TRA Wordtalks

TRA 3rd March, 2002
Ministering in the City

Matthew 23:37-39

I visited the Christian Mission Church, Launceston during January. The church is a memorial to Henry Reed its founder pastor. In 1873 he left England for Tasmania to work among the poor and disadvantaged, the convicts and descendants of convicts. A committed Christian, and a successful businessman, he was moved by compassion for the poor and spiritually lost.

With a group of Wesleyans in 1877 he erected a huge two storey hall behind the present church. Soon it could not hold the crowds, and the surrounding yard was covered with canvas to accommodate the overflow. A new church seating 1,200 persons was built for worship. Apart from worship, Sunday School classes, Gospel preaching and outreach to the city masses, this church provided financial help to the needy, low cost housing, meals for the poor from a soup kitchen, educational classes, and alcohol recovery work. The tablet to his memory in the church reads: 

born October 28 1806, Doncaster, England. 

"In early manhood after he protracted a deep conviction of sin, he found real rest through simple faith in Jesus, and being filled with zeal for God and compassion for souls, he proclaimed the glad tidings of salvation with mighty power wherever he went, turning many to righteousness. He was the friend of the prisoner, the poor and the afflicted. His later labours were devoted to the people of Tasmania where he founded the Christian Mission Church in 1877. And having fought the good fight, he finished his course with joy and entered into rest October 10th 1880."

This church ministry parallels to our own emphasis of evangelism and social service. It changed its name from Christian Mission Church to Memorial Baptist. More than 1000 people attended lunch time services and evening rallies I conducted there ten years ago. The pattern of ministry that Wesley Mission Sydney has developed is the most viable in the world. All over the world people are interested in what we are doing. This week 22 Methodist ministers visited us from Korea to learn how we care. This week 20 ministers and senior UCA ministers visited us to see how we care. This week America caught up. 

For more than twenty five years I have been lecturing in America about how our church in Australia has been very active in caring for the homeless, the poor, the sick, the prisoner and the unemployed, and how we believe in a ministry of word and deed. I have also explained how our church lobbies governments for funding to support this work of people from the community, who by and large, are not Christians and mostly not associated with any church. The Americans always find it hard to understand because they are blinkered by their constitutional separation of church and state. This has to do with religion dominating government, not with governments supporting welfare. President Bush has declared as national policy the goal of involving faith-based and community organizations in solving the nation's social problems. Hurrah! Now the poor can be really helped. Churches can be challenged into their social responsibility that they pushed off onto the Government. This week, President Bush unveiled his plan for promoting "faith-based solutions." 

Ironically many of our members and staff do not understand what we are doing and some members would want to turn us into a local suburban parish. They misunderstand our unique ministry to the city. If we lose our uniqueness and become respectable we will die! We could have sold this site fifteen years ago for $40 million, built on 70 acres of land we own at Carlingford the flashest church complex in the world right in the heart of the Bible belt. But to do that would have denied our heritage, and made us irrelevant to the power structures of the nation. A Sydney downtown city church and mission has a special relationship to the nation. 

Our mission to the city grows out of the scriptures. The Biblical basis of urban mission is seen in 1,400 references to cities and living in community. 119 cities are mentioned and 25 examples of specific ministry to a city are given. They include the ministry of Joseph in Egypt, Jeremiah in Babylon and Jonah in Ninevah. The New Testament has examples of the ministry of our Lord to cities, and of Paul, Peter and John ministering to cities. The city is a place for praising God: "Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God.". Abraham went seeking a city. Christians look for the city of God from heaven. 

Jesus sent out the twelve apostles, then the seventy on missions into all the surrounding cities in Palestine. What he accomplished there is of abiding significance. But nowhere is the concern of Jesus for a city more poignantly expressed than in his cry over Jerusalem:

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times have I wanted to put my arms round all of your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me! And so your Temple will be abandoned and empty." Matt 23:37-38 Jesus wept twice: once over the dead body of His friend, Lazarus, and once over the dead heart of His city, Jerusalem. Jesus longs to put His arms about the wayward and lost in our cities. Wesley Mission places people into the arms of Christ. As we place our arms around the city in compassion and care, our arms become His arms! Consequently He blesses our ministry. 

