Capturing Jesus’ Heart for the City: A Personal Reflection
I am not a city boy. I grew up both rural and suburban. I know how to survive in the woods and have shoveled my share of manure. I love Starbucks and have a dresser filled with polo shirts. I am content with a canoe paddle in hand or a laptop in lap. I love to drive my 4×4 pick-up, but I have also owned a convertible sports car.
However, experiences, urban friends, professors, and Bible study have cultivated my heart for the city. I have grown to love the city — the sights, the sounds, and sometimes the smells. I am enamored by the places and the people of the city. Skylines and their high rise buildings captivate me. The people often remind me of what heaven will look like — different ethnicities, cultures, and languages.
When I examine what has shaped my heart for the city, five observations come to mind, which I pray all will find valuable:
1. God has a heart for the city.
While a few might read the concept of the city into too much of the Bible, others do not recognize God’s concern for the city as expressed in the Scriptures. Many read the Bible with their rural or suburban lenses. God, though, shows concern for the well-being of society as a whole. He is concerned with people and place (Gen 18:16-33; Neh 2:1-6, 11:1-2; Jer 5:1; Ezek 16:48-50), and he has compassion and concern for public welfare (Ps 72:1-4, 12-14; 122:6-9; Isa 58:3-7; Jer 29:4-7).
If we are going to follow Christ consistently, we cannot avoid seeing his compassionate and specific work in and for the city. Jesus ministered in and sent his disciples to minister in cities and towns of Galilee (Matt 9:35-11:1; Mark 6:6, 56). Urban institutions — courts, worship centers, city squares, and marketplaces — are found throughout Christ’s ministry (Matt 5:25, 23:7; Mark 6:56).
Most of Paul’s ministry was focused in urban centers, and the early church utilized urban centers for the spread of the gospel. Research shows that nearly two-thirds of the populations of the Roman Empire and of Christians were established in the major urban areas.1 Christianity spread where the majority of people were concentrated. I believe God wishes us to have the same heart for the cities that he possesses and that has been evidenced in so many of his faithful ministers.
2. The city is the global mission field.
The world is coming to the city through urbanization and globalization. People from all walks of life claim the city as their place to live, work, and/or play. New York City will show you this phenomenon. Residents of The Big Apple speak approximately 170 different languages. Even the small city of Springfield, OH (a city of only 62,500, where I spent some time ministering during college) has 40 different nationalities represented. The city provides a place where people from all tribes can be reached. God has brought people of all nations to the cities, and the church has an opportunity to minister to all nations while serving in the city.
3. The city is a place of influence that serves as a change agent.
The city is a change agent. Cities act as hubs of power and influence. Cities are centers of politics, economics, government, and social structures. When city people are changed by Christ and begin to live, work, and play from a biblical worldview, cities are changed. In turn, politics, economics, government, and social structures are changed. When Christians influence the city, the city influences culture beyond itself for Christ. There is such great opportunity for seeing and expressing God’s glory in the city!
4. The city is full of potential.
Both place and people are full of potential. Most of the potential influence and power in cities, however, is not being used for God’s glory. Urbanites have potential in their talents, abilities, and gifts God has granted to them. Furthermore, different cultures and economic classes bring new and complementary views and ideas to those of traditional, white, middle-class suburbanites. Urbanites need to be discipled and have their potential cultivated. I see such great potential in people saved by Christ and who live in the cities.
5. The city is full of people.
When I travel to a big city, I am reminded of the number of people who live in urban settings. In the United States, 250 million of its 300 million people reside in metropolitan areas.2 Over half of the world’s population resides in urban contexts.3 Cities are crowded places. During my recent trip to Los Angeles, it seemed as if over half the population of the world were trying to drive on the same road as I. Overwhelming is the number of people living, working, and playing in the city and who need a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
We cannot miss the opportunity to make a difference in the city. Let God develop your heart for the city by:
- Reading a book on urban ministry (See the bibliography at www.urbanministrytraining.org/resources and look for works by Ray Bakke, David Claerbaut, Harvey Conn, Roger Greenway, and others).
- Praying for the major cities in your state.
- Visiting an urban church or a city ministry in your area.
- Driving through the “rough” neighborhoods to get a glimpse of what most urbanites deal with everyday.
- Praying about how you can begin to have an influence in the lives of those in the city.