There has been a lot of talk these days about the church being influential in the midst of a large urban core. Instead of evangelicals abandoning the city centers and moving out to the suburban and rural areas of our country the predominate thinking is that the river should flow the other way. Plunge into the city — that is where the people are. Dive into the heart of a city — that is where the cultural influencers are. All for the city! That is where the artist who will make it all beautiful live. Run into the city! Everything else runs the other way.
Now, in no way am I against the city and the efforts of many today to go into the hearts of the city and reach the lost with the gospel. I am grateful that actually there is a renewed interest in urban mission. While I lived in inner-city Chicago I knew there was a place and people that desperately needed the gospel. The elite rich lived to the east of me. The destitute, ghetto poor lived directly to the west of me. The cities need a gospel advance in a deep way.
However there seems to be a growing idolatry of the city. Maybe it has to do with American value of "big equals success" and therefore big churches equals big success and the sure-fire way to get that influence, prominence and notoriety is to be around a city. But was that Jesus' methodology? As I read the Gospels this week I'm noticing something about Jesus. Unless he absolutely had to, he avoided the cities. Jerusalem was the primary city in his region and it seems like He couldn't stand to be there. If you look up the places where Jesus ministered they were the rural villages and towns of the Northern country. Places of agrarian and pastoral life. Nazareth probably wasn't more than a couple hundred people. Capernaum, the largest town in Galilee and the regional base of Jesus' ministry was by best estimates no more than a thousand folks. In fact most of Jesus' three and a half years of ministry was not spent in the cities hanging out with the influencers and financiers while reaching the artist and "culture-makers." The bulk of Jesus ministry was spent with fishermen, shepherds, towns people in small and seemingly insignificant places.
The city wasn't a refuge or strategic center for Jesus. His strategy wasn't to reach the wise, strong, rich, proud, or famous. He lived amongst the forgotten, weak, marginalized, poor, every-day-man. Instead of the river flowing from city to village, Jesus turned it backward. He worked through the little and river flowed the other way. By influencing the small and powerless the river went upstream and the large and influential cities of Jerusalem and Corinth and Rome were impacted by the gospel. Shouldn't our mission strategy reflect the same? My recollection of the book of Acts tells me the apostles continued working from the small up to the city. Maybe the river flows the other way? Maybe we've forgotten.