The importance of the city in the divine plan for humanity becomes immediately apparent in reading the Bible. The Hebrew word for “city” occurs over 1000 times in the Old Testament. The Greek word for “city” occurs over 150 times and well over 100 cities are mentioned in the Bible. When you read the book of Acts you are struck with Paul’s strategy for planting churches in major population centers. You soon realize that the New Testament “was quite purposefully written within a missionary context, and that particular context was mostly urban” (Ortiz, 46). In our North American cities today we find the nations of the world, the centers of political power, universities and world-class hospitals. Yet we find fewer and fewer Christians. Until recently, cities had been virtually abandoned by church planters and, with rare exceptions, suburban churches avoided significant outreach into cities. It’s been said that “most churches are primarily concerned about the people in the church and the people most like ‘us’” (50) and that the “shift from mission to maintenance [has become] a core value in the local church” (48). If we are to have an impact in our society today we must once again take seriously church planting in urban areas.
In recent generations we have witnessed a phenomenon of de-churching in the cities in North America. According to some statistics, the majority of North American Christians are now suburban and rural. While our world becomes increasingly urbanized, our cities are becoming de-Christianized. Along with the flight from cities across our country, we have witnessed the rise of suburban mega-churches. Most of these churches were built largely, although not exclusively, with Christians who fled the cities for a better life – defined as more space, more safety, less noise, better schools, and fewer people. What’s done is done. However it is inexcusable to have abandoned dense population centers if it was in order to fulfill our purposes, not God’s. There are encouraging signs today that more and more of God’s people are answering the call to return to the city knowing full well that the challenges which they will confront can only be met by Almighty God. Urban living is not for everyone but it is certainly for some, perhaps for some of you who are reading this and who sense that God’s purposes in your life will never be fulfilled where you are at this present time. If it were only one Christian in ten who returned to the cities, as in Nehemiah’s day (Neh. 11:1), we might see a significant impact made in the transformation of the material and spiritual blight of cities.
In Jeremiah 29:7, the prophet called on the ancient covenantal people in exile to “seek the peace (shalom) of the city.” As participants in the New Covenant by the blood of Christ, that is our desire for Philadelphia in preaching peace through the cross. We yearn to see the gospel of God’s grace transform the lives of those enslaved in sin and see them live in peace with God and with one another. We ask that Christians pray that God would work for his glory and that multiple churches would be planted in the great and needy city of Philadelphia. God has already brought together a remarkable team of five families to plant churches in Philadelphia and others willing to be a part of what God is undertaking though us. We would be delighted if God called still more to work with us in this high and holy task.
Reference: The Urban Face of Mission: Ministering the Gospel in a Diverse and Changing World. Harvie M. Conn and Others. Edited by Manuel Ortiz and Susan S. Baker. P & R Publishing, 2002.