Author: Sérgio Paulo R. Lyra
The Urban Ministry of Jesus and the Missio Dei
Dr. Sergio Lyra
1. Defining Our Terms
Considering that the proper understanding of terms is essential to the understanding, we decided to offer a brief discussion about the meaning of mission, missiology and Missio Dei. It is true that a lot has been written about it, but wishing that the concept we use may be homogeneous, we opt to define what we want to express with these terms.
This is a Latin expression which means Mission of God. By special revelation, the Bible, God is known as the Creator, Lord and Sovereign over all, and to whose decrees, can never be frustrated. God is always the author of finished works, all that He determined in his word certainly has happened or will happen, and this is a truth that permeates the entire Bible. When we realize that the work of restoring all of creation has its origin in God himself, we believe that this mission is Missio Dei. Hence, we find out that the vocation, empowerment and missionary motivations also have their source in God himself (John 17:18). The missionary actions to proclaim the message has its beginning in God’s heart, who announced and sent his Son. Jesus, in turn, asked the Father to send his Spirit, and is the Holy Spirit calls, regenerates, sanctifies, and empowers the Church and send it to the world with a mission. If the mission in which we got involved is Missio Dei, then at least five implications arise immediately:
Missions and Missiology
In order to identify the playing field and establish the missiology as a theological science, many scholars began to produce reflections. Abraham Kuyper advocated missiology as the science that should study the best methods for producing the conversion of non-Christians. Kuyper said that the missiological task was prosthética, ie the task given by God to his people in order to produce the addition of the saved in Christ’s church. Theologians like Bavinck, Verkuys and others, continued to solidify the missiology as an independent discipline of systematic theology, but essential and grounding in the Scriptures, defined as an integral part of the revelation of salvation in Christ. They said the Missiology could not be considered only a sub-item of ecclesiology in systematic theology.
In our present time, several theologians have produced abundant literature on missiology, both defining it as submissive to theology, as linking it with various other disciplines, especially with the social sciences. Charles van Engen focuses very appropriately the need for a sound understanding of the theology of mission and the imperative need of having a mission from God - Missio Dei - as a starting point for missiology. This idea is not a new one. John Eliot, missionary among American Indians and the known Reformed theologian Richard Baxter, both of the seventeenth century, stated in their writings that there are three mission elements: (1) God is the sovereign Lord of missions; ( 2) He uses means to achieve man’s redemption, and (3) The man is responsible for accepting or rejecting the gospel. But is Charles van Engen who presents the missiology as a discipline that has its focus on Christ and his mission, both fruits of God’s sovereignty and related to theology.
Understanding that the theology does not generate the missionary fervor in the Church, we discover the truth that the motivational source is God Himself, the Lord of the Church and author of the missions. He gives gifts to his Church, vocations, vision of the work, steadfastness and fearlessness to accomplish the mission. This means that the mission was born in the heart of God himself, and thus in eternity. This truth, however, can never serve as a steppingstone to support those who support the exemption of theological reflection to plan the strategy of missions in the urban churches today. If we believe that theology is not just confessions, creeds, conciliar declarations and doctrinal treaties, but it’s also deep connected to understand, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the will and act of God revealed through His Word (Romans 8:14, I Corinthians 2 :13-16), then we can make use of biblical principles, which give direction to the activities of the Church through the Scriptures. In so doing, theology will always be present in the preparation of a strategy for transcultural, rural or urban evangelization. This is why David Bosch stated that "no missiology is possible without theology." By joining the terms, associating the concept of missio Dei to the definition of missions and missiology, we can define the whole as follows:
Missions is God’s people intentionally crossing barriers of the Church to non-church, from faith to non- faith, through the word and deed proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of Christ. It is the task to plan, implement and evaluate the participation of the church in God’s mission that must be understood as divine determination to reconcile people with God, with themselves, with each other and with the created world, bringing them together in the church through repentance and faith in Christ.
