Ideas / Ministry / Theology / October 19, 2011

Why the City?

I love the city. I grew up in the city and find it to be a stimulating, amazing, inspiring place. I don’t just mean the Miracle Mile or Times Square, but also the inner city. I love it all.

It seems that I am not alone. There is a shift going on in portions of the church today toward the city. It exhibits itself in church planting, in missional communities, in conferences, summits, books, and blogs. There is an emphasis on reaching the city for the gospel, and I think this is wonderful.

Reaching the city is effective and pragmatic. It is a highly concentrated place where people from every tribe and tongue can be connected with just by crossing the street or riding a bus. It is cross-cultural without crossing borders. It is highly social, highly connected, and highly populated all of which makes ministering in the city sensible and strategic.

There are also great, obvious needs in the city. There is homelessness, poverty, injustice, and illiteracy (even in the schools). There is crime and brokenness. The allocation of resources, whether it be financial or theological, is heavily in favor of the suburbs. So ministering in the city is essential.

It is easy for someone like me to catch a vision for urban ministry, whether it is to hipsters or the hood. But I live in the suburbs. I am surrounded by homogenous affluence, strong schools, and relative ease. And it makes living there easy, safe, and stable.  There are challenges that my context completely alleviates, and this seems like a really good thing. And it raises some significant questions and seems to create a certain tension.

It seems to me that there is a sense among some (I know I feel it and think it) that ministering in the city is “better” than ministering in the suburbs. But at the same time it cannot be said that the suburbs need Jesus less than the city or that someone seeking to honor God in the suburbs falls short of the honor brought to God by someone in the city. At the same time, though, it can be said that those ministering in cities are meeting the greater need as it pertains to all the issues mentioned previously.

So I see a number of questions and covet your feedback.

How is the suburban church (or individual), with whom lie the majority of the resources, to support and interact with the urban church (or individual, or ministry)?

Is there a sense in which it is better, or more honoring to God, to serve in a place where people have the greater sociological and physical needs?

Can the suburban church or Christian truly be honoring to God while functionally ignoring the needs of the city?

And where the heck do small towns and rural ministries fit into this mess?

Please post answers to any or all of these questions. I don’t have answers. This isn’t a quiz. I am simply trying to understand these questions and challenges.


Oct 19, 2011

This is something I think about all the time, because as a city dweller and lover of the city, I find myself harboring ugly, self righteous attitudes toward suburb dwellers. And while I do think there are some who live there solely out of fear, I think a lot of Christians genuinely believe that’s where they’re supposed to be, and I admire that (while praying God never calls me there, HA). I’ll be interested to hear what others have to say…

Oct 19, 2011

I think if the suburban church is truly being missional, they will supply the urban church with resources and support. I don’t just mean writing a check. They’ll also join with their pastors for mentoring and theological training. See The Village Church’s support of Eric Mason.

Conversely though, the urban church should seek to compliment the suburban church. I go to a suburban gigachurch. I often feel like my peers forget what’s happening 10 miles down the road. The same goes for those that just “love the city”. They can often think we are just seekers hanging out trying to unlock the keys to wealth to get our next SUV. Not always the case.

The larger answer is for every church, regardless of location or context, to realize and seek God about their specific role in the church universal.

The suburban church has a deep growing need for reform. While all the young, reformed, gospel-centric, etc. movements are focused on the city idolotry abounds in the suburban church. I pray more bible soaked men are called TO suburbia to tear down the false identities and walls created by affluence. It takes a skilled man to minister to the well educated and well off people of suburbia. We have to see we are as depraved as the city dwellers and our idols run deep and challenging.

Thanks for the post.

Oct 20, 2011

Sometimes I wonder if the draw to the city is simply a unique thing that God places in certain hearts. I don’t think it’s fair or true to say ministry in the city is better, but it is certainly to say it’s better *for some people*. I think there are those who have an insatiable desire to serve and meet needs and see redemption in the city, not at the expense of the burbs, but simply because they love the city.

Oct 23, 2011

Great discussion. To piggy back off some of the comments already made: Paul makes it clear that the Gospel is to go both to the jew and the gentile, the wise and the unwise (Romans 1:14-16) which would also include BOTH the poor (Galatians 2:10) and the rich (1 Timothy 6.17-19), both in the synagogue AND the market place (Acts 17:17). In addition to these truths, each believer is not only uniquely gifted (Romans 12:3-6a; 1 Corinthians 12:4; 1 Peter 4:10) but also given various ministries (1 Corinthians 12:5-6) and area of influences (2 Corinthians 10:13-16) within their contexts and lives. Be faithful where you are already planted, but don’t redefine the cost of following Christ with excessive comfort and compromise. Discover the needs in both contexts and identify what your gifts and passions are and line them up with each other. Whatever decision you make, do it by faith (Romans 14:23; Hebrews 11:6)!

Nov 08, 2011

I have often wondered a similar thing about whether it is better to go on mission overseas or stay in Australia. On one hand there are still countries that almost never hear the gospel preached, but then there are people right here who need Jesus as well.

It seems obvious that going to a Muslim country to preach the gospel takes more guts than serving at your local church in the suburbs. The suburbs are safer and more comfortable. But as Christians aren’t we called to live precarious and uncomfortable lives for Christ?

I think it’s possible to live a precarious and uncomfortable life in the suburbs, but it’s harder to do. And easier to stop doing.

As for the city vs. suburb debate I think the distinction is getting smaller. Both have merit, both have dangers. But ultimately if the deciding factor in your choice is what is easier, safer or more comfortable then you know something’s not right.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *