Written by Kyuboem Lee
Friday, 07 June 2013 00:00
Often, I find myself preaching to the choir with regard to urban mission--these folks don’t need convincing that urban mission is an important and urgent agenda item for the Church and we need to do all we can to learn about urban mission if the Church is to be faithful to God’s mission.
But others will need more convincing. “I won’t be moving into the city to live and minister there; my role is a pastor in a suburban church or a small town context. Why should I care about urban mission? My plate is overflowing as it is.” I will try to speak to them through this series of blog posts. If you are the choir, perhaps you will find these posts useful as points of apologetics for urban mission. (You can find the first post, “Reason #1: It’s an Urban World After All,” here.)
This second post focuses on the phenomenon of globalization. There has been a growing attention given to globalization recently, especially in the area of economics. The term refers to a growing interconnectedness of the various regions around the globe, as well as to a growing global consciousness that we do, indeed, live in one world, not many. The cities around the world have been the engines that have driven globalization as well as the primary contexts in which it has taken place. Indeed, world-class cities such as New York, London, and Tokyo have been dubbed “global cities” to highlight their importance to globalization. Follow the huge sums of money rapidly flowing to and from these cities around the clock and you will see how these cities function as the central nodes in the vast and intricate global economic network.
But globalization is not only a movement of money. It is also a movement of cultures, peoples, ideas, and religions, from everywhere to everywhere.
Philadelphia’s Italian Market neighborhood was so named because it was populated by Italian immigrants. You can see the locale in the movie “Rocky” as that iconic albeit fictional Philadelphian runs through the neighborhood as a part of his training for the big fight. If Sylvester Stallone ran through Italian Market today, however, he would notice that those giving him high-fives will far more prominently feature Asians, Hispanics, and other ethnicities than those of Italian heritage. The many languages he would hear on its streets would include Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese, in addition to Philadelphia’s distinct variation on the English language. The food items and other cultural goods being traded in the market stalls will reflect this multi-ethnic diversity. Buddhist temples have sprung up next to Catholic Churches who are finding they now minister mainly to South Americans.
What you are witnessing in this relatively small urban neighborhood is the astonishing pace of globalization taking place in the world’s cities. The globe, with all its multi-various languages, ethnicities, and religions, is being concentrated into a few square blocks of a city. Essentially the same process is occurring in thousands upon thousands of urban neighborhoods around the world.
Consequently, the city has become mission’s new frontier. Of course, this is really not all that new, since cities have been the Church’s missionary destinations from the days of Paul. It can similarly be argued that globalization has always been with us (see, for instance, Marco Polo). What is new is that the recent acceleration and rise of globalization has forced the Church to reassess its missionary strategy in terms of the city.
Much can be said in this regard, but let me just point out this: Jesus has commanded his disciples to go into all the world, but in his sovereignty he has brought all the world to the city. During the great modern missionary movement, the North American churches have sent missionaries to all corners of the world; now, they need to redirect their efforts and send missionaries to its cities in order to reach the world. Better, the churches need to re-imagine how they may once again become God’s missionary people among the nations—literally—who are coming to their cities.
These are amazing opportunities for the kingdom emerging in the cities today that the Church simply must not miss. Glimpses of the missional possibilities come from stories of work being done among immigrants who now call US cities their home. By reaching the immigrants, Christians have been able to not only gain openings Stateside but also successfully reach communities in the immigrants’ homelands halfway around the world with the gospel.
Again, we are reminded that cities are nodes in the global network that is ever growing in its depth and breadth. When the gospel finds meaningful connections in these nodes, there are global redemptive ripple effects. Think of the thrilling global missional possibilities when churches and individual Christians who form them re-envision their mission in light of the ever more urgent task of reaching the cities for Christ.
Dr. Kyuboem Lee serves as a lecturer of Urban Mission at Biblical Seminary. He is the founding pastor of Germantown Hope Community Church in Philadelphia, and the General Editor for the Journal of Urban Mission (http://jofum.com).