Cities: Mission's New Frontier

By Roger S. Greenway and Timothy M. Monsma
Grand Rapids : Baker (1989). 321 Pages.

Reviewed by
3.1 (Spring 1992) : 101-102

This book is a stirring challenge to give due consideration to urban missions, both the need for them and their uniqueness. It also addresses numerous issues related to missions in general. The following are several notable examples of many correctives the authors propose.

Missiologists plan how best to reach specific sectors of society. This necessitates setting strategies and programs based on empirical statistical data resulting from research and development. Contrary to what urbanologists once conjectured, family ties do not necessarily disintegrate in the city with the home playing a significantly smaller role in the lives and attitudes of city dwellers (p. 19). In fact, quite often it is the very opposite. Homes may well provide the primary matrix for social networking, etc.

Another significant corrective focuses on the role evangelization plays in social reform. Based on the research of Emilo Willems, a sociologist but not an evangelical, Greenway says, "Conversion to the evangelical faith is the most important single factor in the reorientation of individual and family lives and in general upward mobility in the urban setting" (p. 20). Still the authors argue for the church's additional involvement in meeting physical needs. In other words, the gospel will ultimately affect the social climate of the families who receive it, but the church should provide biblically prescribed help for family needs before salvation, expecting nothing (even conversions) in return.

A third corrective addresses the manner in which modern churches tend to view missions-as a task force of professionals. Greenway says that "conversion was enlistment, and missions meant everybody" in the early church (p. 24). He bemoans the fact that "whatever strengths the Western churches possess, they are weak in the area of practical discipleship and lay witnessing" (p. 24). Professionalism that often characterizes American churches runs the risk of suppressing all kinds of "lay ministry."

The chapter entitled "Pastoring in the City" supplies sage advice regarding the unique opportunities and problems in shepherding a city flock. Regarding preaching in the city, Greenway debunks the age-old myth that "urban ministry . . . is for activists, and not for students of the Scriptures, because most of a city pastor's time is spent dealing directly with people's problems and city congregations do not expect a great sermon on Sunday" (pp. 255-56). The discussion of "The Pastor and the Prisoner" is helpful in illustrating the kinds of outreach an urban church can have.

This reviewer would like to have seen a separate chapter specifying other unique missions options in the city. For example, two excellent missions opportunities within the pale of urban missions are international students and the disabled. International students are a foreign field that is present in the United States. This can be a call to mobilize American churches for missions. About 4,000 international students reside at the University of Southern California alone. The disabled, perhaps one of the last frontiers in missions, is a virtually unreached people-group. Because the disabled are often concentrated in cities and because nonurban disabled persons often move to cities for help and greater accessibility, urban missions cannot afford to neglect them.

A second suggestion is the addition of a Scripture index, particularly for the chapter dealing with a biblical framework for urban missions. One is needed for the three subsequent chapters, too. This would help those who investigate the biblical basis for and principles of application to urban missions.

The book has an articulate and powerful challenge and is well researched. Its extensive documentation and generous bibliography supply direction for those interested in further study. Pastors, particularly those in city churches, will be encouraged and gain insight from this long-overdue treatment of urban missions.