Thursday, November 1, 2018

A Practical Theology of Urban Ministry: How do we minister to big cities today?

Let us consider what a truly biblical theology of urban ministry looks like.  In our day and age major and minor cities are under-evangelized, under-discipled, and their inner city churches are often caught up in partisan politics and so called “social justice” while souls are being lost each day by the thousands to the kingdoms of darkness.  So to discover a truly biblical theology of urban ministry, we must first recognize the key, primary concern of the church on Earth: Making disciples of all nations and baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:16-20).  We’ll be looking at various areas of growth and concern for the proclamation of the gospel in urban areas, and we’ll address ways in which this can be done wisely, biblically, and with boldness and love.  The primary sources of raw data for this consideration include first of all the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, and also includes Tim Keller’s “Center Church” (2012), as well as Street Signs by David P. Leong, Robert Gench’s Theology from the Trenches, and Christ and Culture by H. Richard Niebuhr (2001).  

Scriptural Foundations for the Context of Urban Ministry
Jeremiah 29:3-7 (ESV) "The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It said: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."

First of all, we look at this scripture from Jeremiah 29:3-7 in considering a sola scriptura view of the city context.  God had allowed Israel to be taken to Babylon in captivity.  But the Lord tells the people through his prophet to build houses, and to plant gardens and eat.  He also says to take wives and have sons and daughters.  And he commands his people to seek the welfare of the city and to pray on behalf of the city.  The principle here is clear: We should seek to pray for and bless the people of the city.  The city is not a place to run away from if we are called there, but a place to embrace, to a certain extent, and to minister to.
Revelation 21:2 (ESV) "And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband."
Revelation 21:2 refers to the coming city of God the new Jerusalem.  This is a beautiful city, a perfect city where God will commune with his people.  All people will live together in this place, with homes, and fellowship and continuous worship to God.  Therefore, we can discern from this that cities are not fundamentally evil places. They are obviously imperfect in this world.  But a city is not in itself an evil thing, but has the potential to be a good thing.
Hebrews 13:14 ESV "For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come."
The context of Hebrews 13:14 is a depiction of Jesus being crucified outside the city.  The letter to the Hebrews seemed to be communicating to the Jews that the hope of Jerusalem in the Mosaic covenant context was no longer binding.  Jerusalem was not an eternal city, there is no lasting city on the fallen Earth.  So the writer of Hebrews calls the Jews to come to Jesus, who was crucified outside the city.  In light of sola scriptura, we can understand that this verse is not condemning city life, but calling the Jews away from the old covenant and toward the new.  But implicit in the verse is the understanding that no city on Earth can ever be the city of God that we're called to inhabit one day.  The only way for all things to be made right, and for the city of God to be established, is for Christ to return, and to establish his eternal kingdom.

