By Samuel G. Hines
I believe that the urban pastor must be a lover of the city. If he is attracted to skyscrapers as some people are by mountains, if he can enjoy the often strange and irreverent city sounds as some people enjoy hearing birds chirp, more power to him! But whether he can “fall in love” with these things or not, he has to love them.
The city is one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind—and to the church—but we’re running away from it. We are told that the city is something that man built because of his material greed, and therefore the city is something we should despise. The Babel episode in the Old Testament has been used, misused, and overused to show God’s supposed opposition to urban concentration.
It seems to me that we’ve become so preoccupied with “second causes” that we’ve forgotten the First Cause. The water that’s piped to my kitchen in Washington, D.C., is just as much God’s gift as the water you would find in a clear spring out in the country.
The city is God’s gift of diversity. Paul says that God’s ultimate purpose is “to gather all things together” (Eph 1:10). There is no place on the face of the earth where you’ll find the diversity Paul talks about, except in the city.
In all the conflict and fluid mobility of our metropolitan areas, the church is an element of stability. While everyone else is destroying people’s pride, Christians come to discover the potential in people. We must be able to call forth the gifts of people.
A little fellow who came to one of our foster care centers in Washington couldn’t read or write, and he was nine years old. He had been in a juvenile home for three or four years, so when he tried to get into public school, the teacher insulted him because he couldn’t write his own name.
But the foster parents discovered that he could draw. They got him some paper and crayons, and our congregation arranged to have someone skilled in art come and work with him in the evenings. In the semester just ended, he got the highest marks in his class for art.
He still has problems reading…But then I have problems drawing!
In the city all kinds of traps and obstacles hinder people from realizing their potential, so the urban church becomes an obstacle-mover. This is where we might get into a radical kind of ministry, because we have to move all kinds of obstacles, including people. There is no universal formula for moving obstacles. If you want to move garbage, you’ll have to do it in a certain way; if you want to move people, you’ll have to do it another way. You must be sensitive to people’s hurts, and respond to them.
Most people don’t stumble into this kind of “love affair” with the city. They rise up in commitment and walk into it deliberately. “Loving” is as much of the will as it is of the emotion. Jesus loved Jerusalem like a mother hen loves her chicks (Matt 23:37). You will note that he made whips in the temple, but he shed tears over the city.
Yes, the first thing that the urban pastor, or any Christian in the city must do, is this: he must learn to love his city as a gift from God.
Samuel G. Hines served the Church of God in numerous capacities, including as longtime pastor of Third Street Church of God in Washington, D.C. Article originally published in the December 10, 1972, issue of Vital Christianity. Republished by permission. Across the United States and around the world, God is on the move in the Church of God. Join the movement. Give life! Donate today at give.jesusisthesubject.org.