Despite what some Christians suspect, God loves cities. Why? Because people live in cities. At the end of the book of Jonah God asks, “should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left?” (Jonah 4:11).
In 2008, for the first time in history more than half the population of the world (3.3 billion people) lived in urban settings. From just 13% in 1900 it is projected the figure is will rise to 70% by 2050. (Global Scenarios to 2025, p35) Clearly, the future focus of the ministry of the church will be the city.
Because cities are the centres of education, media, the arts, music, and literature they are the primary source of culture, values, and belief. The strategy of the apostle Paul in the early days of the Christian church was to target cities, and eventually the whole known world was won.
It is easy for the church to lament how we have lost our influence on Australian culture. If we are to regain it we need to be strong in our cities. Ministering to the city is nothing new for the group of people at Hobart Baptist Church, where I am the pastor. Throughout its history we have been a church for the city of Hobart, and although Hobart is not a large city, this does not change our focus nor the enormity of the task God has given us.
In his book, Center Church (2012), Tim Keller points out how “Jonah is the only Old Testament prophet sent to a pagan city to call it to repentance.” In this he is a great example of the task Jesus has given to his church. And like Jonah we can be reluctant and try to avoid the task God has called us to.
“Like Jonah we can be reluctant and try to avoid the task God has called us to.”
Eventually Jonah did the job God asked him to do and then got angry and depressed when the vine that was providing him with shade wilted (see Jonah 4). God is not pleased because Jonah is more concerned about the plant than the people.
On the other hand, God loves people more than plants and that’s why God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh and call them to repent. That’s our task too. We are to love our city, pray for our city and find ways to bring the message of the gospel so that our city is able to hear. While we don’t expect everyone to respond we are tasked with bringing a clear presentation of the gospel to them.
As cities change, the task of the church is to modify the way it presents the gospel so that it is able to be heard. At different times throughout the history of Hobart Baptist the church has found ways to present the gospel with fruitfulness.
We live in challenging times. There are many forces at work against the church and the gospel. May God grant you and me the grace to move past any reluctance we might have, and be ready to be the church for our own city God would have us be.