Did you know Europe’s historic cities are only three per cent of the world’s land mass, and could comfortably fit inside South Africa? Nevertheless, European cities have had a disproportionately massive influence on the rest of the world, through both urban history and Christian identity.
Harvie Conn says two of the four big ‘urban waves’ began in Europe. In the second urban wave of commercial and feudal cities from the eleventh century, Europe’s walled cities gave protection to its citizens and enabled commerce that would takeover the world. In today’s fourth wave of global cities, Europe’s great metropolitan areas of London, Paris and Berlin are linked. Rotterdam connects the Randstad of the Netherlands to the Rhine-Ruhr of Germany. There are urban corridors between London and Frankfurt and between Milan and Barcelona. Europe’s sheer number of multinational companies, banks and organisations suggest it is still a continent of influence, if not inspiration.
Crucial points of development in the historic church have been in Europe. Think of Celtic Christianity, monastic mission movements, the Reformation and the World Missionary Conference in 1910, and today of church planting networks, the migration of new Christians and emerging churches.
Today, Europe is made up of about fifty sovereign states (mostly democratic republics), each with their own histories, cultures, languages and a wide spread of Christian traditions. Western Europe (Protestant/mixed) is different from Southern Europe (traditionally Roman Catholic), Nordic Europe (Lutheran), Eastern Europe (Orthodox) and Central Europe (largely atheist). Through migrant Christians, Pentecostalism is everywhere. The contours of Europe’s map of faith is not so much being withdrawn as being redrawn.
Understanding urban ministry
Photo credit: European Commission
Today’s cities are a dazzling constellation of global cultures, a kaleidoscope that resembles a world atlas. In the urban centres of Europe today, we meet the whole world. There is more Christian ministry going on in them than we usually give credit for, ranging from serving people in pain, developing leadership, community transformation, to church renewal and multiplication.
I believe that:
- Christ is already present in the urban world. We do not bring Christ for the city. Cities have had their share of leaders with messiah complexes. In dark places is God’s presence.
- Church is the agent of God’s mission in the city. God has not given up on his people, whether local churches or missions, new or old forms, European or African/Asian partners.
- Cities are more of a gift than a problem. The city is a gift of grace. The church is often sick and unhealthy but where hurt and pain is engaged with there is hope of renewal.
Cities are extraordinarily successful and overwhelmingly destructive. David Harvey’s recent book “Rebel Cities” is a Marxist critique of urbanism, and although secular, has more zeal for a healthy urban world than do many churches.
Though Europe is home to large numbers of Christians, we do not think spiritually about cities, either blaming them for what is wrong with the world or taking a glossy view that ignores its darker side. Harvey’s critique, based on the work of sociologist Robert Park, is that cities are under the control of wealth producers who have dispossessed masses of people to any right to the city. Power is kept in the hands of small political and economic elites who shape the city after their own needs and heart’s desires.
Urban mission needs a similar but biblically informed critique if it is not to be condemned to putting patches on the sores of the broken in the city. Bible-believing Christians are increasingly aware that the Gospel is not only about personal sin and individual salvation, but are still slow to recognise public sin and corporate spirituality.
Lausanne III affirmed that there is a mission to the market place. Recently Dr. Chris Wright spoke about the Lausanne III commitments in the Netherlands and concluded with the urban mission commission. Jeremiah 29:7 says “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, you too will prosper.” I never heard a European evangelical leader speak like that before. So can our broken churches change peoples and cities? This is the Gospel.
The Good News redeems people
All people are created in God’s likeness and they all need faith and life. We seek deep change. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) The Gospel is not anti-urban but is transformative of people and worlds. Urban ministry serves and heals, prays and forgives, preaches and teaches, trains and empowers., reaching the parts of people that others (including Marxists) cannot reach.
The Good News redeems cities
God cared for Nineveh more than Jonah. Jesus cried over Jerusalem. What are cities but created human institutions and environments? A Church of England bishop recently spoke of his PhD entitled: “Can companies sin?” You can guess the answer!
All human structures are accountable to God and we need to call the city’s human service departments to serve the people they were intended for. We must confront principalities and powers through prayer and action. The city longs for human institutions and an urban environment that is liberated to serve. “Creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:12) Since Christ has overcome Satan, we can confront and call these structures to their true purpose.
1. Harvie M. Conn and Manuel Ortiz, Urban Ministry, Downers Grove, IVP, 2001, 33-79.
2. David Harvey, Rebel Cities, London, Verso, 2012.
3. Urbanization is about the density of people whereas urbanism is about the values of the city. Urbanization has reduced space but urbanism has recreated it. Urbanization has condensed space but urbanism has conveyed it across the world.
4. “In 2010, 73% of Europeans live in urban areas. 72% of these urbanites adhere to Christianity. 49% of the fifty largest European areas have Christian majorities.” Todd M. Johnson, Kenneth R. Ross, eds., Atlas of Global Christianity, Centre for Study of Global Christianity, Edinburgh University, 2009, 248.
Robert Calvert is minister of Scots International Church Rotterdam with more than forty nationalities. Over the decade he has co-ordinated a European network for urban ministry practitioners. Robert organizes consultations and trails, supervises student placements and teaches on urban ministry.