(YWAM School of Evangelism 2001 + updates 2003, 2005)
- Approx. 50% of the world’s population live in cities (about 3 billion [in 2001])
- The postmodern/post-industrial city is a composite of many worlds and increasingly globalised e.g. universal youth culture (WEF example at KL re shopping malls and music etc. SBS ad for Vodafone “98 million people in 28 countries have one thing in common”).
- All of this can be overwhelming, as John Dawson says, “The city intensifies everything, and this includes devotion to false gods.”
- If we feel overwhelmed the danger is that we will fall back into old or contextually ineffective modes of outreach in terms of reaching cities. (Been avoiding language of “evangelism” because what is really required is something more than verbal witness, i.e. holistic mission.)
- One danger is that we will limit our thinking to one to one strategies. There is a certain necessary truth in this, but it can fail to recognise that people exist within wider contexts – city dwellers live in a world which seemingly subsumes everything into itself. (Individuals are not monads.)
- Another danger is found in the popular revivalistic culture. The contemporary paradigm which dominates most “church growth” in the church is an ecclesiocentric attraction model. If we can only get people on the inside of a church building with a seeker sensitive service of a superlative standard, or an appropriate set of signs and wonders, depending on your spirituality, they will come to Christ. Besides the fact that most people simply aren’t that interested to cross the culture divide in the first place, this model does not engage the city as an entity in its own right.
- A new paradigm is needed whose focus is not the local church but the city as it exists before us, for this new paradigm to be embraced we need to:
- Recognise that many of the features of the old church based model were
- grounded in the culture of another time (the medieval parish church at the
- centre of village life, or a certain level of biblical knowledge).
- That these models are failing (see Grid statistics Summer 2001).
- That we need to allow God to complete his crucifying of the old in order to raise up the new.
- What is needed therefore is a theology, spirituality and strategy appropriate to context and scale of the city.
- My order above is deliberate, for we need to move from foundational truths (Word/ Scripture) to devotion/inspiration/vision (Spirit) to action/ministry.
A Theology for City- Reaching
The Eternal City
- There are a number of places in scripture where we could start to develop a theology for city- reaching. One place is the Tower of Babel, whilst Babel is instructive about many of the dimension of the problems of the spirituality engendered by the dynamic of cities, to begin with the negative usually leads to negative conclusions. Another possible approach is to trace the strategic progress of the gospel through the towns and villages of Galilee (Matt 9) and through the cities of the Roman Empire (Corinth, Philippi, Colossae, Rome etc.). This approach is strong in terms of strategy, but weak in terms of foundational theology.
- The starting point I have chosen is to begin with the place of the city at the end of the Bible. This gives a vantage point from which to look back on the whole history of God’s dealing with cities and some fundamental principles to apply to a spirituality and strategy for city –reaching. A careful examination of Revelation 21- 22 is that at the end of the biblical story the holy city, which is the new Jerusalem and the bride (21:2), the wife of the Lamb (21:10 –11), is the dwelling place of God (21:3). The dimensions of the city, of equal height, length and breadth, represent the Holy of Holies (21:16), there is not temple in the city (21:22), because the city as indwelt by God is a temple cf. 13:6.
- The picture goes on to relate how the glory of the nations comes in to the city (21: 24- 26.
- These texts tell us that God’s final purpose is not a garden but a city.
- The city is God’s final intention because it is his future home cf. John 14:2,23. Cf. The interest and affection of new home buyers.
- The glory of the nations constitutes the wealth of the city.
- The population of the city are “the kings of the earth”; the kingdom belongs to the saints (1:6; 11:15) who will reign with Christ forever (5:10; 20:6; 22:5).
- The glory of the nations is, in Johannine language, “the saints”, or in the language of the Gospels, “disciples”. The eternal fruit of the discipling of the nations (Matt 28:18 –20) is an eternal city, the home of God.( Cf. The prophecies about the future of Jerusalem Isa 14:32; 28: 16 –17; 60: 3,8,11; Zech 8:3- 5.)
- The city as a structure has not been abandoned but redeemed. Whereas the garden was created by a sovereign act of God, the city is contributed to by people in their daily lives. There is a (eschatological) city being prepared within the present (fallen) city.
- “This city then which John saw is none other than your city, the place where you live – as it might be, as you help make it. It is London, Berlin, New York, Paris, Melbourne, Calcutta – these as they might be, and in some infinitesimal degree as they already are.”
