The cities of the world are crucial places for Christian mission. We can see this from the very beginnings of the church: in Acts, Paul goes to Athens, the intellectual centre of the Greco-Roman world; Corinth, one of the commercial centres of the empire; Ephesus, perhaps the Roman world’s religious centre as the hub of many pagan cults and particularly of the imperial cult; and to Rome, the empire’s power capital, the military and political centre of that world. John Stott concludes: “It seems to have been Paul’s deliberate policy to move purposefully from one strategic city-centre to the next."1
By reaching the city, Paul reached the whole society, as evidenced in the letter to the Colossians. In this epistle, Paul follows up disciples in cities along the Lycus Valley - Laodicea, Hierapolis, Colossae - even though he had never visited those places personally. They were likely converted through the Ephesian ministry. If the gospel is unfolded at the urban centre, you reach the region and the society.
Cities are culturally crucial. In the village, someone might win its one or two lawyers to Christ, but winning the legal profession requires going to the city with the law schools, the law journal publishers, and so on.
Cities are globally crucial. In the village, someone can win only the single people group living there, but spreading the gospel to ten or twenty new national groups/languages at once requires going to the city, where they can all be reached through the one lingua franca of the place.
Cities are personally crucial. Cities are disturbing places. The countryside and the village are marked by stability and residents are more set in their ways. Because of the diversity and intensity of the cities, urbanites are much more open to new ideas—such as the gospel! Because they are surrounded by so many people like and unlike themselves, and are so much more mobile, urbanites are far more open to change/conversion than any other kind of resident. Regardless of why they may have moved to the city, once they arrive there the pressure and diversity make even the most traditional and hostile people open to the gospel.
Reaching an entire city, however, takes more than a few effective churches or even a short burst of revival energy and new converts. To change a city takes a self-sustaining, naturally growing movement of ministries and networks around a core of new church multiplication, so that the number of gospel-shaped Christians in a city becomes so large that Christian influence on the civic and social life of the city—and on the very culture—is recognisable and acknowledged. This should be the aim of every urban church, and the prayer of every urban Christian.
This piece is based on material presented at the Third Lausanne Congress, and on What is God’s Global Urban Mission? from the Lausanne Global Conversation, both by Tim Keller. Tim Keller is founder and pastor of New York’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, and a New York Times best-selling author. With acknowledgement and thanks to The Third Lausanne Congress and Redeemer City to City. www.redeemercitytocity.com
1 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church, & the World (Bible Speaks Today series) (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 293.