Missiology: Urban Mission Part 1

Over the next few days I will be posting some thoughts on an issue facing the future of the church, namely the explosion of urban populations. I will start by taking a look at some of the issues brought up by the urban explosion, and I will conclude by reflecting upon how the Gospel addresses these issues.

Today we start out with a fictional account of a suburban Christian’s view of the city.


The Story: Looking Towards the City

            The suburbs, it is all she has ever known. She had lived her whole life in the suburbs of Los Angeles. In fact she had lived in the same house and gone to the same church since she was born. The church she attended was known for being one of the largest and oldest churches in the San Fernando Valley, probably the largest suburb of Los Angeles. This church was as far from the city as it could possibly be; it was literally on top of a mountain, fifty feet from city limits. The majority of the congregants didn’t even come from the San Fernando Valley; most of them came from Simi Valley, a suburb of the San Fernando Valley. But all of this was perfectly fine with her; she had no desire to be near the city. She had everything she needed or wanted within a few minutes drive from her home. Wal-Mart was ten minutes away, the movie theaters were five minutes away, all her friends lived nearby, work was close, and best of all her church was only a fifteen minute drive from her house. In her eyes the city was a place of crime, violence, pollution, ugliness, congestion, and alienation[1]; so she was glad to say away from it. Sometimes however, her attitude toward the city would change. At times she would feel what she described as compassion for it. This compassion often lead to action, in fact she went down to the city a few times to pass out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the homeless people on skid row. She saw so many things wrong with the city, she believed that she was lucky because she didn’t have to live there. In her mind the city was a hellhole, and it needed rescuing. It was the church’s job to go save those people. Her attitude toward the city constantly vacillated; when she wasn’t feeling disgusted by the city she saw the city as an object of mission.

When she was in college she started dating a guy who went to her church, unlike her though he didn’t grow up in this church, in fact he didn’t even grow up in a white middle-class area of the valley. He grew up in another area of the valley; one of the most urbanized areas of this suburb, because of this he had a different perspective on the city. He worked at her church and was excited about urban ministry. Some of his favorite pastors worked in urban settings: Tim Keller worked in Manhattan, Tim Chaddick worked in Hollywood, Matt Carter worked in Austin, and Darrin Patrick worked in St. Louis. These guys were his heroes, they had holistic ministries among city dwellers, they were multi-cultural churches reaching the people from all walks of life. So when he heard Tim Keller speak on God’s urban mission at Lausanne 2010 he was brimming with joy. He couldn’t help but talk about this to her constantly. He was constantly telling her that the future of the church is in urban settings, that is just the way the world was headed. She struggled with this idea wondering if it were true. She loved God and she wanted to be wherever God was working, but was the future of the church really in cities?

The story above captures the thoughts and feelings of many non-city dwelling Christians in the U.S. In the eyes of suburbanites the city is a terrible place. Although no one would ever say this, many believe that God has left the cities; that could be the only explanation for their moral decay. However, these attitudes involve misconceptions of the city and what God is doing there. In this blog I hope to address an issue that the church will face in the future and give a missional plan to respond to that challenge. I will show that urbanization is one of the foremost issues facing the church in the next several decades. Urbanization, which can simply mean the growth of urban areas or “the process whereby people acquire material and non-material elements of culture, behavior patterns, and ideas that originate in or are distinctive of the city,”[2] is the church’s most pressing issue in this century. As the church faces urbanization it will have to address several issues: 1)poverty and 2) cultural heterogeneity

In this blog I will begin by examining the context of urbanization. Here we will look at the issue of migration towards the city, and we will touch upon poverty and cultural heterogeneity. Then we will turn to the Scriptures and reflect upon the insights that are given to us through the reading of God’s word. Having done this we will be in a position to act in light of our new insights. In this portion of the blog I will recommend a course of action for addressing the issues of poverty and cultural heterogeneity. Finally, I will conclude by re-telling the story about this girl in light of the work we have done.

[1] John Palen, The Urban World, (New York: McGraw Hill, 1981), 255.

[2] Kenneth Little, Urbanization as a Social Process (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974), 7.


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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