Such action is realized through the sovereign restoring action of the Holy Spirit, with the proposal to transform the world as a sign of God’s kingdom that has already come by Jesus.
2. Jesus and the Missio Dei in the Cities of Today
As the Gospel writers exposed the ministerial action of Jesus, they didn’t failed to mention that such action was, basically, a ministry in an urban context. Jesus was born within a city, grew in another, and developed his preaching to the inhabitants of Jewish towns. His emphasis was clearly directed to the cities, his ministry was urban (Matt. 8:34; 9:1,35, Mark 7:31, Luke 10:10), and this is very appropriate for us, considering the today urbanizing movement.
Prophecies and beginnings
There is no difficulty in affirming that Jesus chose to be a city man. The Prophet Micah said that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Not only that, the prophet Isaiah announced that he would be known as an inhabitant of the city of Nazareth - Jesus of Nazareth - a fact that Matthew makes a point of recording in his gospel (Isaiah 11:1; Mt 2:23). Jesus knew the modus vivendi of the city. In his first thirty years he lived and learned the full urban reality of their time, even in the choice of the profession of carpenter’s helper, typical of a city context. It is also interesting the fact that Jesus, when starting his ministry, decided to move to another city, leaving Nazareth. So, before calling his twelve disciples, he moved to Capernaum, a city that was in "Galilee of the Gentiles," thus known to be surrounded by Gentiles, and the only region that was in contact with ideas not aligned with Judaism religious, which did not cease to be an indication of his purpose to show the comprehensive gospel, besides the Jews. The Galilee was the most populous part of Palestine. Barclay notes that the region had about 204 large villages, with at least 15,000 inhabitants each. Again, the Jesus’ option for the cities reflected the prophetic announcement: "In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations" (Is 9:1). And Matthew confirms: "And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled " (Mt 4:13-14).
John recorded the first sign of Jesus’ ministry done in a house in the town of Canah, during a wedding celebration (John 2:1-11). Lucas also began his report showing the beginning of the ministry of Jesus through healing a possessed man in Capernaum (Luke 4:31). The sacred writers showed the Lord experiencing the whole context of city life, he visited homes of rich and poor, He healed the sicks (Matthew 8:14, Mark 5:38-41), preached in meetings at home (Luke 5), intervened in a funeral in the town of Nain (Luke 7:11-15), opined about policy issues etc. The beginning of Jesus ministerial mission reflected only a little of the intense urban ministry that he would play.
The urban ministry of Jesus
The Jesus’ option to ministry the cities did not mean that his ministry was exercised only within cities. Jesus not only sought to reach those living in urban centers, he sought people. However, the cities were the places where they were in quantity, hence his strategy was primarily urban. It is necessary to note that Jesus also wanted to transform the unjust structures of the city. He condemned the neglect of the poor, rejected the "fence law" established by the hypocritical religious hierarchy of the scribes and Pharisees; he ordered the payment of taxes, and many other attitudes peculiar to the urban context. All this without mentioning his constant intervention in the perverse structure that deprived the common people’s access to the means of improving health, nutrition and spiritual support. Such action runs counter to the interpretation of many evangelical theologians group, especially the so-called fundamentalists, who tend to centralize the theology only in the work of God for spiritual salvation of man. The history itself is testimony of those who were concerned only with individual salvation, produced a disposition to reduce the social evil as sin entered only on the individual. By establishing that the evil of a city is composed of self-aggrandizement, self-indulgence , social injustice and idolatry, would be naive to think that converting people in the city automatically produce the urban restoration. If the systems that control the vcity are not impacted with the values of the Kingdom of God, there won’t be no effective transformation, and this has not gone unnoticed in the ministry of Jesus.