Christ and Culture Models
The following models are given by Tim Keller, taken from H. Richard Niebuhr's book Christ and Culture. I'll be listing these approaches to cultural engagement and giving thoughts on the effectiveness of each.
Christ against culture. This model suggests fleeing culture and developing separate Christian community. Obviously I would reject this model, as it is not particularly useful in regard to culture engagement.  This model would have us flee and separate ourselves from culture. This is not a useful way to carry the gospel.
Christ of culture. This approach in my view is even worse than fleeing culture. This approach embraces culture and attempts to affirm culture, and make Christ part of culture.  There are some things that can be affirmed in culture, but much of it is alien to Christian truth.
Christ above culture. Once again, this approach is similar to Christ of culture.  Building on the good in culture in my view is dangerous, and could easily lead to compromising biblical truth, or simply becoming a chaplain to the desires and pursuits of secular culture.
Christ and culture in paradox. This view does have some merits to it. Christians do indeed exist in two different worlds, one spiritual, one physical. This view specifically divides it up as sacred and secular. This view could attempt to affirm what is good and transform what is evil.  But I agree with Keller, that it does come up short.
Christ transforming culture. This view seeks to transform every part of culture with Christ.  I too believe this is the best model. To be a Christian is to be transformed by the living gospel.  Cultures can and will be transformed by that same gospel.  A culture can't really stay the same when it encounters God almighty, it changes, and transforms, and becomes something better. 
The chief foundation scripture for a theology of the city in regard to cultural engagement is Romans 12:2 (ESV) “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." I would also name Galatians 3:28 and 1st Corinthians 9:19-23 as additional guidelines for cultural engagement in a theological understanding of such engagement.
Out of Niebuhr's categories the best concept of Christ and culture I believe is that Christ transforms culture. And this is shown in Romans 12:2. Paul writes to believers to encourage them to be transformed, and to not conform to the patterns of this world.  This applied on an individual or church-wide level shows a Christian approach to culture, not removed from, or building upon culture, but being transformed by Christ into unique culture. 
The boundary lines I would draw for this are guided by Galatians 3:28 and 1st Corinthians 9:19-23.  On one end, we see that there really is no more gentile or Jew, or slave or free, but all are one in Christ.  This teaching compels us away from "multiculturalism" and "remaining in culture" and calls us toward the unique unity of kingdom culture.  Then again on the other end of the spectrum, we see 1st Corinthians 9:19-23, which says we as evangelists to the multicultural world will become anything, and adjust ourselves in many ways to relate ourselves to cultures, and bring people to Jesus.  These are the guidelines and boundaries I find to be biblical, reasonable, and logical in engaging culture. Practically speaking, this means engaging with culture, embracing certain aspects of culture, and also calling people to radical transformation in Christ. 

The Church as Witness to the City
Next, we consider the church and its witness to the city. Tim Keller is indeed correct when he says that the church is the final apologetic of the gospel (Keller, 2012).  But the gospel is also the final apologetic of the church. The gospel makes us holy, and the church depicts the beauty of the gospel, or at least it ought to.
Of course the approach we take in the city is a vital concern. One must consider the culture and adapt the phrasing of the gospel to match the mindset of the people of the city.  We must outline the gospel in clear terms, and depict it in a way that people of the city can understand.  Sin must be specified in ways that the city can understand.  What sins are common in the city?  What sins are universal? They should be depicted clearly and specifically.  Salvation should be understood in terms of freedom from sins, and the gift of a new life.
How can the gospel be explained to people in the city? Might it need to be phrased in a way that shows the ultimate emptiness of the pursuit of worldly pleasures and the meaning found in the gospel of salvation?  The new birth could be depicted as a new life based on the true meaning of life. Sanctification could be depicted as a growth process through which the city and the people in it our brought into continuous renewal. The people of God, the church, could become a vital aspect of the large city context, and a renewing agent to the city culture wrought with poverty and brokenness.
The people of the church have sometimes failed to live out the gospel through a lifestyle truly free from sin. There have been some successes and some failures in my denominational context.  And in the context of the big city ministry, the Salvation Army has sometimes followed impotent government institutions which try to create programs to solve poverty or hunger, and only make it worse with unintended consequences. The Salvation Army has sometimes followed that poor example. However, the Salvation Army has also shown itself plainly, in the test of time, to be one of the most enduring movements of society in the last two hundred years.
In my context, the Salvation Army has succeeded most when preaching the gospel, and discipling new converts. This approach was particularly successfully done by John Wesley in Methodism through class meetings and open air preaching.  William Booth did a great deal of street preaching, but not as much in the form of groups and class meetings.  The Salvation Army has been successful in the context of adult rehabilitation centers where drug addicts and alcoholics are taught work skills, and guided through recovery in Christ.  Corps have done well through red kettle campaigns during Christmas.  Other ministries have been less successful, such as the farm colony idea, the match factory, and more recently Kroc centers have struggled in some ways to connect with communities and develop self-sustaining fundraising. But there has been improvement in this regard to Kroc centers in more recent times.

