Friday, October 15, 2010

Lausanne Friday : Cities

From the paper Urban Realities: What is God's Global Urban Mission? :

: What is a city and cities in the Scriptures
Today, a city is defined almost exclusively in terms of population size. Larger population centers are called 'cities,' smaller ones 'towns,' and the smallest are 'villages.' We must not impose our current usage on the biblical term, however. The main Hebrew word for city means any human settlement surrounded by some fortification or wall. Most ancient cities numbered only about 1,000-3,000 in population. 'City' in the Bible meant not so much population size as density. The word translated 'compact' meant to be closely intertwined and joined. In a fortified city, the people lived close to one another in tightly compacted houses and streets. In fact, most ancient cities were estimated to be five to ten acres, with 240 residents per acre. By comparison, contemporary Manhattan in New York City houses only 105 residents per acre.

When we finally come to the early church, we see God's redemptive mission no longer centers on any particular city such as Jerusalem, or on Babylon. All the cities of the world become crucial. In Acts 17, Paul goes to Athens, the intellectual center of the Greco-Roman world. In Acts 18, he travels to Corinth, one of the commercial centers of the empire. In Acts 19, he arrives in Ephesus, perhaps the Roman world's religious center as the hub of many pagan cults and particularly of the imperial cult, with three temples for emperor worship. By the end of Acts, Paul makes it to Rome, the empire's power capital, the military and political center 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."

: Why cities:
+ If the gospel is unfolded at the urban center, 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. By this I mean that 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.
+ World cities are becoming more and more economically and culturally powerful; Cities are the seats of multinational corporations and international economic, social, and technological networks. The technology/communication revolution means that the culture and values of global cities are now being transmitted around the globe to every tongue, tribe, people, and nation. Kids in Iowa or even Mexico are becoming more like young adults in Los Angeles and New York City than they are like adults in their own locales. The coming world order will be a global, multicultural, urban order.
+ The millions of newcomers in burgeoning cities have characteristics that make them far more open to the Christian faith than they were before arriving.

: The urban church in practice
However, there is a great barrier to urban mission that is not in the cities themselves nor in urban residents, but in the church. The sensibilities of most evangelical churches and leaders are often non or even anti-urban. Many ministry methods have been forged outside of urban areas and then simply imported, with little thought to the unnecessary barriers this erects between urban dwellers and the gospel.
+ Effective urban church leaders must be far more educated and aware of the views and sensitivities of different ethnic groups, classes, races, and religions. Urbanites know how often members of two different racial groups can use the identical word to mean very different things. Consequently, they are very circumspect and careful when approaching issues that racial groups see very differently.
+ Traditional evangelical ministries tend to give believers relatively little help in understanding how they can maintain their Christian practice outside the walls of the church while still participating in the world of the arts and theatre, business and finance, scholarship and learning, and government and public policy. Away from big cities, it may be more possible to live one's life in compartments, with Christian discipleship largely consisting of activities done in the evenings or on the weekend. That doesn't work in cities, where people live most of their lives in the careers or the long work-hours of their jobs.
+ Most evangelical churches are middle-class in their corporate culture. People value privacy, safety, homogeneity, sentimentality, space, order, and control. In contrast, the city is filled with ironic, edgy, diversity-loving people who have a much higher tolerance for ambiguity and disorder.

: Two tipping points
+ The gospel movement tipping point. A church planting project becomes a movement when the ecosystem elements are all in place and most of the churches have the vitality, leaders, and mindset to plant another church within five to six years of their own beginnings. When the tipping point is reached, a self-sustaining movement begins. Enough new believers, leaders, congregations, and ministries are being naturally produced for the movement to grow without any single command-and control center. The body of Christ in the city funds itself, produces its own leaders, and conducts its own training. A sufficient number of dynamic leaders is always rising up. The number of Christians and churches doubles every seven to ten years. How many churches must be reached for this to occur? While it is impossible to give a number that would hold for every city and culture, all the elements in the ecosystem must be in place and very strong.
+ The city tipping point.
That is the moment when 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 recognizable and acknowledged. For example, neighborhoods stay largely the same if new types of residents (richer, poorer, or culturally different from the rest) comprise less than 5 percent of the population. Some prison ministers report that if more than 10% of the inmates become Christians, it changes the corporate culture of the prison. The relationships between prisoners, between prisoners and guards—;all change. Likewise, when the number of new residents reaches somewhere between 5 and 20 percent, depending on the culture, the whole neighborhood ethos shifts. In New York City, some groups have a palpable effect on the way life is lived, when their numbers reach at least 5 to 15 percent and when the members are active in public life.

: For students:
+ Spend some time in a city. Weekends, summers, etc. Get to know the smells and sounds of a city. Get really good at urban navigation.
+ Do some research with regard to on the ground ministries in a city. Meet some people doing innovative, creative urban ministry. Take detailed notes on the organizational culture of an urban ministry and compare it with the ministry culture you currently serve in. [See UYWI, Jeremy Del Rio]
+ Read The Tipping Point.

This post is part of a series of posts about Cape Town 2010 highlighting what I think are some important concepts that students interested in missions should be aware of.

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