The challenge of temptation
Before the actual commencement of his ministry, Jesus was led by the Spirit out of town, where he prayed, fasted and was tempted by Satan. During the temptation the devil led him back to town. Even though there are theologians who defend the interpretation that the temptation was internal, mental or spiritual and not physically, the urban core still exists. Jesus is taken to the highest point of the temple (Matt. 4:5), that in mind or in fact, it could not be disassociated with the city of Jerusalem. This fact leads us to the idea that Satan was willing to defeat Christ in the same place where the veil would be torn, the holy place where the great victory of the Messiah would happen in the city of Jerusalem - the temple. From this event is possible to deduce that the local where the church is tempted is the city, more properly, the spot where the church lives and worships God, therefore by the Holy Spirit, the christians are now the temple of God. To face the diabolic challenge: "if you are Christian, where are the supernatural deeds" (Matt 4:5-6), living by faith is still the great challenge we must confront for the urban missions.
Satan knew that Jesus was sent from God, sent to regain all realms. As the devil offered an easier and milder way than the cross, he showed to Jesus the kingdoms and offered to him dominion over the cities (Matt. 4:8-9), cities which were not properly his, although they were under his control. Jesus rejected all diabolical bids and ordered Satan to withdraw (Matt. 4:10). The Lord knew that only a perfect submission to the Father’s will would be effective and efficient. Jesus foresaw that cities and kingdoms would only be rescued from the tyranny of sin, when his victory over sin and death was consummated (Rev. 19:6-7, 21:2). The cross was the only way! The kingdoms just would go back to God’s ideal when “worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve." (Matt. 4:10). It was after his resurrection that Jesus told his disciples: "All authority was given to me ..." (Mt 28:16), the cities are now under his power. One warning else still persists, because the temptation offered by Satan to church: the temptation to perform the mission in the city without the cross, without a price to be paid.
Urban missionaries like Jesus
Although Jesus preached to many cities such as Capernaum, Nazareth, Bethany, Jericho and others, his final destination was Jerusalem, the city of David, the city of peace that would advocate the ideal of God. It was in that city where he went with the honors of a king, and palms, greetings offered only to the victorious roman generals (cf. Lk 19:28-40). It is in Jerusalem that Jesus confronted the religious established powers. It is the same Jerusalem that he wanted to snuggle with maternal affection (Matt 23:37). It was in Jerusalem that repeated with Jesus the same fate of the prophets (Matt. 23:34). His death occurred outside the city, but the impact did not leave the urban environment quiet. Guards were posted to his tomb; the disciples locked themselves in fear; the city squirmed in comments which later became silent. Jerusalem was once again struck by Jesus, the news stirred the city and its leaders more than ever. In Jerusalem the Messiah had just regain power over everything and everyone. It was there, too, that the risen Christ and Lord of all, breathed his Spirit on his disciples (Jn 20:22), and they received the same mission that had been his, "As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you" (Jn 20:21). This is the way used to establish the parallel of urban ministry of Jesus with the delegation of responsibility to those who were, and to those who are now missionaries of God. As consequence, just a couple days ahead, not only the apostles, but the entire church would produce the beginning of an era of the more intense urban missions. It is in these same bases and called conditions, restoration, training and sending that it is necessary to adhere to the theology that regulates the missionary practice. One caveat needs to be made regarding the implementation of urban strategy clearly demonstrated in the New Testament. One can’t exclude the missionary responsibility of the church outside of a city. Preach the good news of the Kingdom of God to all ethnic groups not reached, continues to defy the church. However, missions can no longer be understood as a task for only a few people in distant places. The cities are now the great missionary challenges of the XXI century.
