Newbigin School for Urban Leadership

Newbigin School for Urban Leadership seeks to identify, develop and equip Christian leaders for a new urban world.

Our Challenges

The world has rapidly changed and is challenging the very nature of Christian faith and mission as we know it. A fundamental transition with significant implications for Christian discipleship is how and where humans live together. In 1800 only 3% of people lived in cities, but now more than half of all humans live in urban areas with over one third facing severe urban poverty. With over 70% of people predicted to be urbanites by 2050, the increased disparity, diversity and density of living will leave no person, place or culture untouched.

Areas of urban deprivation and poverty are especially complex places to make a long-term impact, but they are some of the most critical frontline contexts for Christian workers today. A resilient and thoughtful theology and spirituality as well as innovative skills and frameworks are needed if faithful, effective and sustainable responses are to be found.

Our Vision

Cultivating seedbeds for neighbourhood renewal,

Raising up diverse streams of urban leaders,

Shaping our new urban world.

Newbigin School for Urban Leadership is based in Winson Green, Birmingham, UK. This multiracial, inner city neighbourhood is where some of the first urban industrialized neighbourhoods began over two hundred years ago. It was the seedbed for the industrial revolution, where the first steam engines and modern factories where developed, but is now a place needing urgent renewal and re-imagination.  Perhaps best known for the 1400 prisoners incarcerated in HMP Birmingham and the controversial Channel 4 documentary series ‘Benefits Street’, Winson Green provides an important, live context for honest personal growth and urban engagement.

Winson Green is also where Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998) served as a Minister in the 1980s after he returned from thirty years of Christian service in India.  While in Winson Green, Newbigin wrote such influential books as Gospel in a Pluralist Society, The Open Secret and Foolishness to the Greeks. A man before his time, he articulated the tough urban questions and dedicated his life to finding and living the answers in both Majority and Western World urban contexts. It is hoped that Newbigin’s life and insights will inspire a new generation of Christian workers able to respond to growing urban injustices in our day and to help see abundant community cultivated from the ground up around the world. The Newbigin family gave special permission for Newbigin House and Newbigin School for Urban Leadership to be named in honor of Lesslie Newbigin.

The Founding Directors of Newbigin School are Ash and Anji Barker. After 25 years as immersed urban Christian activists and leaders based in Melbourne and Bangkok they sensed a call to Winson Green to be immersed again in a front line urban neighbourhood and focus on investing in a new generation of urban leaders. See bios here:

Our Approach

Christian faith can make a difference in urban contexts. We especially believe a lived experience of Christian discipleship invites:

  • Embrace: God is Compassion and embraces us unconditionally. Therefore we can be immersed with the lives of our neighbours, seeking to welcome, embrace and to be embraced, taking an incarnational approach to community transformation.
  • Encounter: To truly love another person is to see the face of God. The Risen Jesus is a living person, and to encounter Jesus is especially possible when we are in personal solidarity with ‘the least of these’, that is, those who are suffering hunger, prison, sickness, broken heartedness or oppression.
  • Engagement: God’s vision for our world is for an intimate harmony between God, people and the earth. When we fully engage with God in us, our neighbours and neighbourhood in the power of the Spirit we can see a local sign of ‘what is to come’ in the whole cosmos.
  • Exploration: To see change we need to find fresh insights. When we explore what is happening around us and in us through the cycle of committed action and thoughtful reflection with others and the Bible we can become more alive to what God is doing and better able to join in.

We seek to create a learning environment where these four invitations can inspire and inform all who join with us.

Our Aims  

 Cultivating Urban Seedbeds

We partner with Newbigin House in Winson Green seeking to cultivate neighbourhood renewal and a context for growth. A seedbed is a place where seeds are sown and nurtured so that seedlings can grow to be re-planted in more demanding terrain. So too we hope that Christian workers immersed in the life of Winson Green will be able to grow and multiply their gifts wherever they live and serve with others.  We hope we can support and partner those initiating other urban seedbeds too.

To be grounded in a local reality is essential to our vision. Mostly new kinds of urban engagement is caught more than taught. That is why we live and work from Newbigin House, a local charity seeking the long-term renewal of Handsworth and Winson Green. This way Newbigin School for Urban Leadership can help find ways to cultivate a community context for sharing urban life and discipleship together, but is also set up to take up invitations beyond Winson Green too. Newbigin House hosts Newbigin School’s internships, residences, retreats, immersion course and intensives.

  1. Raising-up Urban Leaders

We seek to raise-up diverse steams of urban leaders who can make a difference in their sphere of influence. It takes people to reach people and communities to reach communities. We especially focus on mobilising, forming and equipping three types of strategic urban leaders:

  • Relocators’ who can pioneer new urban initiatives in places they are not originally from.
  • Remainers’ who stay in the urban neighbourhoods they grew up in for the sake of seeing urban shalom.
  • Returners’ who leave the neighbourhood they are from to gain skills, confidences, but then return to seek urban shalom.

We help identify and develop these urban leaders through various specialised programs. These include immersion courses, Compassion Community Leaders courses, Change Makers UK for emerging leaders, Newbigin Associates, accredited intensive courses, seminars, Missio Dei discernment retreats, community internships and vocational residencies in partnership with key mission agencies and training institutions. Much of this is based at Newbigin House, but opportunities are also taken up where invitations come.

  1. Shaping Urban Networks

We seek to influence our new urban world through bringing together Christians for solidarity, advocacy and praxis. If we join with others we can find better ways to change the climate of opinion, tackle injustice and make urban shalom more possible in our world. A key way we do this is through convening International Society for Urban Mission (ISUM, and proposed  Birmingham Missional Communities (BMC) Network.

  • Campaigning: This includes the ‘Urban Shalom Project’, a collaboration between Micah Global, World Evangelical Alliance and ISUM to engage UN Habitat III process for the cities we need and helping to support and keep local governments accountable to create space for the best urban practices.
  • Communications: This includes speaking, media, podcasts and publishing. ISUM has a publishing arm and a journal New Urban World.
  • Conferences: This includes ISUM Summits, BMC Network Gatherings and the Newbigin Annual Public Lecture.
  • Community Research: This includes non-formal as well as Doctoral and Master’s supervision through our partnership with Newbigin Centre (Ridley Hall Cambridge), Urban Life (Bristol Baptist College), Nazarene Theological College and CMS.


Our Programs

Read more here.