to the second semester is critical. The first semester is preparation for the entrepreneurial activity of the second semester—the development of a draft plan to begin a ministry to an Unreached Peoples Group. Students will easily transition from the first to the second semester if the Director casts an on-going vision for the work of the second semester as an exciting and obvious culmination of the work begun in the first semester.

The preference is for students to take the coursework for the first semester before the second semester. It does work to have students begin at the semester break. If the choice for a student is second semester or no semester of the MissionShift Institute, accommodations can be made for students to join the class at the semester break. Because those students entering at second semester don’t have the cross-cultural background and city-saviness, they are at a disadvantage. They should be paired with gifted students from the first semester, and they can be brought up to speed by reading the cross-cultural handouts. The addition of students in the winter semester helps keep class size up. Advertising the semester also gives MSI a chance to get more visibility in the community.


Every year you start at square one to build a new class. As time goes by, this gets easier, as the reputation of MSI grows. Even so, getting those students lined up is an effort. The pieces include:

Partner congregations- Relationships with key mission-minded congregations are vital to the on-going success of the school. As students graduate from the course, they become your best sales persons. Keeping in touch with them and the Pastor/Staff of the congregation is critical. Each year we produce a Press Kit of bulletin inserts, PowerPoint slides for worship and presentations, press releases, newsletter articles, etc. These are emailed out to the congregations in late August or very early September so that they can do recruitment in September. Sending these kits out is not enough. The kits get lost, so repeated, but tactful, contacts are required to engage the pastor and bring fruits to the contact.

Each year we add a few interested churches. Each of these partner relationships are time consuming and need to be intense. We have found that a luncheon is the best way to introduce new individuals. Because the idea is unheard of and pastors are busy, getting their attention the first time is critical and keeping their attention is hard. "Tickler" emails are one of the best ways to keep partner pastors engaged.

Media Outlets- Christian radio is the best student recruitment tool we’ve found. If we can get a series of small interviews or one big one, set around the beginning of September, this is the best tool. Press releases need to be sent to local Christian newspapers, as well as local “shopper” papers, and even the large metropolitan dailies, for inclusion on their religious news piece. For the local religious papers, I find that if I have some press releases ready, along with other documentation, such as the Vision of MSI, and buy the editor/reporter lunch, we get a pretty good article each year. Any free publicity should be followed up with a thank-you note.

Pictures- Keep a (digital) camera handy. You can easily enrich your publications, PowerPoint presentations and webpage by taking pictures of your speakers, class, field trips, etc. You may wish to have your student information sheet, which the students fill out the first night, contain an image release, giving you permission to use their picture in your materials.

For more information, please call 612-874-0133.