CAPE TOWN, South Africa – New York pastor Tim Keller awed the crowd Wednesday evening with his well thought-out argument on why churches around the world need to move into cities.
Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan told attendees of Lausanne III that if Christians want human life to be shaped by Jesus Christ then churches need to go into cities.
Cities are where churches can reach the next generation (young adults want to live in the city); reach more unreachable people (people are far more open to the Gospel in the cosmopolitan city than in their hometown); reach people who have a big impact on the world (filmmakers, authors and businessmen); and reach the poor (about one-third of city dwellers live in shanty towns).
"Human beings, according to Genesis 1, are made in the image of God and reflect God's glory more than anything else in creation," said Keller, whose Redeemer City to City has planted more than 100 churches around the world.
"In these cities you have more image of God per square inch than anywhere else in the world," he said. "So God makes the numbers argument."
The influential pastor known for his deep thinking shared a story about a missionary friend. Keller's friend once quipped that the country is where there are more plants than people and the city is where there are more people than plants. And because God loves people more than plants, He has to love the city more than the country.
About 300 years ago, less than three percent of the world's population lived in cities. Today, more than 50 percent of the world's population lives in cities and the number is growing rapidly. It is estimated that eight million people, or about the population of Bangkok, move into cities every two months.
"The people are moving into the cities faster than the church is," Keller emphasized. "If you love what God loves then you will love the cities. If you want to go where the people are you got to go into the cities."
But churches that want to go into the cities need to be contextualized in order to be effective, he said. Just like how urban China is different than China and urban America is different than America, an urban church is different than a church in the countryside.
An urban church, which has people from many cultures, is required to be extremely patient about accusations of cultural insensitivity and should expect to be accused of such. Pastors of urban churches need to accept that they can never fully solve complaints of cultural insensitivity, but that they can learn from criticisms.
Churches in cities also need to show people how their faith relates to their work because jobs are a much bigger part of urban dwellers' life, Keller said.
"I had only known how to disciple people by bringing them out of the work world and into my church world," the New York pastor shared. "But if you are in an urban church you can't do that. You have to help people apply their faith to their work."
Urban churches also need to expect disorganization and changes; be intensely evangelistic but at the same time famous for its concern for justice; be committed to the arts; and cooperate with other denominations and faith, he said.
"Look at the cities of this world. Look at the masses of these cities, God says. Why aren't you moved by them? Why aren't you going there?" Keller asked. "So let's go."
The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, also known as Cape Town 2010, has drawn more than 4,000 Christian leaders representing over 190 nations to Cape Town, South Africa. The conference was founded by American evangelist Billy Graham in 1974 in Lausanne, Switzerland, to bring together the global body of Christ for world evangelization.
This Congress is unique in the diversity of its attendees and for discussing a wide range of global problems faced by today's church, including secularization, Islam, HIV/AIDS, prosperity gospel, nuclear weapons, and environmental concerns. The conference program will conclude on Sunday.