By Ben KC Lee
GoForth National Missions Conference 2008
Morning Plenary on Thursday, 17 July 08
Today more and more churches do missions in villages, typically in the two -thirds world that are often poverty stricken. It is common to run an orphanage. Cities may be seen as too comfortable for missionaries. It may be seen as having a good life. Truth is the city also has poor. There is spiritual bankruptcy in a city too.
In Genesis 4, Cain went out from God’s presence and built the first city. Cities became the habitat of fallen people and cities have become places where people seek significance outside of God’s presence.
Our new mission frontier today is not the tropical jungle of lions and safari hats but the urban jungle. Our cities are the stage of drama between the principalities and powers and the forces of good within the church. We ourselves live in a city called Singapore.
Our church started with planting churches in Asia. Since 1998 we started planting churches around the world. We focus on planting churches in cities. Let me highlight some lessons we have learnt from urban church planting.
1. The Singaporean is an urban dweller
I was born in a small town. Now I reside in Singapore, a city state. Most churches here can be considered as urban churches.
In fact Singaporeans are accustomed to a very clean city and where everything works.
Not many of us may thrive in the two-thirds world with laid back lifestyles, roundabout communication, red tape, slowness, time delays, inefficiency, nonprogressive attitudes and even corruption. Not many of us can live without air conditioners. Not many may enjoy showering in a river.
Singapore is a city-state. We are a city church. We are urban dwellers.
2. The international job market is growing with education as the single largest vocation
Teaching English as a Foreign/Second Language is a viable vocation overseas. Our teams teach Conversational English and discover that the demand for Business English is growing.
Also, teaching Mandarin as Second Language is growing. One of our leaders is going to Peru next month. She has been studying at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce for a Diploma in Chinese Teaching. She goes for 2 evening classes for 1 year.
Teaching mathematics is also a growing industry. The city of Bellevue near Seattle uses the Singapore math school curriculum. The Singapore brand is helpful.
3. The capital city may not always be the most spiritually responsive place to start missions work
We learnt this the hard way. We started planting churches with the administrative capitals in the country.
The administrative capital in a country can be different from the business or commercial capital. For example there is Pretoria and Johannesburg in South Africa and Guayaquil and Quito in Ecuador.
The business capital may be a better option for tent makers who are businessowners.
It is important we do the ‘Country and People Profiling’ as part of our missions strategy.
We must consider where people are responding to Christ.
4. The middle classes are an effective means of reaching the city
The middle classes often have greater mobility, both up and down the social spectrum. They usually speak English which is an advantage for our church planters.
Our team in Chile takes effort to rent a house near a subway station and in a neighbourhood that middle class will come. The Chile subway follows the Singapore subway system.
5. The bridging strategy is to start with an international service
One strategy is to start with English service pitching to internationals and bilingual locals. The second phase can be starting a local worship service in the local/native language. We experimented with this in Europe and South America.
The Assemblies of God US is one denomination that uses this approach across Europe.
6. The urban approach is a longer term & more comprehensive mission strategy
The city has a hinterland. It’s called the entire country. For instance university students come from towns and villages to cities for further education.
We got to reach the nations. We got to reach every nation.
We start with global cities, next to cities with regional influence then towns then villages or shires.
In our North America missions, we target regional or hub cities for church planting due to the population and immigrants.
Immigrants are responsive. Then there are 700,000 international students in the US.
In summary, these are some things we have learnt on urban missions.
Today over 4 billion people are still far from Christ. Many of them live in the city or will be moving into one.
We got to ask: ‘What is God up to in the world?’ Since God has been bringing people to cities for a century, obviously God is bringing people to where they can be reached.
We remember that the apostle Paul always had a base for churching an entire region. That base was called “the city”. From the base, from the city, the Gospel spread to the whole region. That was his church planting strategy.
The apostle Paul started from a city called Antioch. Singapore has been prophesied as, “The Antioch of Asia”.
Today it is clear that the church faces an urban future. It is clear we need to respond to God’s love for the city. It is clear we need to go forth with God as He continues to work through people in cities across the world.
First published by the Singapore Centre for Global Missions Catalyse newsletter 2008 vol. 3. Online: www.scgm.org.sg