Friday, August 27, 2010

Keller’s Case for Urban Mission

Profile ImageFrom the Lausanne Global Conversation and an advance reading paper for the upcoming congress, Urban Realities: What is God’s Global Urban Mission?, by Tim Keller:

The reasons urban ministry was so effective [in the NT] can be summarized as follows: 

  • 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. 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.

The early church was largely an urban movement that won the people of the Roman cities to Christ, while most of the countryside remained pagan. Because the Christian faith captured the cities, however, it eventually captured the society, as must always be the case. Rodney Stark develops this idea in The Rise of Christianity:

"To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with widows and orphans, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity....People had been enduring catastrophes for centuries without the aid of Christian theology or social structures.  Hence I am by no means suggesting that the misery of the ancient world caused the advent of Christianity. What I am going to argue is that once Christianity did appear, its superior capacity for meeting these chronic problems soon became evident and played a major role in its ultimate triumph...[for what Christians] brought was not simply an urban movement, but a new culture" (61-62).

Christian mission won the ancient Greco-Roman world because it won the cities. The elites were of course important, but the Christian church did not focus on them alone. Then, as now, cities were filled with the poor, and the urban Christians’ commitment to the poor was visible and striking. Through the cities, Christians changed history and culture by winning the elites as well as identifying deeply with the poor.

And here is Keller’s vision about what urban mission looks like:

Christians live in the city in a posture of service. New businesses and nonprofits renew their slices of culture in large and small ways. Believers integrate their faith with their work so that every vocation becomes a kingdom activity. Campus ministries and other evangelistic agencies organically produce new Christian leaders who stay in the city and move into the churches and networks. People use their power, wealth, and influence for the good of others on the margins of society, to advance ministry, and to plant new churches. Churches and individual Christians support and commission the arts. Let’s break this down.

  1. New churches form the heart of these gospel ecosystems. They provide spiritual oxygen to the communities and networks of Christians who do the heavy lifting, over decades, to renew and redeem cities. They are the primary venue for discipleship and the multiplication of believers, as well as being the financial engine for all the ministry initiatives. This ecosystem is, therefore, a critical mass of new churches. They must be gospel-centered, urban, missional /evangelistic, balanced, growing, and self-replicating in diverse forms, across traditions, integrating races/classes. This is the most basic core of the ecosystem.
  2. The ecosystem also fosters networks and systems of evangelism that reach specific populations. In addition to campus ministries, which are especially important as a new leader development engine, other very effective, specialized evangelistic agencies are usually necessary to reach the elites, reach the poor, and reach Muslim, Hindu, and other particular cultural/religious groupings.
  3. Networks and organizations of cultural leaders within professional fields, such as business, government, academia, and the arts and media, are part of this ecosystem, as well. It is crucial that these individuals be active in churches that thoughtfully disciple and support them for public life. These leaders must also network and support each other within their own fields, spawning new cultural institutions and schools of thought.
  4. The ecosystem is also marked by agencies and initiatives produced by Christians to serve the peace of the city, and especially the poor. Hundreds and thousands of new non-profit and for-profit companies must be spawned to serve every neighborhood and every population in need. United and coordinated church alliances and institutions also serve Christian families and individuals and support their long-term life in the city (e.g., schools, theological colleges, and other institutions that make city living sustainable for Christians over the generations). 
  5. Additionally, this ecosystem has overlapping networks of city leaders. Church movement leaders, theologians/teachers, heads of institutions, and cultural leaders and patrons with influence and resources know one another and provide vision and direction for the whole city.

Read the whole thing (8 pages).

I’m thinking, “What would this look like in a city that is 99% Muslim?”  Keller mentions that this would take place “over decades.”  What if there are no churches to begin with and believers only exist in handfuls?

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