by Jim Reapsome
If we’re going to reach the cities, it will take a lot more training and homework than we’ve been doing in the past.
If we’re going to reach the cities, it will take a lot more training and homework than we’ve been doing in the past. Elite troops are needed. Roger Greenway proves that in his article in this issue. But once these crack urban missionaries are recruited and trained, what will they do?
How does one attack a city? Do the usual rural churchplanting methods work in the city? Whats the difference between evangelizing a high rise apartment building and a remote jungle tribe?
It would appear that most of our city methods are the same ones we’ve been following for years, methods that developed out of revivals and crusades in America. Therefore, hard evaluation is long overdue. We need to look at the Western methods we have exported to Tokyo, Paris, Manila and Caracas. Whats been our track record in these and other cities since the end of World War II?
It has been extremely difficult to document evangelical failures. But we are destined to repeat the errors and failures of the past if we do not admit them, bring them into the open, and find out what we did wrong. If the medical people need autopsies, so do missionaries.
No one can deny the value of research done by demographers and sociologists. Volumes of good materials are available to us. Theres no mystery about current trends: cities are growing; social problems are mounting. From one viewpoint, it seems that the social and cultural trends are conspiring to make Christian witness and evangelism much more difficult.
It’s essential, therefore, that we look over the ideas proposed by Roger Greenway. There’s no reason to continue sending missionary "cannon fodder" into the big cities. If candidates volunteer for urban work, we ought to refuse to send them until they’ve been through a rigorous urban boot camp experience.
Along with tough personnel policies, we need equally tough brainwork to map out and then test our urban strategies. For example, how many missionary couples should we assign to a city? To what part of the city should they go? Why? Whats the make-up of that part of the city? What churches are already there? Should we throw in our lot with them, or start something new?
Doing careful urban research will save us frustration. Such research will uncover possible natural avenues of friendship, confidence and witness. Our planning must also include the possibility that we will fail. How long shall we bang away at this particular area? Until our missionaries give up and go home? What is a legitimate time of testing the waters, of sowing the seed, of building bridges of communication?
We’d like to see a number of mission agencies get together, to pray and to brainstorm for a specific city. We need to call in all the experienced people we can find, including the best urbanologists, for a week at least to study one city, like Mexico City. We need to call in the sociologists, the mass communications people, the Mexico City pastors, social workers, and professors. We should include musicians and artists; even people who know the city’s political and economic power structure. Every element of city life and possible Christian witness should be included. Then, after we’ve listened, studied, and prayed for a week or two, perhaps we would be ready to take a tiny first step toward evangelizing Mexico City.
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