The early Church's mission to cities is seen in the Apostles. Paul was the most urbanized of the Apostles. Born in the large university city of Tarsus in Turkey. Paul's ministry moved throughout the Roman Empire staying in a dozen large cities to establish churches. Peter left the shores of rural Lake Galilee, and in obedience to Jesus ventured from city to city. From Jerusalem to Samaria, Joppa to Caesarea, Antioch to Ephesus, Corinth and Rome. There one and a half million people lived in six storey apartments. The early church won the empire because it won her cities to Christ. Today our church has such a ministry. 

For 150 years there has been a continuous movement of people into cities, then into suburbs, from rural areas. But in the last twenty years there has been reverse movement: people are shifting back into the heart of the central city to expensive mid-city apartments or to older run-down suburbs now trendy.

The high cost of housing and transportation to work, plus all the benefits of a world ranking city means the inner city is coming alive once more! The downtown city church is today needed more than ever. 5,000 CBD residents twenty years ago have grown to 30,000 residents today. 

The concerns of the city congregation differ from local congregations. Some organizations provide service to others but without any context of worship. That is merely fruit without flowers. Some worship God, but provide no practical service, but that is flowers without fruit. To perpetuate the ministry of Jesus our service must grow out of our worship. The end of worship is the beginning of service, flowers and fruit! 

The spiritual commitment to confront the power structures means the church must speak on social issues and entrenched evil, naming political falsity and intrigue and exposing all exploitation. The city church cannot shrink from well researched and powerfully presented economic and political comment of a type rarely spoken in suburban congregations. If it is, it is never heard by those most concerned. The city church requires a special kind of membership. The members of the Sunday Night Live congregation are committed to the welfare of the city, knowing the people, serving their needs, and supporting our staff in each centre. To know the streets is to be committed to them. Many of our members come from the inner city, but many others live in suburbs but are committed to the support of central witness and worship. Without you overcoming all the temptations to stay at home on a Sunday Night, our work would be incredibly weakened. 

There is constant challenge to present the Gospel of salvation. Our hardest task is to faithfully present the Good News of Jesus Christ within the city context. Some want to proclaim the Gospel in deed only, hoping that silent witness will convince. Others want to spend their time proclaiming the scripture words avoiding the issues of our day. But service without witness is dumb and witness without service is beating the air. We must forthrightly proclaim the Gospel in word and deed. By television, radio and print media we must reach the city people other churches do not.

That social concern must be inclusive: social reconciliation of people of different races, cultures and economic standards; social relief among the poor and the needy; social reform to correct the inequalities and injustices of society; social rehabilitation among the addicted and depressed; and social reflection where listening and counselling supports the anxious. 

Urbanization is the greatest fact of our era. The success of the church is in proportion to its effective mission, not to villages, rural towns or suburbs, but to the central city. Win the cities and we win the world! The Australian church suffers from suburban captivity. Ours is the most urbanised country in the world. Our church is declining as the rural population declines. Many city churches suffer from narrow elitism. The inner suburban churches are mostly in decay. The outer suburban churches possess limited leadership, property and are struggling hard to meet local demands. The church is the captive of the suburbs. We need a strong central city church to speak to the nation. 

That requires a strategy of penetration of the city. Wesley Mission has such a strategy. At the centre lies our Wesley Mission congregations. They are no ordinary congregations but are mixed socio-economically, culturally and racially. Around them lies a dozen other congregations catering for homogeneous groups, meeting in different places and at different times. In Wesley Centre we gather together as people of the Mission, members and staff, to witness to the Gospel. We find spiritual inspiration and scriptural direction and then spread to our ministry centres to complete the deed of the Gospel. When this worship ends our service begins, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Word and deed belong together. 

What is the Gospel? The Good News! Life is meaningful. Sins can be forgiven. Purpose can be found. Inner strength can be yours. Eternal life is a reality. Here! Now! God loves you. Jesus Christ has come to save you. The Holy Spirit can equip you to cope. Commit yourself to Christ and to serve the city with us. If you have never accepted Him as Lord, do so tonight. If you are not committed to a city congregation, join with us tonight. You may belong to a cell somewhere, or to a congregation of this mission or some local church. But you are needed here every Sunday night as part of our strategy of penetrating the city with the Gospel of Christ. Either by prayer or daily work you continue to serve through the rest of the week.

Commit yourself to Christ and to our city through this Church. That is the most significant thing you can do to influence our nation and world. 

Gordon Moyes

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