Biblical Reasons for City Engagement

Photo: Billy Bean, 2020

1. Cities play an important role in the Bible. The word “city” appears over 1250 times. Cities are places of sin (Genesis 11:1-9, 18:20-21), cultural achievement (Genesis 4:17-22; Revelation 18:22-23), and refuge (Joshua 20:1-9). Cities are places of worship (2 Chronicles 6-7), power (Jeremiah 22:8; Jonah 1:2; Revelation 17:18), and mission (Acts 11:19-21, 13:1-3). 

2. God is the builder and architect of the city He is preparing for His people (Hebrews 11:10, 16). The Bible begins in a garden (Genesis 2:8-17), but it ends in a city (Revelation 21:1-27).

3. God loves cities (Psalm 48:2; Jonah 4; Luke 19:41-44). God shows His care for cities by sending prophets and missionaries to them (Jonah 1:1-2, Micah 6:9; Acts 13-14, 16-21). We should love cities and send missionaries to them as well.

4. Humanity is called to “have dominion” and “fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Building cities is a part of that call. Cities are to be a blessing to God’s people (Deuteronomy 6:10-12; Psalm 107:1-7) and God’s people are to bless cities (Jeremiah 29:4-7). 

5. Cities were the main context for early church mission (Acts). As the world is now rapidly urbanizing, we can learn from the early church’s example for urban mission today.

6. Cities draw in peoples that can be reached with the Gospel and then send those peoples back out to reach the ends of the earth (1 Kings 8:41-43; Acts 1:8, 2:1-41, 19:8-10). Paul seemed to consider his mission work done when he had planted churches in key cities, assuming that those cities would reach the surrounding areas (Romans 15:18-21).

7. Cities are strategic places to reach all parts of society, including people of different ethnicities (Acts 11:20, 13:1, 18:5-6), people of different religions (Acts 13:4-52, 19:1-41), business people (Acts 16:13-15), families (Acts 16:15, 16:31-34), intellectuals (Acts 17:16-34), migrants and displaced people (Acts 18:1-4), the powerful (Acts 18:5-17, 26:1-32; Philippians 4:21), and the poor (Romans 15:24-25; Galatians 2:10).

8. Cities are complex and changing places. Careful and continual research (Numbers 13) can prepare ministers to make a greater impact in cities (Nehemiah 2:9-15). Understanding a city’s idols (Jeremiah 10:1-16; Acts 17:16), sinful tendencies (Deuteronomy 13:12-14; Acts 19:19-40), and gathering nodes or places (Acts 5:12-16, 17:22) can be very useful in advancing the Gospel.

9. In order to effectively engage the context of the city, we must develop theologies of power (Nehemiah; Luke 15; Romans 1:16), justice (Isaiah 1:17, 58:1-12; Matthew 23:23; Luke 10:25-37), and place (Deuteronomy 8:1; Nehemiah 2:1-8; Jeremiah 29:7).

10. For urban mission, it is vitally important to balance evangelism with ministry to social needs, just as the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) should be balanced with the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-37). We should follow Jesus’ example in holistic ministry (Matthew 4:23), both preaching the Gospel and calling for social justice (Isaiah 58:6-12; Daniel 4:27; Jonah 3-4; Acts 6:1-7). Effective urban mission usually includes demonstration (Acts 8:4-8, 13:4-12, 16:16-34).

11. In the urban context, we also need to balance sharing the Gospel with needy and receptive individuals and blessing larger society, striving to bring about broader transformation. Jesus gave us the examples of leaving the ninety-nine to save the lost one (Matthew 18:10-14) as well as telling His disciples to seek out a person of peace, someone receptive to the Gospel (Luke 10:1-12). But, we also see that God called Israel to care about the people of Nineveh (Jonah) and bless the people of Babylon (Jeremiah 29:4-7). Jesus also blessed large groups of people through feeding (Matthew 14:13-21, 15:32-38) and healing (Matthew 4:23-25; Luke 17:11-19), and told his disciples to heal and bless many people as well (Matthew 10:7-8). 

12. The ministry of presence and prayer is vital in cities (Genesis 18:22-33; Nehemiah 1-2, 11:1-2; Isaiah 62:6-7; Jeremiah 29:7). 

13. Collaboration is important for effective ministry in cities (Mark 9:38-41; John 17:11-23; Acts 18:1-28; Philippians 2:3-5).

14. Ministry through vocation is another important way to influence the city (e.g., Joseph, Oholiab and Bezalel, Daniel, Esther, Paul, Priscilla and Aquila), bringing faith to work (Colossians 3:23-24).

15. Christians are called to reach out to the poor, the marginal (Mt. 25:34-40; Gal. 2:10), and all the peoples of the earth (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8), many of whom live in cities (Acts 11:20; Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5) or move there as diaspora (Jeremiah 29:1-7; Acts 18:1-4).

16. It is strategic for Christians in urban ministry to reach out to the influencers of society (e.g., as Paul did in Acts 16:13-15, 17:16-34, 18:5-17, 19:1-41, 26:1-32) and the younger generation (Proverbs 22:6; Matthew 19:14; 1 Timothy 4:12-16), who will become the future leaders of society and the church. Or, it can be strategic to focus on a place for urban ministry, starting where a person of peace gives an invitation (Luke 10:1-12; Acts 16:11-15), where research leads (Numbers 13; Nehemiah 2:9-15), and/or where there is a specific call from God to go (Acts 16:6-10).