Models of Balance in Urban Ministry
Next let’s consider some of the models discussed in the Keller text "Center Church."  Keller indicated (p. 23) that a balance must be found in the gospel, between legalism and relativism. I would suggest that perhaps a better way of stating it would be a difference between legalism and antinomianism. But the concept is sound. Legalism is the danger of simply obeying the various commandments of the Old and New testament, and losing touch with Jesus Christ; turning instead to self-righteousness. Just as much, if not more so in our day and age is the threat of antinomianism, that one simply believes in Christ, with no need for repentance or setting aside sins of the flesh.  The balance between these two is where the gospel is found, in Jesus Christ, and is the best hope for urban ministry.
Additionally, Keller indicates that for the city context there must be a balance between overadapting and underadapting.  The question must be wrestled time and again: When do we challenge the culture on a particular issue and when do we appreciate a culture?  We can appreciate the city for its architecture, for its fine works of art, and its wealth and intellectual prowess.  We can certainly also challenge the city culture in regard to poverty, drug use, human trafficking, abortion, and other concerns.
Keller continues with a model in the context of "movement." He indicates there must be a balance between structured organization and fluidity. The Salvation Army has certainly wrestled with this sort of balance, between holding to traditions and the authority of the scriptures, and the need for adaptability and versatility in how programs are done. I think the best balance to strike is to hold unwaveringly to the truths of the scriptures and the traditional doctrines of the faith, while being at the cutting edge of new and unique ways of applying these timeless truths to reach people and serve those who are suffering. To move the city into the deep implications of the gospel will mean retelling the gospel message through the lenses of the city, and engaging in meaningful ministry outreach through street evangelism and community cares ministry.  This will help the people of the city understand the gospel in modern terms and see the positive effects of the gospel on the city landscape.
Keller indicates that the means of grace don't have to be complicated or highly specialized to be effective in the context of the city. This sort of view implies that the gospel message is quite sufficient to save and transform humanity without elaborate applications.  Wisdom and discernment are certainly warranted when proclaiming the gospel message, but there is no need to develop complicated programs and ministry approaches.  The gospel message is itself empowered and delivered by the Holy Spirit.  The delivery approach is not as important as the gospel itself, through which Jesus Christ himself, who is alive, makes his message known. 
Then again, Tim Keller has certainly used innovative methods to develop and reach people in ministry in the city.  I think of Tim Keller's book The Reason for God (Keller, 2016) and a small group video curriculum that I viewed that integrated group discussions based on this book. Keller made use of apologetics and reasonable arguments for the existence of God to help contemporary audiences to understand the relevance of the gospel message.
So does the complexity of the city mean that the gospel message has to be complicated?  I don't believe so. Perhaps there are more unique methods that can be made use of in evangelism outreach. But once the people have entered the church and come to faith, the means of grace is fairly straight forward: preaching, small groups, discipleship groups, lay leader curriculum teaching, prayer groups, and so on.  These are time tested methods and they are useful for all peoples, even people in big cities.
The gospel certainly does have the power to transform in mighty and provocative ways. But it is also important to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" in carrying the gospel to the lost. If the gospel transformed areas regardless of approach, then churches would have the same successes in major cities as in smaller towns.  But that isn't the case. The church struggles to reach people in larger cities, for certain reasons.  It's the same with missionary efforts. In certain parts of the world the gospel spreads quickly, while in areas within the 10-40 window, the gospel doesn't move as freely.
Keller is right that there is great and mighty power in the gospel. And that by believing in the gospel, people are transformed and saved by Jesus. But I do believe that the context is important. When dealing with an urban context, one must consider various concerns such as the beliefs of the people who live in the community, their backgrounds, and the worldview of the people living there.
I've seen the gospel move in transformative ways, in true belief, in several ways in my time in ministry. The gospel moved powerfully through "New Day Christian Church" where I first got saved, because the preacher Pastor Aaron Winowiski explained the gospel in modern terms, in ways that people could understand. The scriptures came to life for me and many others, because Pastor Aaron related it practically to our modern everyday lives. He also made use of ample apologetics and scientific illustrations. I've also seen that happen in the Salvation Army, specifically at the ARC ministry, where young men were at their breaking point from drugs and alcohol and wanting something different. But ultimately, the context matters, but Jesus Christ is the one who saves lost people. 
Let’s look at three ways the gospel can be applied wisely to the context of urban ministry.
Depicting the Gospel in Modern Terms. In Acts chapter 15 the early church made the wise decision to not require the gentile converts to Jesus to practice the law of Moses. Sometimes in our modern day and age churches can get stuck on certain cornerstones of how the gospel and church has normally looked. Cultural practices can be a stumbling block to a modern audience. Can the music style change? Yes, it can. Can the entire worship service be re-oriented? Yes, it can. Does there have to be a doxology, or a long sermon message? Not at all. How can we strip off the cultural practices attached to the gospel and shape our services to fit what the culture finds compelling?
Apologetic reasoning toward the existence of God. When the Apostle Paul spoke to the Greeks at Mars Hill he didn't quote from the Old Testament scriptures.  He knew that gentiles didn't recognize the validity of the OT. So Paul made an apologetic, he gave a description of who God is, he found ways to encourage the local culture, while also pointing to the need for repentance from sin and new birth in Jesus Christ. We live in an age of skepticism. How can we use science, history, and manuscript evidence to show that belief in God is reasonable? Tim Keller himself has done this through his book "The Reason for God."
Holiness in love. Each Christian is called to holiness, which John Wesley referred to as "perfect love." If we want to see great revivals and thousands coming to Christ, we must learn to live out our faith in holiness. They will know us by our love.
I'm part of the Salvation Army in the Chicago area, at the training college, which has a Salvation Army sort of culture, though it is different and influenced by the culture and politics of Chicago. At the training we don't really do a lot of outreach to the community, the cadets here are being trained to be leaders of corps (churches) of the Salvation Army.  So we're going to look at internal cultural and contextualization.  Does the gospel influence the culture on campus?  It certainly does. But I think we are somewhat under-adapted in some ways.  Often times on campus we don't really address how the gospel intersects with culture.  More so we are simply teaching doctrine and theology, and it's hard to see how these things connect to real life in culture.  Now, doctrine and theology is very, very important especially in our modern time of biblical confusion and illiteracy.  However, we have to teach and understand the Bible in ways where it intersects with culture.  We do certainly affirm what is good in culture.  There are many Cubs fans and a few White Sox fans, and Bears fan, and people and influence on campus that points to the good things about Chicago, such as the arts and higher learning. However, I think we often fail to confront what is defeating in culture, especially if it's politically incorrect to do so. For example, we can talk about human trafficking, or racism, or poverty, because they are politically correct, but talking about abortion, or gay marriage, or progressive theology, we're silent about those because of fear and because they are politically incorrect, and we might be punished by the culture for speaking up about them.  But I understand the need to preserve the larger institution's integrity, at the same time. In regard to preaching about God's love and sin, I think we bring up God's love all day every day in the Salvation Army, but we aren't as willing to talk about sin or judgment.  But overall, I think the Salvation Army does a good job engaging culture in its context.

