Some people hear me speak about the importance of city ministry and think I’m saying that all Christians (at least all those missions-minded) should move into cities. But I’m not saying that. I’m saying that many more mission agencies and many more Christians ought to minister in cities than are currently doing so. Why? Because of the sheer masses of people who live there and because of how influential cities are on their respective societies and cultures.
It is, then, a matter of emphasis—as in, the church doesn’t emphasize city ministry enough. Even mathematically, it is obvious that cities are woefully underserved by the church. For example, Georgia and South Carolina, combined, have an estimated population of 15 million, while the New York City metro area has a population of 18-19 million. Ask nearly any evangelical denomination—do you have as many churches in the NYC area as you do in Georgia and South Carolina all together? Then ask for the numbers. Then ask why two states with a smaller population would have (in most cases) many times more churches than New York. Is that fair?
When I studied the book of Proverbs, I came to see that a proverb is not the same as a command or a promise. Proverbs say things like, “In general, if you work hard, you won’t find yourself lacking the basics, but there are plenty of exceptions. So work hard, but don’t be shocked if something goes wrong.” That’s not an iron-clad promise (that everyone who works hard will be well off) nor a command. It is a statement about a wise course of action. When I say that we need to put more emphasis on city ministry, I’m speaking “proverbially.” The Bible and history shows us how important cities are as centers for ministry, yet the amount of effort the church puts into cities is not proportionate to the need or opportunity.
So my point is—that far more churches, far more Christians, and far more missions should be dedicated to reaching the great cities of the world. That is not the same as saying “anyone who is really sold out for Jesus’ mission will go to cities.”
Editor’s Note: This is a cross-post from Tim Keller’s blog at Redeemer City to City.