Into the Cities—With
Using Christ’s methods to reach the world’s great cities
By Gary Krause
The first weekend after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair, was on the phone to Christopher Hitchens, a contributing editor to the magazine.
The group, in New York City from Huntsville, Alabama, had touched the heart of a secular editor of a secular magazine in the heart of one of the world’s most secular cities. “Their noble posture and their music held the people around them like a pair of loving arms,” wrote Carter. “At that moment, and in that place, it was a charm that soothed this savaged breast.”1
The cities of the world desperately need to be wrapped in the loving arms of the gospel. More than 100 years ago Ellen White wrote: “The Lord has been calling our attention to the neglected multitudes in the large cities, yet little regard has been given to the matter.”2
Imagine standing in the New Market area in Dhaka, Bangladesh, watching rickshaws roll down Peelkhana Road, each carrying a person, one every minute. Statistically speaking, you’d be standing there for nearly seven days before a rickshaw came past carrying an Adventist.3 Similar scenarios—some even more dramatic—play out in urban areas around the world.4
In the 1880s the Seventh-day Adventist Church placed a high priority on city missions in the United States. The General Conference published an annual report on city mission from 1885 through 1899. In 1886 the report indicated there were 36 missions, employing a total of 102 denominational workers, and training 224 lay members as interns and trainees.5
By the turn of the century a “medical missionary” project in Chicago, sponsored by Dr. John H. Kellogg, included “a small hospital, free clinics, a soup kitchen, visiting nurses program, emergency residences for men and women, and the Life Boat Mission, where evangelistic and social work was done.”6 When looking for where best to locate the mission, Kellogg and an Elder Olsen approached the police chief and asked for “the dirtiest and wickedest spot in all Chicago.”7
Yet just a few years later Ellen White said that the Seventh-day Adventist Church had “neglected” the cities. If we’re candid, we have to admit that 100 years later little has changed. In 1910 the population of New York City was nearly 5 million; today it’s almost double that. In 1910 Ellen White described urban ministry as “the essential work for this time.”8 How would she describe it today?
The Way Forward
As we face the incredible challenge of the cities, how should we move forward? Ellen White summarized the incarnational ministry of Jesus, which she called “Christ’s method,” in five steps.9 This method is key to urban ministry.
1. Mingling. In the late 1990s, under the leadership of Mark McCleary, the Southwest Philadelphia Seventh-day Adventist Church, in Pennsylvania, planted three new congregations. McCleary led his church members in mingling with the people of their communities. They formed a local chapter of Sisters for Christ, a program to prepare young women for adulthood; they helped flood victims; they mentored young people. Pastor McCleary was an officer on the West Philadelphia Partnership Board—a group of organizations partnering to enhance civic life in the community.
The church plants were involved in everything from helping people find jobs to baby dedications and Vacation Bible Schools. When McCleary received a call to lead a church in Washington, D.C., community leaders lobbied the mayor of Philadelphia to keep McCleary in the city.10
Jesus left heaven, came to earth, and lived among us. He put on human skin, got His hands dirty, rubbed shoulders with us. Bible writers record how Jesus physically touched people. In Matthew 8 and 9 alone He touched five people, including a leper—thereby making Himself ritually unclean according to Jewish tradition.11
It’s great to distribute literature, to support public evangelism, radio, and Internet outreach. But these only support, not replace, personal, hands-on, mingling ministry. Just as we send missionaries to other lands and cultures, so we need missionaries in cities to make a long-term, on-the-ground commitment to city ministry.
2. Showing sympathy. Speaking of the city of Nineveh, God asked rhetorically: “Should I not have concern for the great city?” (Jonah 4:11).12 Centuries later Jesus showed that same concern: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36).
Wayne Krause pastors a church he and a small team planted in an urban area an hour or so north of Sydney, Australia.13 It’s in the middle of a community of thousands of young families, the vast majority of whom have never stepped foot inside a Christian church.
One day a couple from Wayne’s church was shopping in a local mall when a young man approached them and asked if they would take him to a methadone clinic. Without thinking twice, they took him there immediately. Afterward they drove him home and cooked him a hot meal.
The young man started attending church each Sabbath, and afterward members took him to the methadone clinic. At a court hearing several church members surprised the young man by showing up to support him. A few weeks later his entire family showed up at church.
Dressed in heavy-metal regalia, complete with chains and leather, they sat in the front seats of the church. The boyfriend of one of the sisters was the lead singer in a heavy-metal band and had every finger on both hands covered with silver. Wayne looked out from the platform and decided to change his sermon and talk about the great controversy between good and evil.
None of the family was Christian, but after the service they came to Wayne and asked how they could be on God’s side in the war between good and evil. After Wayne explained the gospel to them, they all asked to have Jesus as the center of their lives.
3. Ministering to needs. We’re told that when the apostle Paul arrived in Athens, he spent some time as a tourist. He “walked around and looked carefully” at what the Athenians were worshipping (Acts 17:23). Like Paul, we have to stop, look, and listen.
