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Reach a city, ‘change the world,’ N.Y.C. pastor exhorts

ATLANTA (BP)–Urban churches should have as their goal building a great city, not a great church, said Tim Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, one of New York City’s largest Protestant congregations.

“The great city churches don’t have as their goal a great church in the city; rather, the goal of their ministry is a great city,” Keller said. “They don’t want to use the city as a means to build up a great church, rather, as a means to create a great city.”

Keller said churches focused on using their denomination and resources to reach the city for God’s glory will “change the world.”

Speaking at the Summer State Leadership Meeting July 24-27 in Atlanta sponsored by the North American Mission Board’s evangelism and church planting groups, Keller shared what he sees as three critical steps to reaching the continent with the Gospel. Keller’s text was Acts 8:5-8.

First, churches simply must go to the world-class cities of our time; secondly, Keller said Christians must preach Christ in the cities; and thirdly, the work of the church must be done to return joy to the city.

Until Southern Baptists have as many churches in cities like New York as they have in southern states, there’s simply not enough churches to reach the city, Keller said.

“There’s 8 million people in New York City. I’m pretty sure there’s about 8 million people in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina all together. Until you get it there, you’re not reaching the city,” he said. “And if anything, you probably need to have a few more there because the way society goes, the way the movies go, the way the arts go, the way the politics go, the way things go.”

While the American church generally wants to stay away from the cities, Keller pointed to the work of the first missionaries in the Book of Acts as doing just the opposite.

Philip went to the great cities of his time to reach the people with the Gospel, Keller said, because the cities were personally, culturally and globally strategic.

“What you see throughout the Book of Acts, all the missionaries always choose the biggest cities of the region to go to,” he said.

“Generally speaking, people in the cities are open to new ideas,” he noted. “Today, people in the cities are more open to new ideas like the Gospel.”

Keller gave several illustrations why cities are culturally crucial: “If you want to win the legal profession, you’ve got to go to the city. That’s where the law schools are, that’s where the law journals are put out…. The city is the place for the art…. [T]hat’s where the scholarship is done, that’s where the culture is formed.”

Quoting Acts 8:8 about joy returning to the city following Philip’s preaching in Samaria, Keller asked: “What would happen if New York City were really changed by the Gospel?”

He said there would be healing of racial divisions; poverty would be cut in half; it would be a city where people would talk in public about Christianity without being vilified.

Christians should “seek the peace of the city,” Keller said, by meeting people’s physical needs as illustrated in Jeremiah 29. When we meet people’s physical need and demonstrate our love for them, they’ll listen to what we have to say.

Jesus Christ was crucified in disgrace outside the gate of the city but desperately wants to reclaim the city for His Kingdom, Keller said.

“Jesus Christ lost the city that was, so that you and I can become citizens by grace of the city that is to come, to be salt and light of the city that is.”

    About the Author

  • Tim Yarbrough