The Fallen City
- The above has important implications for the way we view the story of the rebellion of the city recounted in the Bible.
- Babel epitomises the sin of the city, its inhabitants turn from an ex-centric communication of blessing beyond themselves to become a concentration point for pride and self – reputation. “Let us make a name for ourselves” (Gen 11:4). Cf Gen 1:26. This turns the city into a site of judgement.
- The characteristic statement of the megacities of the bible is “I am and there is no other” (Isa 47:8 Babylon, Zeph 2:15 Nineveh, Rev 18:7 Rome). Implicit in this self reliance is rejection of covenantal fellowship with God. “she glorified herself” (Rev 18:7).
- Since God always opposes the proud, the fate of the city as an instrument of rebellion is destruction (Isa 14; Ezek 28; Rev 18 etc.).
The Redemption of the City and the Action of God
- Since grace works through judgement, the redemption of the city of humanity is effected through its worst action.
- Jerusalem is elected by God (1 Ki 8:44,48) to be holy (Ps 87:1; Ezek 20:40; Dan 9:16), the city of the great King (Ps 48:1- 2 etc.). It is called to be the site of God’s dwelling place on the earth (1 Ki 8:27; 2 Chron 6:2; Ezra 6:12; Ps 68:16 etc.).
- The behaviour of the chosen city is to image to the cities of the nations the glory and praise of the one true God. This would happen through all the spheres of life regulated by law and cult.
- Pride in election however becomes a recipe for destruction (Jer 7:1ff; 13:9 etc.). Punishment is to Babylon, supposedly the antithesis of Jerusalem and the epitome of idolatry and ungodliness.
- Return from exile brings a permanent repentance from overt idolatry, but no lasting change of heart. Arrogant self – based superiority still rules.
- Therefore, when the Messiah –King comes to visit his city, humble and mounted on a donkey (Zech 9:9; Matt 21:5), and when he enters his temple (Mal 3:1; Matt 21:12), the result is not welcome, recognition and praise but holy confrontation and rejection.
- The spiritual and economic centre of the city and nation was not a house of prayer for all peoples but a den of robbers (Isa 56:7; Jer 7:11; Mark 11:15 –17). The temple, destined by God to be a blessing to all the world had become an offense to his holy love.
- Confronted with Jesus prophetic energy, the privileged and wealthy priestly class immediately plotted to put him to death (Mark 11:18).
- Jesus is crucified outside the city gates (John 19:20; Heb 13:12), outside the holy city, on common ground.
- Because grace abounds all the more where sin abounds, the rejection of Jesus by the chosen city makes it possible for the world to be cleansed from its defilement and to become a holy habitation for God in the Spirit. In Christ there is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17).
- Hebrews says, “Let us then go out to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the one to come.” (Heb 13:13 –14). This city has foundations, for its architect and builder is God (Heb 11:10); it alone cannot be shaken (Heb 12:25 ff.) for it is a heavenly city (Heb 11:6).
- It is the relationship between the heavenly city and the church as the dwelling place of God on earth which gives power to the church to transform the temporal city.
The Redemption of the City and the Action of the Church
(J.Y. NorthCity Transformations video experience)
- As there is only one heavenly city so there can be only one people of God in each earthly city.
- Therefore the New Testament only ever refers to the “church” (singular) in Rome, Ephesus, Philippi etc. (Acts 8:1; 11:22; 13:1; 16:1; 1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1; 1 Thess 1:1 ; 2 Thess 1:2 )
- Likewise, each city in Revelation has a single lampstand (Rev 2- 3).
- The relationship between the church in each city and the eternal city of God is not only one of present hope to future fulfillment, but present communion with the ongoing life of the new Jerusalem in heaven.
- The New Testament pictures a dynamic relationship between the earthly and the heavenly. The “Jerusalem above” is “our mother” (Gal 4:26). We “have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God….and to the church of the firstborn enrolled in heaven…” (Heb 12: 22- 23). We are seated in the heavenly places with Christ (Eph 2:6) and have access to the council of God (Rev 5:8 etc.).
- The one communion of the saints in the Spirit must embrace present and future, heaven and earth.
- The content of the life of the church in the earthly city is to be seen in terms of that of the heavenly city, the fulness of Christ (Eph 1:22; 4:10; Col 2:10; Heb 12:24).