Rejection and judgment on cities
Although Jesus has chosen, with mercy and grace, to reach cities with the gospel of the Kingdom of God, the Bible has not failed to register a fair trial for those cities, that having heard his message, continued recalcitrant and rebellious. For example, one can cite Nazareth, where only few healings happened (Mark 6:1-6); Capernaum, which will receive greater condemnation than Sodom and Gomorrah (Matt 11:24), and also Jerusalem itself, on which was decreed destruction (Luke 21:20). The rebellion of the city raises the harsh penalties of the justice of God, which does not condone with the impiety nor with the idolatry (Romans 1:18-20). The Missio Dei to an urban context, thus reflects a double aspect. At the same time that the Father sent Jesus as the restorer of both the individual and social structures, he also has as his ultimate purpose, to redeem the dignity of life in town restoring their organizational structures in both the vertical aspect - man and God , as in the horizontal aspect - man to man. This action invites the church to a mission participatory, integral, since it doesn’t exempt the Christians from their personal responsibilities as citizens. A repentant city is a forgiven city (Jn 3:10, Matt 11:21). Cities unrepentant, unrelenting and evil will be rejected and judged (Luke 10:13-16).
3. Practical Aspects of Jesus Missionary Action
There is no way to study aspects of Jesus’ ministry and don’t identify his total obedience to the Father in all aspects. He always made it clear that his purpose was to do the God’s will. This puts us in the very same proposal, as we received from him the mission-privilege to expand the Kingdom of God through preaching and practice the Gospel, then it’s over us a non-negotiable request for obedience. So, to imitate Jesus as a missionary model is the task-responsibility of every Christian, no matter where. That’s why we can’t accept a Christian that isn’t a missionary. Jesus is the God’s perfect missionary, and we were commissioned for the same mission. In short, if we are Christian, we have a mission, and this implies to go, preach, live and make disciples of Jesus everywhere.
To make practical the arguments and formulations which we have already outlined here, we clamped four examples from Jesus we should imitate, particularly those who I think to be well-connected to the urban environment.
Urban Missionaries in 30 seconds
Two examples spring to our eyes. The first is the story of a possessed man of the city of Gadara (Lk 8:26-39). Knowing that Jesus casted out a legion of demons from that man, gets focus the man’s request to be a disciple, a "full-time follower" of Jesus (Luke 8:38). In our church, any new convert who ask permission to be a preacher, certainly will be recommended to him to wait a little bit more, be frequent to the services, attend doctrinal classes, then get theological training. However, the attitude of Jesus surprises everyone, and especially us, the pastors. What a surprise! The Lord instead of allowing him in his company, he said no. What? Pay attention, Jesus chose to make the new convert a missionary in just 30 seconds. Read the Lord’s words: " Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." (Lk 8:39). One might think that such “missionary” would be a weak missionary, an awful ministry, after all the theological and missiological training of that man was almost zero. However, the biblical records tells us that “he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him." (Luke 8:30 - my italics). I remind you that the biblical truth presented here is that the responsibility to speak about Christ begins at the very beginning of the Christian life, something that should happen soon, immediately after the conversion. The new convert may not know the truths of the Bible, the body of doctrine of the denomination or the local church’s traditions, yet he can witness his conversion, every believer can and should do it.
The second biblical record is similar to the first, it is about Jesus’ conversation with the woman of the city of Samaria (John 4:19-30 and 39-42). In this case was not necessary even the Lord ask her to witness his meeting with him. As the woman decided to believe in Jesus (John 4:26-28), she left his pitcher by the well and returned quickly to the city, speaking of the Christ she had found. What the results? "Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony ..." (John 4:39 - my italics). I believe that it’s urgent to rethink and rebuild our strategy, and immediately to transform a new Christian in a missionary. The new believer has one of the largest networks of relationships with people who need salvation in Jesus. It’s not wrong to affirm that the Lord Jesus turned converted people into missionaries in just 30 seconds.