Technology, Culture, and Globalization
"The technological revolution has led to an unprecedented mobility of people, ideas, and capital" (Keller, 2012).  People in the world are more connected than they've ever been in history.  The culture of the big city has spread to the world through the use of the internet and other means.  As Al Mohler wrote, "If the Christian church does not learn new modes of urban ministry, we will find ourselves on the outside looking in" (Keller, 2012).  So technology has had a great influence, along with urbanization and globalization. This has developed a situation where the city has become an increasingly important mission field.
Keller looks at the makeup of the city and reflects on it from a biblical perspective.  He considers the dark side of the city, reflecting on Sodom and Gomorrah, and their destruction at the hands of God.  He also considers the positive outlook of the city when considering how God founded Israel, and the "city of God" Jerusalem. Keller also considers the first city established by Cain in the book of Genesis, which turned out to be a city with a culture of death (Keller, 2012, p. 128). 
I've always tended to think of big cities as evil places.  I've spent a lot of time studying the book of Revelation, and one sees the city of Babylon, this evil city, and its impending destruction.  I also consider the tower of Babel, a city-like structure reaching up into the heavens to declare their superiority to God.  Growing up in smaller towns, I would often hear about the ugly things that went on in bigger cities.  So I'd almost always considered bigger cities to be places of sin and darkness.
But it's useful to consider the fact that God designed Jerusalem to be the city of God, a holy place.  And in the book of Revelation at the end, we see God setting up a new "city of God" in the new heavens and new Earth.  So obviously cities are not all bad.  But I do believe that any human city, no matter how hard it tries, always tends to turn into a mini-Babylon. 
How can church movements adapt to the changes in society, in regard to globalization?  It's a good question to consider. Traditionally my movement, the Salvation Army has targeted the poor and the needy for programs, support, and missions.  How can we as a movement adapt to the changing conditions of globalization, and the growth of large city communities?
Keller points out several opportunities he sees in the city, like the younger generation that are increasingly drawn to larger cities (Keller, 2012, p. 160).  He also indicates that the "cultural elites" reside in the major cities, so the single greatest way for Christians to influence culture is by evangelizing these people.  Keller comments on how MTV has had such a huge global influence on youths, even more so than communism in areas of Romania (Keller, 2012, p. 161).  Imagine if Christians could influence these powerful cultural institutions!  Keller also lists unreached people groups as a target for urban ministry, because the city context has made these people groups much more accessible.  Keller also points out that the poor make up a large part of much of the city context and need to be reached with the gospel (Keller, 2012, p. 162). 
I think the Salvation Army can adapt to reach these people with the gospel in several key ways.  First, the Salvation Army should continue to seek to reach and serve the poor.  The poor are more numerous than ever in the big cities.  Second, the Salvation Army could attempt to connect with and influence cultural elites to help transform the culture and values of society toward Christian ideals.  What would this look like exactly?  I'm not certain.  God will provide.
Additionally, the Salvation Army could seek to develop smaller mission centers all across the big cities.  Develop a cheap, effective, quick method of spreading mission centers, like coffee shops, or something appealing to big city people, and develop a self-sustaining economic model, and then find ways to get that mission/coffee center to spread.  We need outside the box thinking to reach city people.  I think it could be done. 

