I have had a burden for city/urban ministry for many years. It was because of people doing ministry in the city that my family came to know, love, and be transformed by the Gospel. This week my church began a bible study series entitled: God’s City: My City by Roger Hernandez. The first weeks lesson in this series is entitled: Love the City. What an interesting concept. Does the bible reveal a God that loves the city?
- Jonah 4:11 (ESV) Should not I pity Nineveh, that great city…
- Luke 13:34 (ESV) O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
- Genesis 18:32 (ESV) …He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”
It is pretty clear, God loves cities. Cities filled with crime, drugs, poverty, and liberally minded people. God loves the places we, very often, fear to tread. Maybe we fear the city’s sinfulness will rub off on our children. We’re afraid it’s immorality will pollute us like the smog that fills it’s skies. But what if it was your child living in the city? What if the city was your home. Would you be so quick to neglect the city? It was while pondering this that it hit me. No wonder God loves cities…they’re filled with his children.
Let’s look at the Why, the What, and the How of ministry in the city. We get our answer from Acts 8:1–8 (ESV)
1. And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
2. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him.
3. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
4. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.
5. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.
6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did.
7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.
8 So there was much joy in that city.
First, Why? Why do we need to do ministry in the city? Ultimately, it is because the city is where more of God’s children live. And because the gospel is the only thing that can bring lasting change. The church is the #1 ingredient for city flourishing. We can put more people in jail, have more government programs, emphasis more education, (all of which are important). However does that solve the biggest problem in the city? The city’s biggest problem is not crime, social, racial injustice, or poverty. All of these are very serious, but they are only symptoms of the real underlining problem…sin.
Social injustice and crime was something the early church faced. Acts 8:1 says And Saul approved of his execution, (Stephen). And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Which leads us to the What?
What did the church do for the city as a response to the injustice? They didn’t run for their bomb shelters, or their country communes . Acts 8:5 says Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. The church’s respones to the crime of the city wasn’t to run from the city, but to run into the city. They shared the gospel. And as a result Acts 8:7,8 says For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city. The church’s love for the city lead to the city’s well-being.
But how can the church ever love the city like that? We live in a time when rather than loving the city, we’re leaving it, (1). We’re a bunch of Jonahs.The answer is in the gospel.
The early church was thoroughly shaped by the gospel. What lead the church to go into the cities preaching the gospel in Acts 8? It was the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 7. Acts 7:56,57,60 says And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him…And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
How could Stephen forgive the very people who where stoning him. He was shaped by the gospel. He had seen his savior Jesus say, Father forgive them, on the cross. That was the catalyst that propelled Stephen, Philip, and the rest of the early church into crime-filled cities…even places they traditionally avoided like Samaria. It is an experience with the gospel that will propel us into the city with an attitude of love. Because if Jesus was willing to leave the comforts of heaven to come to a sin-filled planet called earth, surely I can leave the comforts of my suburban neighborhood and go into the sin-filled city. If we want to reach more people, more cultures, more professions, we need to go into the city, (2). It’s where the people are!
Only by ministering a ministry shaped by the gospel in our cities is the real problem addressed. And it’s when the church does that, that according to Acts 8:8 there will be much joy in that city.
1. Hernandez, Roger Gods City:My City
2. Keller, Timothy Center Church, Zondervan
Copyright 2012 Richie Halversen