Written by Kyuboem Lee
Monday, 29 April 2013 00:00
Often, I find myself preaching to the choir with regard to urban mission--these folks don’t need any convincing that urban mission is an important and urgent agenda item for the Church and we need to do all we can to learn about urban mission if the Church is to be faithful and fruitful in God’s mission.
But others will need more convincing. “I won’t be moving into the city to live and minister there; my role is a pastor in a suburban church or a small town context. Why should I care about urban mission? My plate is overflowing as it is.” I will try to speak to them through this series of blog posts. If you are the choir, perhaps you will find these posts useful as points of apologetics for urban mission.
1. Demographically, it’s an urban world.
The first reason the Church needs to become more educated in urban mission is that our world is an urban world that is becoming more urban even as you read this.
According to UN Population Division, some time in 2007, for the first time in history, the number of people living in cities surpassed the number of people living in rural areas. The rapid narrowing of the gap before then took place during the 20th century, when the global urban population rose from 13% (220 million) in 1900, to 29% (732 million) in 1950, and to 49% (3.2 billion) in 2005. By 2050, according to UN’s estimates, over 6 billion people (2/3 of total population) will be urban. It is an urban, and an urbanizing, world.
It follows, then, that if you believe that a core identity of the Church is its "sent-ness" to the world, you will also believe learning to reach the world’s cities is a top priority for the leaders of the Church. The Church ignores the rapidly growing city to its detriment.
2. It’s an urban world because of the city’s influence.
Not only is the city important demographically, it is also important because of its influence. Case in point: in the article “Gay Marriage and the Power of Cities to Change the Country,” Emily Badger argues the reason that tide of public opinion has turned so dramatically in favor of gay marriage recently has been in large measure due to gay activists harnessing the power of the cities to influence national society as a whole. Church leaders, take note.
Instead of seeing the rural and the urban as a dichotomy, the Church will need to see the city as culture-making centers of influence for the larger society. Indeed, urbanism as a cultural force is very much a reality in suburban and rural areas. Think of the large footprint of communication technology (TV, movies, Internet) on present-day rural life, say, or the rapidly growing presence of new immigrants in places like Allentown or Lancaster (places you wouldn’t have thought as big cities), and you start to grasp the totalitarian scope of urban influence.
Suburban and rural areas are not nicely sealed off from the influence of the city. Instead, these areas are vitally linked to the city. The influence of the city has only increased with the rise of globalization. Global cities and massive metropolitan areas are exercising greater and greater control on the way the world lives, in areas such as economics, migration, and culture. Church leadership should be taking this social dynamic seriously if it wants to reach the world, or even simply its own backyard.
3. It’s an urban world because the Bible tells us so.
Ray Bakke has famously said, “The Bible begins in a garden, but ends with a city” (in A Theology as Big as the City, 1997). It can further be argued that the garden itself holds the seeds of the city, or is a city in its infancy. The cultural mandate of Gen. 1:28 is an urban mandate to humankind as a whole (Conn & Ortiz, Urban Ministry, 87) that we see developing by God’s sovereign design and under his redemptive rule throughout the unfolding narrative of Scriptures. The urban mandate finds its culmination in the New Jerusalem of Rev. 21 and 22, which was secured by the salvific work of Christ. I refer you to Conn & Ortiz’s Urban Ministry, Part 2, “Biblical Perspectives,” for a much fuller examination of this biblical story. Their treatment will bring you to a place where you can begin to grasp the grand vision of God’s urban intentions and the coming of his kingdom in the cities around the world. The world, both now and after, is urban, by God’s sovereign design.
As servants in God’s kingdom, those who are in positions of church leadership and those preparing for such positions need to give urban mission their attention, and seek to learn the body of knowledge this field has garnered. Such efforts will prove to be invaluable for kingdom mission in our urban world.
Dr. Kyuboem Lee serves as a lecturer of Urban Mission at Biblical Seminary. He is the founding pastor of Germantown Hope Community Church in Philadelphia, and the General Editor for the Journal of Urban Mission (http://jofum.com).