About 35 percent of the world’s poor people live in informal settlements, and their ranks are ever-increasing. University-sponsored training programs play a critical role in developing leaders who will join local citizens in community building. The MATUL program provides a two-year, formal academic training to equip workers to transform communities and reflect on the multifarious issues of informal settlement dwellers.

To face the tremendous challenges of outreach to the urban poor, the MATUL program provides Christian leaders with new knowledge, skills, and emotional and spiritual wisdom to present a transformational gospel to the unreached.

An orientation and training period in Los Angeles is the first step for all MATUL students. During this time, they live in community with one another near the Wilshire District and get to know their fellow classmates in an environment that encourages engagement with and application of classroom material. As part of the learning process, students also partner with emergent churches and movements in Los Angeles. Following the Los Angeles portion, students relocate to program sites abroad, taking with them the experiential skills they honed locally, or they stay involved in urban poor communities in the Los Angeles area.

Transformational Leadership

This is a different brand of international studies program. Movement leadership is more than organizational, business, or church leadership; it’s the release of entrepreneurial dynamics in multiple dimensions. Urban educational processes include:

  • Action: Learn skills that range from communicating the gospel and small group formation to the complexities of community and international development. For example, one internship extends a theology of justice to actively stand with people in their struggle for land rights. Another moves from the analysis of poverty’s causes to the creation of vocational schools or preschools among the poor—one of the best ways to escape poverty.
  • Theological Reflection and Social Analysis: Movement leadership involves vision, which requires an engagement with global literature; an understanding of urban realities and theology; and an exploration of discourse on multiplying church movements.
  • Spiritual and Character Formation: Students learn from local leaders as they serve alongside urban poor churches. Community leaders also supervise character-building fieldwork for students. The first course of the program delves into urban spirituality, examining the vivacious spirituality of the urban poor and the quiet, reflective spirituality that sustains workers over extended lengths of time in extreme conditions.

Program Philosophy

Close to 70 million people migrate from rural areas to cities each year. Already there are more than 1 billion people—one out of every six—living in squatter communities around the world. The explosive growth of slums is perhaps the crucial demographic and geopolitical event of our time. Most of this global social class of more than one billion urban poor improvises life in unthinkable living conditions— overcrowding, squalor, unemployment, chronic health hazards, hopelessness, and violence are everyday realities.

The transformation of urban poor communities hinges on enlightened leadership. Urban poor communities desperately need intelligent, ethical leaders who are able to organize residents around initiatives that instill hope, mend families, create jobs, foster educational opportunities, improve sanitation and health care, and promote sound planning policies.

The Master of Arts in Transformational Urban Leadership (MATUL) program aims to prepare such leaders. Entrepreneurial training institutions on four continents (Asia, Africa, North America, and South America) sponsor this entirely field-based program, with a single focus: to develop leaders who can catalyze transformational movements for positive change within the world’s burgeoning slums and shantytowns.

Program graduates, as “servants among the poor,” will utilize their understanding and skills within the fields of international relations, community development and planning, environmental policy, church leadership, nonprofit management, global health, public diplomacy, and more. It is here where their extraordinary grasp of the urban poor condition can guide policy formulation and project development, in their homelands and internationally.

Program Distinctives


Students live incarnationally in urban poor communities around the world throughout the program.

Action-Reflection Learning

Work with local faith communities and NGOs to combine living, acting, and learning in an integrated approach to leadership.

Blended Delivery

Incorporate faith, theological reflection, compassionate action, social analysis, and character development. Online discussions with cohorts in other international cities complement culture-specific learning and research.

Field Support

Integrate culture with intensive language learning, interact regularly with peers, and receive guidance from local city mentors.

About Our Students

The MATUL program is designed for early- and mid-career professionals preparing for vocations in service among the world’s urban poor. It offers a broad, multidisciplinary, highly practical, and theologically informed approach to transforming life opportunities for informal (slum) settlement dwellers.

Who should consider the MATUL degree?

  • Those with experience in urban ministry, church planting, and church-based development
  • Those wishing to become cross-cultural change agents among the urban poor
  • Those seeking to understand the insides of poverty in order to become effective advocates

What kind of career opportunities can come from the MATUL degree?

  • Ministry: Take on apostolic, prophetic, pastoral, or evangelistic roles in national movements
  • Mission: Serve on new post-modern incarnational missions with organizations such as Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor, Servant Partners, InnerChange and Word Made Flesh
  • Development: Advance development or mercy processes in non-governmental relief organizations like World Vision and Tearfund
  • Business: Grow new entrepreneurial enterprises among the poor and marginalized
  • Advocacy: Live deep in the culture of the poor while impacting policy and projects in development agencies like the United Nations, World Bank, and more

Class Schedule and Size

Units: 14 courses, 3 units each, for 42 units of coursework

Cohort size: Minimum of 15 enrolled students and a maximum of 30 in each cohort

Residency: Two years of in-country residence, including summers, unless an explicit waiver is given

Progress toward degree: Students complete approximately seven courses each year (typically four core courses and three internship courses), with one 6-unit research project to culminate the program. The normal time for degree completion is six terms spread across two years. For experienced workers in the field, there is a 5-year option in which students complete one course per semester.

Format: Each course features robust engagement with academic texts, virtual face-to-face lectures, and discussions with other MATUL students studying in diverse urban environments. With the support of the city coordinator, students locate reputable ministries, nonprofit organizations, social businesses, advocacy groups, and public health projects among the urban poor and partner with them in internship courses. These internships allow students to integrate theology and development theory with tangible action and issue-oriented service within an urban poor community.


To gain further insight into the mission and purpose of APU’s Master of Arts in Transformational Urban Leadership program, visit the following resources:



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Note: This information is current for the 2015-16 academic year; however, all stated academic information is subject to change. Please refer to the current Academic Catalog for more information.