Refining our Approach to Gospel Proclamation
As the common idiom goes "You can't cure the sickness unless you know the disease."  I think Keller is quite right that we have to consider and help people comprehend the malady that they face as fallen people in a sinful world.  At the end of the day, we all come to Christ for forgiveness of sins.  That is the gospel.  If people don't understand the sin problem, they can't understand the Christ solution.  This puts us in the somewhat awkward situation of having to preach the disease before we can preach the cure.  Not a fun thing to do, obviously. But Christ didn't come to give us a better life, though for me that's been a result.  Christ came to offer himself up as a penal substitutionary atonement for the sins of the world. 
Additionally, as Keller stated, doctrine is very, very important. In my generation there are a lot of concerns that I have about people no longer really caring much about doctrine.  Often in the Salvation Army, we can get so wrapped up in practical application, service, and "doing something" that we leave behind the deep theological meditations that we should undertake to understand why we do what we do.  Some have even proposed changing certain doctrines and ideas to better fit the beliefs of our time, which is a dangerous path to begin down.  They suggest doing this for the sake of "love." But it isn't loving to change the truth to suit our own preferences, in fact it's quite contrary to love.  So we should understand and teach good, solid biblical doctrine. Doctrine is beautiful, and helps us understand our faith and it's implications in new ways.
I believe Tim Keller is ultimately correct about his appraisal of the problems related to the proclamation of the gospel message in our day and age. The three problems he indicates are the evangelistic approach of the church is not comprehensive enough. The second problem he indicates is that the church is too tied to certain forms of church community.  The third and most important problem that Keller indicates is that there has been a loss of a clear understanding of the gospel.
Keller indicates that today in modern churches the gospel is not understood properly any longer. He indicates the importance of the "great exchange."  The great exchange is the idea that Christ's righteousness was imputed to us when we believed in Christ, and at that same moment our sin was imputed to Christ.  This is how people are saved by Jesus, by the removal of sin.  But unfortunately this understanding is not as prominent any longer. Keller indicates how modern pastors have pushed toward an understanding of the gospel application as being corporate, instead of individual.  And this changes how the gospel is proclaimed to the lost. He also shows how when concepts like atonement and sin are set aside for a more relational message based on a "new way of life" and simply trading an old bad way, with a new good way, that the power of the gospel is lost.
I believe Tim Keller is quite right about this lack in an understanding of the gospel.  In fact, many times I've been in Salvation Army churches and this basic understanding of the gospel is missed.  Often people just talk about love, and nice things Jesus did, and living differently, but the cross, and the atonement and sin is completely neglected.  We today seem to have a "half-gospel" where sin, heaven, hell, and God's wrath are carefully ignored in favor of love, new life, God's love, and the idea that you can never lose your salvation.  This is not good, and strips the gospel of its power.  We must return to the full gospel to see great change in the lives of our people, especially in the city.

