More on Harvie Conn's Urban Ministry: The Kingdom, the City and the People of God (Leicester, Inter-Varsity, 2001).
Chapter 10, The City as Power
Conn, citing Neal Pierce, asks whether a new form of urban power is emerging with the rise of the megacity in Latin America, the US and around the world. National governments are losing their power to the forces of the city. I think he is right. London is a good example of this. The recently instituted position of a directly elected Mayor has become very important such that its present incumbent is even touted as a challenger for the leadership of the country. On the other hand few other cities in the UK want to follow London’s lead. But then London is by far the most significant city in the UK. No other city comes close in power or influence. This is surely the case with other ‘world class’ cities such as Paris, New York, and Tokyo as well.Cities are ... provisions of God’s common grace. Through them God restrains the development of evil, blesses his fallen creatures and works out his sovereign purposes in both judgment and grace. The city is an instrument of God’s preserving and preventative grace and an exhibition of our creaturely response to that grace....Cities gather power. (p. 192)
Conn discusses the implications of the city as a power, for missions. “In too many cases, evangelical attention to the macro-context of the urban dimension is minimal” (p. 197). The church is sometimes a barrier to urban mission largely because it is often oriented towards rural concerns rather than urban.
But also, says Conn, the city itself can be a barrier to mission. This is especially so in traditionally religious cities where religious institutions are strongly linked to and benefit from the city’s power. This is the case with the rise of Muslim fundamentalism, a strongly urban phenomenon.
On the other hand the city can be a path to mission. The gospel can easily spread from urban centres of influence out into the surrounding area. This was the case in the book of Acts. That has also been the case in post-NT church history. Conn cites the example of the growth of Pentecostalism from its inception in downtown LA to be the ‘largest Christian movement of the twentieth century’ (p. 200).
Conn then discusses intentional strategy as a path to mission, giving the example of the Jesuits with their focus on the urban centres especially in Asia. Nagasaki and Sao Paolo are two important cities that were founded as Jesuit mission centres. The C&MA have had a similar strategy in Lima. Conn reports the emergence of ‘encounter churches’ in highly visible strategic centres that act like ‘flagship congregations’. Such an approach has also proved very fruitful in NYC, London and Sydney, much of it since the book was written.