Portland: A Living Laboratory

Intellectuals and urban planners find Portland, Ore., intriguing. They’re traveling from around the world to observe the culture and makeup of this living laboratory where church planter Sean Benesh lives, breathes and bikes.

“Portland is both a cultural anomaly as well as the front edge of where the American city is heading,” he said.

Sean describes his city as progressive, weird, hipster, artisan and bicycle-friendly—it boasts the title of Bicycle Capital of America. Portland’s focus on these man-powered vehicles affects its artisan economy as much as its bohemian culture. The bicycle is a way of life for many and a primary mode of transportation for hipsters, who travel Portland’s more than 400 miles of bicycle lanes, boulevards and cycle tracks.

Sean, like many others in Portland, wears multiple hats. He is not only a published author and church planter/urban missionary, but he also has served as an adjunct professor at two seminaries, is pursuing a PhD in urban planning at a local university and is a bicycle tour guide.

His “moonlighting” work involves leading tourists on two wheels around downtown Portland, where he shows them its culinary scene and artisan economy. Meanwhile, his position as director of the Epoch (pronounced epic) Center allows him to introduce people to Portland as well as help them develop a theology of the city through urban immersion.

In September Jet Set participants will get to hear from Sean, who hopes they “develop a framework and understanding of the nature of cities (and) cultivate a theology of the city.

“Every city has a story to tell … (and) reveals how we are to go about embodying and proclaiming the Gospel,” Sean said. “With the city’s progressive culture intermingled with creative urban planning … Portland is a great living laboratory to study missiology and learn how to be a missionary to our own culture.”

Learn more at the Portland Jet Set page.

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2 Responses to “Portland: A Living Laboratory”

  1. Gary Clark August 24, 2012 at 8:41 PM #

    This was an interesting read. It was filled with so many bright, flashy words that I had to read it again just to be certain I caught it all. But to my dismay and joy I discovered yet another language tucked into the american scene for which I have not been introduced and therefore I did not get it.

    Help me understand how learning the culture of Portland will help me share the good news of Jesus Christ in any other city which will need to be learned in order for me or anyone to serve Christ and His mission for His Chhurch to thse who have not met Him and to those who do not want to meet Him.

    Serious question awaiting a serious answer in Christ’s peace and purpose,

    Gary Clark

  2. Caleb August 27, 2012 at 5:24 PM #

    Gary,
    Thanks for reading, and for taking the time to comment.

    We see Portland as a great place to learn to think and act like a missionary. Its post-Christian social environment makes it a glimpse into what’s coming for most American cities. In many ways, a visit to Portland is like a visit into the near future of other urban areas.

    Of course, the point of our efforts in Portland is not really to get others to learn the culture of Portland. It’s to teach them how to learn the culture of any place in order to faithfully communicate the gospel there. Portland just serves as a helpful and relevant “case study” for the basic missionary training we offer.

    We find that bringing ministers and church planters out of their home contexts for a short while helps disorient them in a good way, helping them learn in a practice environment. Again, we focus less on learning Portland and more on learning culture and language in any environment.

    Ideally, we would fly to every city and town where churches might want to learn and conduct our training there. But this just isn’t possible. What’s more, we find that grouping participants together in Portland allows us all to learn from one another.

    I understand what you mean about the vocabulary. We deliberately use the terminology used in Portland because we recognize that as missionaries, we are joining an existing conversation. The “Artisan economy” and “bohemian culture” are common topics of conversation in Portland, and we think that Christians serving in similar contexts may recognize the wording and want to learn more about how to be missionaries to “hipsters” and “progressives.”

    I hope this helps to answer your questions.

    -Caleb Crider

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