- As the church gathers in unity in each city it manifests God’s ultimate and eternal purpose for all creation symbolised by the new Jerusalem; it is the city set on the hill which cannot be hidden, it is the light of the world radiating Christ in the midst of the darkness etc. It welcomes the peoples into God’s kingdom, it heals the nations by the power of the gospel.
- The one church in the city images the one new humanity gathered around Christ. Ultimately, that is, at the eschaton, the creation, the church and the new city are one in God (see the terms in Rev 21 – 22).
- As the glory of the nations will flow into the new Jerusalem so the glory of each nation should flow into the church in the city (Rev 21:26).
- This is a powerful demonstration to the forces of darkness that that time of rule is coming to an end (Eph 3:10) and a welcoming invitation to God to ever more intense take up habitation in the city where each church dwells.
- This dwelling of God is not to be confused with some temporary visitation. As the church is God’s family, Christ’s body and the Spirit’s temple, this dwelling is permanent by nature (Eph 3:16 –17; Col 2:12- 16; 1 John 4:12). This is to be sustained experientially by faith (Eph 3:17) and obedience (Rev 3:20).
- The intensity and constancy of the presence of God in the city, mediated by the church, images the reality of the eschaton, which has come in Christ (1 Cor 10:11; Heb 6:3; Rev 1:17; 22:13).
- All of the above represents a theological foundation for city reaching. Without an appropriate spirituality however it remains inert.
A Spirituality for City Reaching
Love for the City
- Personal identification with the city in which you live is indispensable. (God does this.)
- Sense of call to the city, not just to a local congregation or ministry. (The city is constant, these are variable.) J.Y. examples, blue sky, Norfolk pines.
- The above create a context for receiving God’s heart for the city. J.Y. example, Buenos Aires airport – O.H.P. 1
- The above are (relatively) inescapable. Cf. Ruth 1:15; Jer 20:7ff; Luke 13:33 (a prophet cannot perish outside Jerusalem.
- Without this love the cost of reaching the city will prove too great.
Prayer for the City
- City reaching requires a lifestyle of prayer (1 Thess 5:17).
- Prayer is not a means to an end nor a strategy to employ when human resources fail, but the very expression of life. “It is the life which prays.” (A. Murray)
- The ceaseless dependency of those committed to city reaching is expressed in prayer. Apart from prayer, this call is impossible.
- As the essence of intercession is identification, the spirituality of city reaching will flow into intercession for the city. This means praying for the welfare of your city (Jer 29), standing in the gap for the city (Ezek 22: 29- 31) and on the wall giving God no rest (Isa 62: 6- 7).
- Intercession is the site of the struggle for the soul of the city, as such, the essential characteristic to overcome the central problem of the city, pride, is humility in prayer (2 Chron 7:14 etc.). This releases the power of the cross (Phil 2:5- 11).
Partnership for the City
- City reaching requires an unqualified commitment to partnership.
- This is built on death to selfish ambition (Phil 2:3ff.). A person must be willing to “risk” a visible decline in the fruit of their “own” ministry if this helps grow the work of God in the city.
- Commitment to partnership requires a willingness to interact with those who are different from us. J.Y. examples, repentance for theological pride at V.M.T.C.
- This needs hard work and persistence. See O.H.P. Interdev, Working Together Forum (MisssionsFest 2003)
Strategies for City Reaching
Strategies of Unity
- Events and processes designed to reveal the truth of the unity of the church and to build up the practical expression of this.(John 17:21- 23; Eph 4:4- 6 ; 1 Cor 12 etc.)
- Examples of this in Perth include:
- Church Together
- City – Wide Evangelistic events e.g. Franklin Graham
- “City – Wide” Conferences e.g. “Rise”
- Women – Celebrate
- Working Together Forums
- This involves growing together in the realisation that “ There is only one church in the city that meets in many different congregations.” (Ed Silvoso)
Strategies of Leadership
- Events and processes designed to reveal the truth of the unity of the leadership of the church in the city and to build up the practical expression of this.
- Regional pastors prayer meetings e.g. C.M.N., Fremantle etc.