Social Justice and Urban Ministry
Tim Keller is correct in his perspectives on the dangers of the gospel of social justice supplanting the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  There are certain aspects of social change that are useful and wise for the church to partake in.  These would include things like feeding the poor, providing clothing, helping with job competency, digging wells, and fighting for inalienable rights.  But these social actions should always be understood to be secondary to the proclamation of the gospel.  The ideas of the social gospel and social holiness, especially prevalent in the Salvation Army, should not be primary concerns, but secondary concerns.
Unfortunately, that is not the case, and it should be addressed, not only in the Salvation Army, but in many church movements, especially mainline Protestantism and evangelicalism.  I've noticed especially in larger cities, that inner city churches sometimes become political in nature, pushing for social justice, social change, and progressive political ideology.  The true gospel is set aside in favor of secular social concerns, and political ideology.  I've seen the same in the other direction in smaller and medium sized suburban areas.
I think the best way to resolve the tension between gospel proclamation and social action is to consider two key scriptures, Matthew 28:16-20, the great commission, and Matthew 25:31-46 the sheep and the goats.  The proclamation of the gospel is primary.  Of secondary concern are the areas of social action prescribed in Matthew 25:31-46. Unfortunately, there seem to be many, especially in Chicago, who tend to take the "social action" or "social justice" a lot further, into identity politics, partisanship, and "power-structure" socio-political manipulation. 
This slide toward partisan politics has been a chief concern of mine since first coming to Chicago a year ago.  I've seen the partisanship of many churches in the area, and it fills me with concern, when the gospel is supplanted for political social action. Often times it goes far beyond the bounds of feeding the poor, clothing the naked, visiting prisoners, and caring for the sick, and can quickly become calling out "white privilege", implying people are racist, pushing Marxist ideas of wealth redistribution and victim groups, and getting involved in partisan political battles on an institutional level. I think the same thing can happen with more rural evangelical churches where the gospel becomes secondary to conservative politics, free market economics, political action, and culture war ideology.
These things should scare us all. But as Keller said, as doctrine faded in importance, evangelicals began pushing toward right wing conservative politics, and mainline protestants began pushing toward leftist political ideology.  It's a sad state of affairs, and we as the church need to get back to our mission of proclaiming the gospel and meeting needs.

