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Spring 2010 · Vol. 39 No. 1 · pp. 56–70 

The Heart of God in the Heart of the City: Missional Vocation and the Urban Congregation

Cory L. Seibel

Praise be to the LORD,
for he showed his wonderful love to me
when I was in a besieged city.

In my alarm I said,
“I am cut off from your sight!”
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
when I called to you for help.

. . . Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the LORD.

Psalm 31:21–22, 24

The church must never lose sight of its true identity as a community sent into the world by Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit

God loves the city. In recent years, the compelling voices of Ray Bakke, Harvey Conn, Charles Van Engen, Manuel Ortiz, John Perkins, and numerous others have helped the church to be challenged afresh by this truth. 1 Renewed attention to God’s heart for the city is deeply important because the story of the church’s relationship to the city in recent decades has, to a great extent, been one of aversion and abandonment. Christians have tended to view the city as a dark and depraved place and have all too frequently responded by withdrawing to the relative peace of the suburbs. 2

However, a number of congregations have made the tough decision to remain rooted in the city and have determined to witness to the reign of God by serving as agents of justice and shalom within their communities. These congregations have recognized Christ’s call to discipleship as one that compels them to live and serve as missionaries in their neighborhoods. As a result, they are striving to invest themselves in long-term relationships with their urban friends and neighbors. They are endeavoring to be present in their neighborhoods, to listen, to love, and to demonstrate tangible care for those who are in need.

Participating in God’s mission in today’s urban environment can be exciting and invigorating. At times it is the source of great joy and fulfillment. At the same time, the rewards of this missionary existence can be punctuated with experiences that are frightful, exhausting, painful, and disappointing. It is not uncommon for Christians engaged in mission in the city to “burn out.” Others simply choose to “check out” by withdrawing from their neighbors or by leaving the city altogether.

How then do churches and the missionary disciples of which they consist sustain a vital commitment to God’s mission in the city? When the church building is vandalized or a rash of violent crimes takes place in the neighborhood, what keeps the congregation from saying “enough is enough”? How do we stay rooted in a dynamic awareness of God’s presence, purposes, power, and peace? In this article, I will endeavor to interact with these questions by exploring key themes related to the missional vocation and vitality of contemporary urban churches.


As I have already noted, when a congregation sets out to live as a missionary community in an urban environment, this is no simple matter. I am convinced that God calls all churches everywhere to join him in the purposes of his mission. 3 Surely, any of the contexts in which congregations might be situated will present great challenges for their faithfulness to God’s mission. 4 That being said, the urban context does pose a number of unique and particularly imposing challenges to followers of Christ seeking to take God’s mission seriously. 5

In the midst of the realities of urban life, the missionary congregation must be continuously sustained and shaped in three crucial and interrelated categories: missional identity, missional imagination, and missional initiative. Each of these represents an important facet of what it takes for a missionary congregation to live out its calling faithfully. The conflicting forces at work within the urban environment present the congregation with a wealth of opportunities for these aspects of its true vocation to be distorted and disrupted. Thus, it is essential that the urban congregation pay attention to these aspects of its calling. I will explore the significance of each of these categories briefly here.

Missional identity has to do with how the church understands itself and its purpose. Twentieth-century theologian Emil Brunner boldly declared that “The Church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.” 6 In other words, mission is integral to the church’s true identity and constitutes the essence of its calling. Christopher Wright explains that the term missional is “an adjective denoting something that is related to or characterized by mission, or has the qualities, attributes, or dynamics of mission.” 7 In the case of the church, it reflects “our committed participation as God’s people, at God’s invitation and command, in God’s own mission within the history of God’s world for the redemption of God’s creation.” 8 Thus, in speaking of the church’s missional identity, we are seeking to express the fact that the missio Dei provides the rationale and grounds the reality for which the church was brought into existence. 9