A few years ago Wayne’s church discovered that some students were arriving at the local public school each day without having had a proper breakfast. Church leaders started working with school administrators, and soon this Seventh-day Adventist church was serving the needs of these hungry kids. Later, when Wyong Grove Public School decided to hire a chaplain, they turned immediately to Wayne’s church. Rochelle Madden of Wayne’s Central Coast Community Church is employed as school chaplain for this public school, fully funded by the Australian government.
“My role as chaplain is to be a window to Jesus,” says Madden. “I really want the kids, parents, and teachers to see a Christian as someone who really cares about them and what’s going on in their lives.”14
Seventh-day Adventists should be at the forefront of making cities better places.
In the book of Jeremiah, God instructed the Jewish exiles about how they should function when they got to Babylon: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity [shalom] of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers [shalom], you too will prosper [shalom]” (Jer. 29:7).
The Hebrew word shalom is a powerful word with layers of meaning. It conveys thoughts of peace, well-being, and prosperity. Adventists should be at the forefront of making cities better places to live. Every person in the city should have a friend because Adventists are living in, working among, and praying for the shalom of the city.
Jesus modeled a wholistic ministry that perfectly balanced the spiritual and physical: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (Matt. 9:35).
To care for someone’s physical needs while being blind to opportunities to share the good news about Jesus is to sell ministry short. Just talking about spiritual things and neglecting the physical also ignores Christ’s example and sabotages our witness.
4. Winning confidence. In 2004 Andrew Clark was called to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to head up Adventist Community Services in the aftermath of Hurricanes Ivan and Francis. It was his first posting after graduating from Columbia Union College (now Washington Adventist University) with a theology degree. Clark and his team helped families rebuild their homes and their lives.
After the floods had subsided and business was almost back to normal, the local town council met to discuss whether to grant Adventist Community Services an occupancy permit. In a powerful tribute to our church, more than 100 people from the community came out to support Clark and the church: pastors of other denominations, business leaders, mothers, etc.15
5. Bidding people to follow Him. Inviting people to follow Jesus isn’t some artificial construct placed on top of all the other steps. It’s a natural outgrowth. Will all people accept Jesus? No. Does that mean we stop mingling with them and serving them? Certainly not.
As Clark and his team mingled, showed sympathy, ministered to needs, and won confidence, they received plenty of criticism from other Adventists. “You’ve been mingling for months now; where are the results?”
But God has His own timing. One day a tattooed teenager Clark had been working with said, “Pastor Clark, am I an Adventist yet, or what?” I received a message from Clark pleading for help in finding a Bible worker. Bible study requests were starting to flood in. “PLEASE HELP!!!!” Andrew wrote, in his typical enthusiastic style. “We are four people already stretched too thin trying to follow up 70 leads so far!”
Ellen White wrote that Christ’s method, when accompanied by the power of persuasion, prayer, and God’s love, “will not, cannot, be without fruit.”16
Will We Have the Faith?
When Moses sent spies into Canaan, he instructed them to investigate three things: (1) the land, (2) the people, (3) the cities.
The spies returned with glowing reports of the land and its produce, but also a daunting picture of the people and cities (Num. 13:26-30). The people were giants, the cities were “fortified and very large” (verse 28). Only Caleb and Joshua dared speak of victory against such formidable obstacles.
Today’s twenty-first-century cities are also “fortified and very large.” The fortifications aren’t made of stone; they’re reinforced by the intangible fortifications of secularism, postmodernism, and consumerism. Will we have the faith of Caleb and Joshua to say that, with God’s help, “we can certainly do it” (verse 30)?
1 Vanity Fair, November 2011.
2 In Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Nov. 11, 1909.
3 This is calculated on the basis of 730 baptized Seventh-day Adventists in a Dhaka population of 7 million people. This is a conservative figure; many authorities estimate Dhaka’s population at up to 15 million.
4 Of course, there are some notable exceptions to this trend. Many inner-city Adventist churches have been lighthouses for the good news for many decades.
5 Ivan Warden, “Ellen G. White Speaks on Urban Ministries.”
7 Quoted in Amy Lee Sheppard, “Doers of the Word: Seventh-day Adventist Social Christianity in Thought and Practice During the Gilded Age” (unpublished B.A. honors thesis, Department of History, University of Michigan, Mar. 26, 2007), p. 67.
8 Ellen G. White, Medical Ministry, p. 304.
9 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 143.
10 See www.advantagetechsolutions.net/SW2001_html/history.htm and Monte Sahlin, Mission in Metropolis: The Adventist Movement in an Urban World (Lincoln, Nebr.: Center for Creative Ministry, 2007), pp. 128, 129.
11 He also noticed in the press of the crowd the touch of a woman who had been sick for 12 years.
12 Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
13 For more information about this church, visit www.cccc.org.au.
14 Rochelle Madden, “My Ministry Idea,” South Pacific Record, June 4, 2011, p. 12.
15 A video of the event, “Finding Carnegie,” can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=htzzdAHs4co. To view more Adventist mission videos about this church-planting initiative, visit AdventistMission.org and type “Carnegie” in the search box.
16 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 144.
Gary Krause is director of the Office of Adventist Mission.