Missional Ministry
The scriptures of the Old and New testaments make it clear to me that missional ministry is all about fulfilling the great commission to make disciples of all nations. The church was founded as the body of Christ on Earth. Jesus issued his final command, and ascended to heaven, commanding the church to proclaim the gospel.
The church has a mission, and its mission is given by Christ.  But God's mission is ultimately fulfilled by Christ himself, as he ministers through his church.  Yet we also have a part to play in all that happens, we are required to be obedient, and to go out and do his will.  Similarly, I would say that as a believer I do engage in God's mission in the world.  I'm not the mission itself, I'm a result of the mission, which is a man set free from sin, and given new life.  I've been added to the ranks of those who are carrying out the mission that God has given his body in the world.
Galatians 3:26-29 (NIV) says "So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise."
As those at work for God's mission, we've been added to the body of Christ, and even further, we have become part of the promised result given by God to Abraham.  In Genesis 12:1-3 God promised Abram that if he walked with God he would become a blessing to all the nations.  And true to His word, God made that happen through Jesus Christ, and then through the body of Christ, as the gospel began to spread across the Earth. Missional ministry means fulfilling God's promise to Abraham by proclaiming the gospel through evangelism.
So what is a missional church?  What does it look like? Tim Keller is quite right that Christian community is much more than a supportive fellowship.  That's how the world sees Christian community.  They see it as a crutch for weak people, an opiate for the masses, and so on. A Christian community which reflects a true biblical Christian worldview is an alternate society.  It's a society within a fallen society.  A Christian community, which is represented by a church building, worship services, and weekly activities, represents a radically different culture than the world around it.  In this way it does impact the existing culture, sometimes in major transformational ways, but in our day and age it seems to mostly impact cultures in less tangible ways. 
So an individual member of this Christian community, is part of the indigenous culture. But they are also part of a Christian culture.  They come to know Jesus, and are reborn.  They have the Holy Spirit within them.  They come to services on Sundays and they worship God in song, engage in prayer, and receive a sermon message.  During the week this person engages with a weekly Bible study group, or a small group, or a discipleship group, or other activities.  But they are also expected to be in personal prayer each day, and are expected to be reading their Bibles during the week.  In this way they engage with God.  They engage with others through worship on Sunday and the weekly activities at the building.  Hopefully they are also engaging in friendships and mentor relationships with other members of the congregation.
This person then engages with culture by proclaiming the gospel to their friends and neighbors, by living out their Christian faith at work, and while about town, and they also invite others to become part of the Christian fellowship.  In this way they engage with culture. 
The goal then is that groups of these individuals would gather together on Sunday, and join in fellowship during the week, while also engaging in personal lifestyle evangelism, to expand the body and bring more people to Christ. 
There is a concern in culture, which I think is magnified and increased in larger cities, and especially among the young, and young adults, that Christianity is simply not applicable to modern times.  They see Christianity as mythical, or as something that has been left behind in favor of science and technology.  There is a lot of cultural baggage that people bring to their understanding of religion, and specifically Christianity.
This is where I realize that I need to see myself as a missionary engaging in a very foreign field.  People in the larger cities are used to scam artists, I suppose all Americans are.  We're used to being told by commercials, billboards, and advertisements about amazing deals that aren't actually amazing at all.  We've also been educated in school systems that for most have been inspired by and guided by enlightenment values, and in more recent times, post-modernist and relativist philosophy. 
This is one of the reasons that I think Christian apologetics are exceedingly useful for ministry in the city.  Tim Keller made use of apologetics with his book "The Reason for God."  He used classic arguments like the cosmological argument, the moral argument, and the argument from design to help win people to Christ.  People want to see evidence in our day and age.  The "verification principle" took hold in much of academia, the idea that anything that is true must be proven by science and/or empiricism.  So for me, to engage with the culture, I need to re-explain core concepts of Christianity, like sin, salvation, eternal life, the cross, and basically our entire worldview from scratch.  People are not Christianized as much in the country, and especially in the big cities.  So we really have to start from scratch and explain the gospel in modern times, while giving many apologetics for why we believe what we believe.

Scriptural Foundations for Missional Urban Ministry
To state it very simply, Jesus Christ gave his followers the "great commission" in Matthew 28:16-20 before he ascended to heaven.  And that commission was to make disciples of all nations.  For that reason, the church must exist in cities, because that is where the people are that Christ is calling us to make disciples of.  The church must be there to reach those people, and to win them to Christ, by whatever means necessary. All nations need the gospel, and all languages, and all sorts of people groups out there, they all need Jesus. 
A second scripture is Ephesians 2:19-22 (ESV) which says "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit."
We are citizens of the kingdom of God.  We are citizens of a new nation, which is the household of God.  We are members of this kingdom because of Jesus Christ who has purchased us.  Thus the city format is much like God's design, like a kingdom unto itself.  And so we must convert the city to Christ.
A third scripture is Romans 12:5 (ESV) which states, "So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." The city is like a body, with various parts, a heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, arms and legs, and so on.  In the same way the body of Christ are various parts of Christ's body. 
Now let’s consider three practical applications for a missional approach to ministry:
Incarnational Ministry. Incarnational ministry is the idea that we not only proclaim Christ to others but we actually carry His love and share his love with people who need it.  To live incarnationally is similar to being an apostle in that Christ's love flows through us, and we take part in Christ's ministry of love and service.  Incarnational ministry is useful to help break people of the big cities from their apathy.
Discipleship/Evangelism. Discipleship is vital. Wesley's approach was expansive, to go out and beyond the church walls.  He did this in a large part through preaching in fields. He was highly successful and he blessed these people missionally by building them up through discipleship groups, that he called band and class meetings. This helped the people he served to grow in their faith and become active parts of the body of Christ. This is vital for those in the big city who often have little structure in their lives.
Biblical Servanthood. Servanthood is the idea that we serve.  We live in a lowly way, serving others, and meeting their needs.  We feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, and help heal the sick. In this way we are servants of all. This is vital for ministry in the city, as there is much poverty and a great need for lowly service.