An important facet of the church’s missional identity is that it has been called to bear witness to God’s redemptive purposes for the world by manifesting an “alternative social order.” 10 In essence, God intends that the church might point beyond itself as a sign and foretaste of the reign of God. In Philippians 3:20, we find this identity described in terms that are of profound relevance to the urban missionary congregation. In this verse, the Apostle Paul reminds the Philippian church of its true identity as a “colony of heaven.” 11 Many commentators agree that this statement is an intentional allusion to the city of Philippi’s role as a Roman colonial presence within the region of Macedonia. In appropriating this image, Paul intimates that the Philippian church had been called by God to embody and uphold the culture of God’s reign within the city of Philippi. As citizens of heaven, they were to conduct themselves “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27).

Barry Harvey notes that this identity was in fact deeply engrained in the early church’s consciousness. In contrast to the city of Rome, which invested itself with eschatological significance (“the eternal city”), the early church saw itself as an altera civitas (“another city”), a distinct polis that had been called into existence by Christ. This new polis had as its purpose to live in faithful service to the risen Lord. 12 Living in light of this identity was not without its challenges. As the Corinthian epistles illustrate, even some of the earliest Christian communities struggled to cultivate a way of life together that was faithful to the Lord in the midst of the social, ethical, and moral patterns of the urban environments in which they were situated. Nonetheless, as Harvey notes, churches of that era did strive to promote their own laws and patterns of behavior. 13

Today’s urban churches share this identity as colonies of heaven. Like their ancient predecessors, they must strive to live in faithfulness to this identity in their complex environments. They too have been called to embody the life, freedom, justice, goodness, and hope native to the culture of heaven amid the brokenness, bondage, and systemic powers of their communities.

The church’s calling to live as an alternative community must not be understood as a justification for becoming ingrown or insular. Indeed, the church’s “sent-ness” is another key facet of its calling that should prevent it from becoming too self-involved. This truth is poignantly illustrated in John 20:19–23. In the wake of Jesus’ death, a remnant of Christ’s followers are huddled together in fear. The locked doors of their gathering place offers little more than an illusory sense of security against the threat outside. Suddenly, in the midst of this group, the resurrected Jesus appears and declares, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you” (v.21).

The anxious disciples may not have found this statement particularly encouraging. The risk posed by opening the doors that insulated them against the realities of the city was very real. Fortunately, Jesus grounded the sending forth of these disciples, not in human determination, but in the blessing of his peace (v. 21) and the promise of his Holy Spirit’s empowerment (v. 22). A few short weeks later, these disciples were gathered once again (Acts 2:1). As the Holy Spirit descended upon them, their meeting spilled over into the streets outside and became an opportunity to proclaim the good news of the risen Lord. The events of that day set in motion a powerful spiritual movement in Jerusalem. The church found itself emboldened by the Spirit to proclaim and embody the same message of the reign of God that its living Lord had announced. Day by day, they cultivated a way of life that kept them rooted and engaged with the life of the city (Acts 2:46–47).

What was true for the first urban Christians remains true for urban congregations today. The church’s identity as an alternative community is not a warrant for insulating itself against its neighbors, though the threats and challenges posed by the city will surely tempt it to do so. Quite to the contrary, even though the harsh realities of city living can be fraught with risk, the church must never lose sight of its true identity as a community sent into the world by Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to serve as an agent and instrument of the reign of God. Indeed, our identity has been forged by the Lord who “became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message).

Missional imagination has to with how the church sees its context. Missional imagination does not see from a “natural” perspective; rather, it enables followers of Christ to view reality through the eyes of faith (2 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 11:1). Roxburgh and Romanuk suggest that missional imagination entails “forming in people the capacity to reconnect with the biblical story in a way that enables them to discern what God is doing among them.” 14 The cultivation of missional imagination makes it possible for the congregation to “see familiar stories and taken-for-granted situations anew.” 15 It entertains the prospects of how God might wish to do “a new thing by entering into the very real places where we are formed, to transform them.” 16 In essence, missional imagination helps the body of Christ to catch a fresh vision of the in-breaking reign of God in their neighborhoods and communities.

