Being & Building Followers & Friends of Jesus

#Reimagine: Cities. Discipleship. Mission. 

Phil Miglioratti had a conversation with Patrick Johnstone,

author of Serving God in Today's Cities ...

Serving God in Today's Cities: Facing the Challenges of Urbanization


by Patrick Johnstone

With Dean Merrill / Foreword by Ed Stetzer

PHIL ~ Patrick, Operation World has influenced a generation of global-focused praying. Why a book on cities? And should we see a connection?

PATRICK ~ There is a personal reason - in 1959 God spoke to me about ministry in the burgeoning cities of Southern Africa, so for 16 years my focus was on city evangelism, discipling and mobilizing African believers for prayer. This was a time when urban mission work was not a priority - we had great rural areas of Africa, Asia and, to an extent, Latin America, that had had little exposure to the Gospel. The urban migration had hardly taken off at that stage. What a different world today, now in the first urban majority century!
There is also a global reason - in the latter part of the 20th C we had the huge focus on listing the languages and peoples of the world and the great emphasis on unreached peoples. I do not like using the term UN-reached peoples, but rather least-reached, or better, least evangelized peoples. Today there are very few peoples of over 10,000 with absolutely no churches, believers or missionary witness; most are small, isolated, and any pioneer entry implies a base in urban areas and relationship with existing Christian churches and missions to reach them. the bigger challenge are the huge populations of under-discipled peoples like the Tibetans, Bengalis, Riff Berber, etc. In the 21st Century we have a majority urban population with valid massive language extinctions as the children of new urbanites lose their rural languages and adopt the city and education languages. Few realize that there are less than 40 languages used for instruction in universities, and under 500 used in secondary education globally which will quickly stifle the smaller languages in the cities. So for the 21st C we need a dual emphasis on the least reached peoples and also on the world's megacities.

PHIL ~ As Ed Stetzer alludes to in his Forward, "cities" has become, rightly so, a trend, but I fear many simply add the term to whatever they are already doing or assume they understand "city" because they live or work in one. "City" is more than a zip code. Is it a concept? A culture? A movement?

PATRICK ~ The 20th C pioneer mission perspective was of people who were 'primitive', underdeveloped, illiterate forest, mountain and desert dwellers. Missionaries became great healers, educators, developers, and were a treasured economic resource to rural areas, and mission stations often the norm. City missionaries no longer have that profile.  We have to learn new ways of doing cross-cultural mission in the huge anonymous cities - most necessitating an emphasis on discipling above any other. Any ministry has to be replicable and 2 Timothy 2:2 based!

PHIL ~ How did the Church become in the city but not "of" the city or "for" the city?

PATRICK ~ Any church working in a city can either be a cultural refuge for declining minorities or open to adaptation and change. The test is whether the local congregation reflects the age, language, occupation, characteristics of the surrounding population. If not, change is imperative. The biblical parallel is the contrast between the introspective, monocultural Jerusalem church, or the multi-cultural, mission-oriented Antioch church. That hard choice must be made if any congregation is to be relevant and have growth in the mid-21st C. I suspect many of the present mega-church congregations in the Western World are doomed to bankruptcy and death within a half-generation.

PHIL ~ What must we learn from Ray Bakke's statement? "I needed to know the city, because if you don't know it, you can't love it."

PATRICK ~ Ray is so right! So often we use methods, terminology with a worldview of another generation, hoping that the world will be attracted. We have to know where our population is and has come from in their culture, thinking and aspirations to use the facet of the eternal Gospel that is the most appropriate. The test of the composition of the congregation accurately reflecting the age, language, ethnicity and occupation of the surrounding population is a fair measure. If we do not know how to become effective, call in those who will equip us. If we need a relevant pastoral team, make sure we call those to lead who have cross-cultural/urban training and experience - how many seminaries provide this?

PHIL ~ Leaders within city movements are seeing a radical increase in collaboration. Prayer gatherings. Serving communities together. Engaging lost persons with a common invitation to explore God. What happens when John 17 multiplies our Matthew 28 efforts?

PATRICK ~ Astonishing results follow. Cities around the world come to mind Resisterncia in Argentina in 1990 had 400,000 inhabitants and just over 5,000 Evangelicals. Ed Silvoso challenged the churches to repentance and prayer, and today there are over 100,000. Jim Montgomery challenged the Philippines in the 1980 with DAWN (Disciple a Whole Nation) and out of this emerged the vision to plant a church in every local district in the country. The 5,000 evangelical churches of 1980 became 52,000 in 2000 - mainly in the cities, and 70,000 in 2018. The combination of repentance leading to reconciliation, prayer and vision is a potent mix!

PHIL ~ What can we learn about "cities" from:


  • Jonah ~ Don't run away from them...
  • Isaiah (26) ~ God has great plans for Zion - symbolising our cities and the Heavenly Jerusalem
  • Jeremiah (29) ~ Pray for the cities and seek their welfare!
  • Antioch ~ Imitate it!

PHIL ~ Most churches and ministries recognize the need to meet needs, but do we realize we must also confront systems and structures that have become unrighteous and actually harm citizens?

PATRICK ~ The Matthew rendition of the Great Commission has sadly been inadequately translated for the simple reason that we have no English verb "to disciple". This has a number of negative spin-offs that distort the theology of the words of Jesus. We have, "Go and make disciples of all nations" but it should have been "....in going, disciple all peoples". Two words which are not in the Greek have to be added, the second is "of". Conversion becomes a form of individualistic extraction from society - individual conversion is essential, but there is a collective aspect of the Great Commission that whole cultures and societies need to be impacted too. We cannot avoid the prophetic and not speak out at injustice, unfairness and evil embedded in society. Sadly the Church in the West is more known for its timidity, dissensions and aberrations of its leaders.

PHIL ~ Please share one more insight from your work on this book before we conclude...

PATRICK ~ The first of the words added in the English rendition of the Great Commission is "make". It becomes another methodology, a ministry prescription, the subject of new fads that last awhile rather than a permanent ministry lifestyle. Everything we do should be replicable by those we work with and mentor. A controlling pastor or foreign agency is the antithesis of the Great Commission. Missionaries were engaged in a wide variety of 20th Century ministries, but rarely was the specific aim of discipling with a view to early hand-over. How many churches are truly disciplers of their flock - it does not happen on a Sunday morning. My ministry verse is 2 Timothy 2:2 - Paul discipled Timothy who was to disciple faithful men who would teach others. This is four generations - How many Christian workers achieve that 4th generation in their ministry? Thirteen years ago I handed over my "baby", Operation World, to others!

PHIL ~ Please write a prayer we can pray that will open our eyes and our hearts to the "city"

PATRICK ~ Father, may we know something of the heart of your dear Son when he wept over Jerusalem. We stand as one in the midst of the spiritual battles we have to daily fight and see your Kingdom come in this city for whom our Lord Jesus gave His life.

May I embrace my city, and not fear it. I see the violence, the sin, the unfairness, the self-seeking interests of the powerful and I feel like running away from it all. Help me to see through the greed, sinfulness, dysfunction, and squalor and see the underlying family and societal breakdowns that caused the abuse and pain that has so damaged the lives of those with whom am in daily contact. Use me to become a healer of the wounds, a proclaimer of the Gospel and discipler of those who I meet. unite all of us who bear your name that we may

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