By Scott and Emily Armstrong
The city has it all, doesn’t it? Schools and universities, hospitals and doctor’s offices, theatres and shopping malls – the list goes on and on! With more employment opportunities and access to health care and education, it’s obvious why people want to live in the city. Global statistics tell us that the Mesoamerica Region is already URBAN. Over 80% of our people live in a heavily-populated city, and many of these people are unchurched.
You might be thinking that city evangelization is no different than in the suburbs or rural areas, but you’d be wrong. How do we make Christlike disciples of people that live a fast-paced life and don’t have time for Jesus? How do we create relationship and gain the trust of someone that works 7 days a week? What does hope look like in the midst of substance abuse, gangs and poverty?
First things first: God has a plan for the city. You have to believe that truth if you ever want to be a successful urban evangelist. Oftentimes when we think about the city, we think about the problems found there – everything from traffic jams to air pollution to stressful schedules to gangs. However, we must begin seeing the city as God sees it: a place of influence where righteousness and peace can be obtained. Imagine with me for a minute the vision revealed to us in Revelation 7:9-10,
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”
That’s the CITY of ZION that we are reading about! God’s infinite story goes on forever IN A CITY. We will gather together with every nation, tribe, and language and praise God forever! Isn’t it interesting how our cities are already becoming the home to so many cultures at the same time? Could we even imagine that maybe, just maybe, God is already giving us an opportunity to experience a glimpse of heaven on earth right in the heart of our cities?
Jeremiah 29:4-7 is another passage that speaks to us about God and His desire to use His people to impact the city:
“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’”
This passage offers us three principles we must keep in mind when we evangelize the city:
We must live in our city to love our city.
We must be a continual presence in our city.
We must pray for our city.
We must live in our city to love our city.
Jeremiah bluntly tells the exiles of Jerusalem (city dwellers by the way!) to “build houses and settle down…” He didn’t say to enjoy a short respite there or to view it as a temporary tourist destination. He told them to settle down there.
I recently sat in a workshop listening to urban church planters tell of their experiences and one of them said, “If you are commuting to the city, it means you work there, not that you care for the neighborhood.” What he was saying was that the city is a hurry up, come-and-go environment for so many people that are only there for 10 hours during a workday. But the people that LIVE in the city? They are always there! The decisions that are made in local government affect their personal lives, the school systems mold their children, and the lack of public transportation there affects their employment capabilities.
How are you going to care about all of the dynamics of the city if you don’t live there? Often times we see evangelism as a task to accomplish, but this model will not work in the city. If you are only coming into the city to evangelize every once in a while, the neighbors will begin to see your evangelism as WORK and not as love. And every neighborhood is different: a single city can be home to hundreds of different communities that all have their own culture and opportunities. Thus, it’s so important to live where you are evangelizing, because it’s the normal everyday interactions that speak loudest.
Because life moves at such a fast pace, our relationships in the city are typically built around economic activities. We purchase our groceries every few days, and we go to the same supermarket and get to know the local employees. We go to a sporting event and meet fellow fans that hold similar interests. We enjoy the community of a local mall and come into contact with others that are enjoying free entertainment as well. Our interactions with people are numerous every day, but turning it into an intentional meeting is key to evangelism in the city. One contact – or even a dozen contacts – does not necessarily make a lasting relationship. We must live in the city, allowing us to live life with our neighbors as well, which then opens up the door to deeper spiritual conversations and continual evangelism through our daily testimony.
*This article will continue in the next post.