- Pastors Prayer Summits. “ A four – day worship experience attended by a diversity of Christian leaders from specific communities, whose singular purpose is to seek God, his kingdom and his righteousness. The expectation is that he will guide them through a humbling, healing, uniting process that will lead them to a unity of heart, mind and mission, and will qualify them for the blessing of God.” (Joe Aldrich)
- The oneness of the church in the city implies that there is city- wide leadership. J.Y. “string for the pearls” example.
- Eldership appears as a city phenomenon in the New Testament (Acts 13:1ff; 14:23; Tit 1:5).
- This is not controlling but relationally based and visionary (1 Peter 5:1ff.).
- It is diverse in origin and style. J.Y. Argentina hotel roof top example, Eph 3:10.
- Its members are servants of the city (1 Cor 4:1 ; 2 Cor 4:5).
- Its members are marked by humility (Acts 20: 19; 1 Pet 5:5).O.H.P. holiness > humility> unity > impact.
- Towards and outside of the city, its members are representatives of the city church (Acts 20:4- 5; Rom 15: 25- 26).
- In Perth we are working towards a CityReach reference group and a CityReach Facilitation Team.
Strategies of Prayer
- Events and processes designed to coordinate and multiply prayer in the life of the city.
- Examples of this in Perth include:
- Pray W.A./ PrayerNet WA
- Prayer Together: city view site, directed prayer, coordinated with radio
- Prayer Assembly: church location, lengthy prayer, prophetic – intercession
- Suburban Prayer Cells: cross denominational, geographical location. Prayer for suburb e.g. schools
- Future Projects include:
- Prayer Research (“Spiritual Mapping”) : see O.H.P.
- 24 Hour Prayer Centre : data base of intercessors, on – line or phone – in prayer requests, continuous prayer for city etc.
Emergence of Vision
- This emerges in the midst of all the relationship building processes involved in city reaching.
- Vision is actualised by revelation of the Spirit of Christ as prayerful unity happens, it goes on to reinforce this.
- Some of the emerging elements of vision for a city reaching paradigm are summed up in “The Changing Paradigm” O.H.P.
- The result is growing consensus and practical cooperation. O.H.P.’s of arrows lining up.
Strategies of Penetration
- This is the most neglected and the most necessary area of consideration. J.Y. Acts 3:20 experience.
- It involves a paradigmatic shift in thinking:
- Church focus to world focus : who do we serve?
- Congregation horizon to city horizon: maintenance to transformation.
- Clergy to laity as “ministers”: lay people reach cities.
- The command to fill up the earth with the divine presence, and to exercise godly dominion over all the spheres of creation, is a command that can only be fulfilled by the mass of the people of God who live, move and have their daily being in these spheres (Gen 1:28; Heb 2:5-9). This presence is that of the life of the ascended Lord Jesus (Eph 1:22; 4:10) working through his bride to subject all things to himself and, by subjugating all his enemies, to bring in the kingdom where God is all in all (1Cor 15:25-28).
- Whole City Penetration is effected when believers in every sphere of life; mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, educators, labourers, housewives, judges, students, police, executives and on and on, manifest the transforming power of the life of Jesus in every relationship of life in which they have been set by the divine Head (1Cor 3:21b-22). In this way, the power of the ascended Christ brings about a city transformation (cf. Acts 19:23ff.).
- To assist in the effecting of this requires:
- The multiplication of networks dedicated to holistic mission within the various strata of society
- The multiplication of prayer cells across the city in every place where people live and work. O.H.P. on socio-cultural transformation
- This may require new training structures e.g. Institute for Everyday Christianity.
Releasing the City into its Destiny
- The object or goal of all the foregoing is not more or larger churches but a transformed city.
- This is obedience to Jesus’ command to disciple nations.
- As the salt penetrates, the light shines and the holiness expands, “Christian city” emerges and carries forward the redemptive purposes of God in relation to the city.
- This prophetic direction means justice for the powerless, hospitality for strangers, equality to the underprivileged, dignity for the degraded and salvation for the lost. For such is the city of God.
- If “the earth is to be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2:14), then the destiny of the city is ultimately ex-centric; each city is a servant in the world, just as each Christian and congregation is a servant of the city.
- This will mean a release of the missionary nature of the church. For example, Perth and the Indian Ocean rim, the Asian time zone.
- This will entail research, mobilisation, capitalisation, coordination, prayer and the distribution of resources in the city of Perth and beyond. J.Y. experience, Perth World Mission and Prayer Centre.