The city challenge

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There is one Seventh-day Adventist for every 20 people in the Trans-Pacific Union, 1:28 in Papua New Guinea, 1:261 in the New Zealand Pacific Union Conference and 1:398 in Australia. These ratios clearly show the biggest mission fields in the South Pacific Division (SPD) are Australia and New Zealand. Big cities there pose the largest challenge.

For example, around the Sydney suburb of Wahroonga, where a number of Adventist institutions are based, there is one Seventh-day Adventist for every 200 people. But in the eastern beachside suburbs of Sydney—from Palm Beach to Kogarah—there are places with a ratio of 1:4000. Adventist mission lacks penetration in immigrant communities from minority Christian countries and among those from a secular Anglo background.

In 2008, the world’s population was evenly split between urban and rural dwellers for the first time. If time lasts, by 2050 almost 70 per cent of the world’s estimated 10 billion people will live in cities.1

In recent years, the General Conference has emphasised “Mission to the Cities” but in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Adventist Church worked well in cities. Ellen White, our visionary, challenged church leadership, saying, “There is no change in the messages that God has sent in the past. The work in the cities is the essential work for this time. When the cities are worked as God would have them, the result will be the setting in operation of a mighty movement such as we have not yet witnessed” (MM, p 304).

I want to see that mighty movement.

The SPD’s Mission to the Cities strategy is focused on six cities with 1 million people or more: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Auckland. [pullquote]

The apostle Paul faced the city challenge in his journey to wealthy Corinth (Acts 18:1-18). Even as a stranger in Corinth, Paul used the familiar to connect with people for the gospel’s sake. Paul was a tent maker like Aquila and Priscilla, fellow Christians he met there. They used their trade to live and to make relational connections in the city (Acts 18:1-3). Paul was also a Jew and a Pharisee so he used his opportunity to speak in the local synagogue on Sabbaths (Acts 18:4). Today we need people to live, work and witness in the city. We need to use what is familiar to us—good Adventist media, health resources and education—to connect, meet people’s needs and build trust.

While we use the familiar to connect with people it is only the Word of God that can transform them. Paul used Scripture to reveal Jesus to both Jews and Gentiles for 18 months in Corinth (Acts 18:5,6,11). Today we can give GLOW tracts and Beyond DVDs, post spiritual and biblical thoughts on social media, and host Bible reading groups so people can see how the good news speaks to current issues.

We don’t know how many different individuals responded to Paul’s ministry in Corinth but we do know he followed up on relational networks. The synagogue leader and his household were all baptised (Acts 18:7,8) even though Paul was thrown out of the synagogue. Every new believer in Jesus has family, colleagues, school mates and people they mix with who do not follow Jesus. They will see the change the gospel makes in another’s life and could be open to it.

Paul was doing God’s work in Corinth. Although it was tough, God encouraged him in a vision with a command and a promise (Acts 18:9,10). Those who do God’s work in tough environments can expect divine intervention—God is already working there.

Paul and the new disciples in Corinth faced opposition (Acts 18:12-18). Cultural, political and personal opposition is real in ministry in any city but God can be trusted to establish His work.

Is God calling you to be an innovative missionary in the city? Whatever your answer I ask you to pray for God to help us reach the people of the cities for Jesus’ kingdom. God has commanded and promised, “Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent! For I am with you, . . . for many people in this city belong to me” (Acts 18:9,10, NLT).

  1. Urban Urgency, Christianity Today, August, 2010.
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