Your Urban Future

What’s the biggest city you’ve ever visited? Chicago? Houston? L.A.? New York? Mexico City?City Street

Whatever your answer, the truth is … you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

While working on a recent project, I learned that we’re living in what may rightfully be termed The World’s First Urban Century. According to the number-crunchers, we crossed a tipping point back around 2007-08, when more than 50 percent of the planet’s population were city dwellers. And get this: by the year 2100, that figure will have swelled to 90 percent.

As Ray Bakke, a leading advocate for city ministry, says, “You have an urban future, whether you like it or not.”

By the year 2050 (only 35 years from now), the top-10 list of world cities will have changed dramatically. What was true back in 2000 will have been turned on its head. Mexico City (then #2), New York (then #5) and Los Angeles (then #8) will have been kicked off entirely. Leading the pack in 2050 will be Lagos, Nigeria (64 million!), followed by Mumbai, India, and Karachi, Pakistan (both 50 million) … then Dhaka, Kolkata, Kinshasa, Delhi, Shanghai, Addis Ababa, and Tokyo. Notice: Not a Western Hemisphere city among them. All 10 are African and Asian.

Hey, I’ve been to Lagos (a dozen years ago), and it was absolutely crazy back then! I cannot imagine how congested, noisy, and chaotic it will be with 64 million people.

This tsunami of people toward the world’s cities is clearly unstoppable. So what does it mean for you and me … and for God’s work on this planet?

The book I developed with Patrick Johnstone (esteemed British researcher who gave us all the Operation World directories) is entitled SERVING GOD IN TODAY’S CITIES: Facing the Challenge of Urbanization. The second chapter says we can choose to view what’s happening as a headache or an opportunity. Yes, big cities are loud, expensive, sinful, intimidating, and all the rest. But they are also places of innovation, easy networking, trend-setting, and openness to change—including spiritual change. People arrive from traditional places and soon start making new contacts, hearing new ideas, and reevaluating what they’ve always thought to be true.

More than a hundred years ago, the premier evangelist of his time D. L. Moody (who grew up in a small Massachusetts town, by the way, but made his greatest impact in gritty Chicago) said, “If we reach the cities, we will reach the nation. If we fail in the cities, they will become a cesspool that infects the entire nation.”

Our book outlines eight critical responses to this new reality, with a chapter on each:

  1. Pray Together
  2. Exegete (i.e., research) the City
  3. Push Against Urban Poverty
  4. Reach Out to Diasporas (migrants coming in)
  5. Form Healthy Churches
  6. Confront Sinful Structures
  7. Address Real Human Pain Directly
  8. Embrace a Wider Vision

To get the book or e-book, click here. You’ll also see a short video clip of me being interviewed on the topic.

Have you heard or sung the song “God of This City”? Do you know how it came to be written? Here’s the back-story:

A contemporary Christian band from Northern Ireland named Bluetree was on a mission trip to Thailand a few years back. They went to play their music in the city of Pattaya (area population 1 million) some 100 kilometers southeast of Bangkok. This beachfront metropolis is the epicenter of Thailand’s sun-sand-and-sex-for-purchase industry. Everywhere the band looked, they saw tourists coming to buy personal pleasure in the go-go bars, massage parlors, and hourly-rate hotels. They could not miss colorful advertising for cabaret shows where transsexual and transgender entertainers perform to packed houses. Understandably, pickpockets eyed the tourists on every sidewalk.

Rather than pulling back in revulsion, Aaron Boyd and his fellow musicians were stirred with God’s passion for Pattaya. What might God want to accomplish in this modern version of Sodom? A song began to be born. The melody line began in a soft, low range:

You’re the God of this City

You’re the King of these people

You’re the Lord of this nation

You are You’re the Light in this darkness

You’re the Hope to the hopeless

You’re the Peace to the restless

You are

Next came a musical “bridge,” building in intensity….

There is no one like our God

There is no one like our God

Finally, in full-throated declaration, came the chorus:

For greater things have yet to come

And greater things are still to be done in this city

Greater things have yet to come

And greater things are still to be done in this city

It was Bluetree’s battle cry for the triumph of the Kingdom of God over the powers of darkness and sin.

The band began performing the song in concerts back home. They recorded it in 2007. Audiences rose to its courageous vision. Then one night as they were “opening” (performing the initial set) for a Chris Tomlin concert in Belfast, they sang the song. One of Tomlin’s associates heard it and was struck. He quickly went backstage to his friend and said, “Did you hear that song they just did? It’s amazing.”

Tomlin had not. But once he did, he too was captured by its driving passion. He sought permission to record it himself. Since then, “God of This City” has swept around the world, being sung in churches, and winning “Song of the Year 2009” in the Worship Leader Magazine Readers’ Choice Awards.

Greater things … greater progress … greater light … greater redemption for those in the grip of urban despair and confusion. This is God’s will for the 21st century. And we get the high privilege of helping him make it happen.


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