A Great Awakening in the Urban Context
We'll now be considering the possibility of "great awakening" in an urban context.  What would it take for a true revival in the city context?  How could a great awakening break out in our age?
John Wesley in his ministry found himself greatly motivated by the realization of impending judgment on sinners in the world.  In fact, that is a key truth of our faith, that if people do not come to Christ, then they face eternity in a place referred to in the scriptures as "hell." 
In our modern day and age mention of hell has largely left the pulpits, much of the time along with mention of heaven, or the new Jerusalem.  This is not a good thing.  We should be talking about these two realities, because they are just that, clear realities.  If we want our people to take eternal perspectives on life and ministry, then we should be talking about heaven and hell.
Much of the emphasis in the "holy clubs" developed by John Wesley was the idea of trying to truly live out a Christian life, to avoid the fires of hell. And John Wesley said that he felt the need to "awaken" people's consciences to the reality of their fallen state and their need for a savior. I see this as the key to revival in our times.  People need to realize their sinful state and then be challenged to flee to Christ for salvation. So how can this be applied to urban ministry?  
We should be helping people understand their sinful fallen state, so they can come to Jesus for the cure.  I've seen a very simple method of this done by an evangelist named Ray Comfort, in which he goes through the ten commandments and helps the individual understand their guilt, and then he helps lead them to Jesus, to be their savior.  I think that sort of simple approach could be useful in evangelism in a large city context.
I also love the concept of "missional holiness."  I've always loved the concept of being missional, and living a lifestyle of daily evangelism.  But I realized after a few years of this that something serious was missing from that equation.  Holiness is really the power behind all we do as the church.  Holiness is what sets us apart.  We can be as missional as we want, but without holiness, there is no power behind the mission.  Ultimately in the hope of reaching people of the city, and of helping to rally lost humanity to great awakening, we must live missionally, and we must live out biblical holiness.  People are going to respond when we live out the faith in holiness.  And people will have the opportunity to respond when we live missionally, with an emphasis on evangelism. 

Let’s look at some concluding scriptural references to back up these ideas. Romans 10:13-15 (ESV) says: "For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”"
This scripture makes it clear that we must live missionally. And we must emphasize evangelism in the large city context. 
Additionally, 1 Peter 2:9 (ESV) says, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."
We are a priesthood of believers who are a holy, set apart nation, a people who belong to God, to live in personal holiness. And this holiness helps people to see the kingdom of God, and to find their way out of darkness and into the light of God.  That is the goal in the big city ministry, to be beacons of light as the priesthood of believers, to the darkness of the city, to help people know Jesus as Lord.

Collins, K. J. (1999). A Real Christian: The Life of John Wesley. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Gench, R. J. (2014). Theology from the Trenches: Reflections on Urban Ministry. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
Keller, T. (2012). Center church: Doing balanced, Gospel-centered ministry in your city. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Keller, T. (2016). The reason for God: Belief in an age of skepticism. New York: Penguin.
Leong, D. P. (2012). Street Signs: Toward a missional theology of urban cultural engagement. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications.
Niebuhr, H. R. (2001). Christ and culture. New York: Harper Collins.
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