Training: Sample, empowerment and duplication
Here is one area that we have mistake a lot, both pastors and church members. Despite the modern context ask for "experts" leaders, is still very common in our churches the idea that the pastor makes everything and is stick-to-all-trades. The leaders or pastors who embrace this philosophy of ministry on the one hand reflect a desire to serve the best and the broadest possible way, but on the other hand, show a lack of awareness of themselves as leaders and missionaries trainers. As we study the Jesus’ ministry we will find a very clear and strong emphasis on character formation of his disciples, and not in preparation for them to take positions. Such training can be described as training by example. The Master taught as he lived what he taught. It’s, then, from this visual and perceptible platform, where one model is offered as the teaching that the disciples are called to practice what they learned - empowerment. Note the sequence in John 17:18: "As Thou (God the Father) sent me into the world (Christ obeyed, came, preached and gave the example to his disciples), I also sent them into the world (the training process and duplication) ". The Apostle Paul reinforced the same proposal in writing to the church of Efesos, stating that God made pastors, evangelists, prophets and teachers "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, "(Ephesians 4:12). This means that as part of missionary work we have to make disciples. To this end, the church leadership needs to be a model (I Timothy 4:12), and visible model, enabling others to also imitate Christ, creating a duplicator cycle.
The non-negotiable Time for Prayer
The multiple tasks of the church added to the urban hustle and bustle, stress and time spent in rush hour or traffic slow, some is also the time spent in queues in banks and repeated visits to government offices, and the cell phones urge with their multiples rings. All of this acts like a kind of vacuum cleaner that sucks our time to pray. It seems that today we no longer have the same 24 hours daily. The missionary work can’t succeed without prayer. Very often I find myself tempted by the many activities of the ministry, to shorten my prayer time to be able to do one more little thing (Neat activism!). It seems that we are so much needed in the work of the Lord, that if we stop doing what we’re doing, the work will stop hopelessly (to this absurd be true, I would need never get sick or even die). Jesus taught us to always pray and pray without losing heart (Matt. 26:41). Prayer is not a matter of time, but time priority. As we pray, besides we obtain the spiritual oxygen for our souls, we declare our total dependence on God. Someone once said that prayer without mission is pure confusion. Our century of fast food, plug-and-play and Vapt-Vupt yells to us, leaders and pastors: "let’s go, do, do, don’t stop for nothing, look to the mountain of work, run, hurry up ...". I’m not making the apology for the lazy or uncommitted ministry with the urgency of the mission that Jesus gave to us. I look to Jesus and with him I learn that I must dedicate time to pray, especially when the mission demands more work. Try practicing this paradox: When you have to do more things than you usually have, reserve more time to pray.
The sensitivity to the people target
Much has been written today about the necessity of contextualization. Rejecting any association or direction that leads us to be missionaries led by target audience, it’s very important to define contextualization as the sensitivity and adaptation of the form and never of the Gospel message content. The land of contextualization may become unstable and even dubious, if not adequately explicated. Let me explain what I want to emphasize from Jesus himself. The case of the Canaanite woman is very relevant (Mt 15:21-28). Jesus knowing that she was gentile, he explained the priority of the Jewish Messiah (Mt 15:26), but the Master was not insensitive to the faith of that lady. This fact reveals sensitivity to whom we preach. Another case is the healing of the paralytic who was descended "untimely" in the room where Jesus was teaching. Imagine yourself in that place, learning from the Master and suddenly appears a bed descending from the ceiling, causing material damage in the house, interrupting the meeting and interfering in the word of Jesus, because a man without any previous appointment asked for help (Luke 5:17-20) - imagine this happening with yourself during a preaching in your church. How you would act in such a situation? Note that the Lord changed his agenda, because he was sensitivity to the new context. He forgave the person with faith (Luke 5:20) and met the needs of the paralytic (Luke 5:24). To live and fulfill the missio Dei today implies directing our agenda more to the people than to tasks, or what we have to prepare. Means to customize the attention in a world where people are treated just like numbers, and those who attend them are eager to say: "Next". To imitate Jesus is what I call the missionary awareness to a specific target public in our urban preaching and diaconia. To be sensitive to a target people it is not to adapt the worship to the sinner, but to make it comprehensive to the worshiper. This doesn’t mean to negotiate or bargain doctrine to bring more people to the church, but to make accessible to all the message that God has commanded us to preach
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