Only Reaching the City – Is that sensible? Is that fair?

3 May

London cityscape at nightYou hear a lot about the ‘theology of the city’ nowadays. How we need to ‘win the city to win the nation’ and ‘transform the city, transform the culture.’

As a country bumpkin this has always troubled me, especially when I stopped and thought about the implications for Wales as a whole, a country with barely 1 city (in the sense that theology of the city people use the word). Does this mean we should all pack up and move to London? Even worse, Paris?

Well, apparently I’m reading too much into the encouragements to love the city and transform the city. Keller has posted (some time ago) a short blog on why he isn’t advocating exclusively for the city, but rather more for the city:

Are You Saying That All Christians Should Make Cities a Priority?

Some people hear me speak about the importance of city ministry and think I’m saying that all Christians (at least all those missions-minded) should move into cities. But I’m not saying that. I’m saying that many more mission agencies and many more Christians ought to minister in cities than are currently doing so. Why? Because of the sheer masses of people who live there and because of how influential cities are on their respective societies and cultures.

It is, then, a matter of emphasis — as in, the church doesn’t emphasize city ministry enough. Even mathematically, it is obvious that cities are woefully underserved by the church. For example, Georgia and South Carolina, combined, have an estimated population of 15 million, while the New York City metro area has a population of 18-19 million. Ask nearly any evangelical denomination — do you have as many churches in the NYC area as you do in Georgia and South Carolina all together? Then ask for the numbers. Then ask why two states with a smaller population would have (in most cases) many times more churches than New York. Is that fair?

When I studied the book of Proverbs, I came to see that a proverb is not the same as a command or a promise. Proverbs say things like, “In general, if you work hard, you won’t find yourself lacking the basics, but there are plenty of exceptions. So work hard, but don’t be shocked if something goes wrong.” That’s not an iron-clad promise (that everyone who works hard will be well off) nor a command. It is a statement about a wise course of action. When I say that we need to put more emphasis on city ministry, I’m speaking ‘proverbially.’ The Bible and history shows us how important cities are as centers for ministry, yet the amount of effort the church puts into cities is not proportionate to the need or opportunity.

So my point is — that far more churches, far more Christians, and far more missions should be dedicated to reaching the great cities of the world. That is not the same as saying ‘anyone who is really sold out for Jesus’ mission will go to cities.’

Tim Keller – March 2010 via Redeemer City to City blog

Actually I vented my previous frustrations about this city theology when I interviewed Steve Timmis back in 2010. Here’s the clip of that particular question:


2 Responses to “Only Reaching the City – Is that sensible? Is that fair?”

  1. Dafydd 03/05/2011 at 10:06 am #

    Thanks Sammy,
    I think that it’s so easy to see something which works somewhwere else and think that’s the only answer. But God works in each community in a way which reaches those people best. Although it has been said that Paul’s ministry was a ministry to cities, our Lord’s ministry was very much a rural one. Steve Timmis’ reference to Welsey is interesting. George Whitefield was only persuaded to do open air preaching after spending time with Howell Harris (who was not allowed to preach in churches). Daniel Rowland, probably the greatest preacher that Wales ever produced, lived in the tiny rural community of Llangeitho, and people went from the towns and cities to hear him preach (very much as they went into the wilderness to hear John the Baptist).
    The challenge for us in Wales is how to connect with people in our communities, alongside the greater issue of how do we know the fullness of the Spirit which will make our witness credible and effective.

    • Sammy Davies 02/06/2011 at 1:46 pm #

      Thanks for the encouragement and I’m glad it was of use.

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