Unfortunately, conventional notions about the relationship between God’s reign and Christian imagination have not tended to foster this sort of perspective. N. T. Wright describes an inherently Gnostic “just passing through” spirituality to which many contemporary Christians have fallen prey. According to this way of seeing things, “the created world is at best irrelevant, at worst a dark, evil, gloomy place, and we immortal souls, who existed originally in a different sphere, are looking forward to returning to it as soon as we’re allowed.” 17 All too commonly, this form of spirituality has led churches to dismiss, disregard, and seek deliverance from the concrete realities of their neighborhoods and communities in the interests of focusing on “souls” or “holiness.”

However, insists Wright, the biblical themes of creation, incarnation, resurrection, and consummation all point to the truth that God’s redemptive work is not meant to be understood as entailing the transcendence of space, time, and matter. Rather, the unfolding drama of redemption points toward the transformation of space, time, and matter in the “new heavens and new earth” that God promises to bring about (1 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1). 18 This understanding of God’s redemptive purposes encourages a different sort of eschatological imagination, one that leads the church to yearn, not for the transcendence of space, time, and matter, but rather for its transformation. It invites Christians to adopt a “spirituality of place” and to be on the lookout for evidence of the in-breaking of God’s “already, but not yet” reign within their lives and communities. 19

That being said, even many Christians who trust in God’s promise to renew creation find it difficult to imagine what place, if any, the city might have in God’s redeemed world. Randy White’s comments help us to appreciate this:

Ever notice how there’s a spectacular nature scene on the cover of just about every devotional guide or Bible study book: a thundering waterfall, a golden sunset, a snow-peaked mountain? There’s never a graffiti-covered wall, a cyclone fence with laundry hanging on it, the faces of inner-city kids or the familiar tangle of concrete onramps and off-ramps. How could those things have anything to do with the soaring and magnificent themes of faith and the sovereignty of God? 20

Indeed, perhaps it is easy for us to formulate eschatological visions of a redeemed creation in our own minds—images resembling the lion and the lamb lying down together in green pastures beside still waters. That is surely the stuff of God’s new heavens and new earth. However, we might be left to wonder: Is there any reason for the city to have a place within our imagination about the unfolding purposes of God’s reign? Is there any hope for the redemption of the city? 21

Fortunately, the New Testament has already provided us with a vivid answer to this question. The book of Revelation does not merely picture the consummation of God’s redemptive program as entailing a new heaven and new earth. Rather, at the climax of this book’s eschatological vision (chapters 21–22), we find the “redemption and transformation of the old Jerusalem into the new City of God.” 22 Roger Greenway reflects upon John’s description of this transformed city: “Life in the new Jerusalem is peaceful. There are no tears, no causes for them. Death and mourning are gone, and so are pain and suffering. Best of all, in this city God in Christ dwells forever with his people in perfect relationship. Grace has triumphed and shalom is established.” 23

What hope might this vision of the future offer urban Christians who wonder whether the reign of God could possibly come to their cities and neighborhoods today? John sees the new Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:2). In essence, within this city the culture of heaven is fully realized. The new Jerusalem represents the ultimate and final expression of urban renewal. This vision can be a wonderful source of encouragement and inspiration as we struggle with the difficult, sometimes disappointing realities of contemporary urban life. As urban Christians continue “looking for the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14), we can be moved to imagine what it might look like today for the will of God to be realized in our cities “as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).

Clearly, the hope of the in-breaking reign of God is relevant to life in the city, just as it is to all other dimensions of the created order. Indeed, while we may be prone to look upon some corners of the city as God-forsaken places, Roxburgh and Romanuk remind us that “God meets God’s people with the bright light of the Kingdom in what appears to be the most hopeless and forsaken places . . . God is constantly present in places where no one would logically expect God’s future to emerge, and yet it does, over and over.” 24 Our cities’ most depressed and devastated neighborhoods are no exception. Thus, as urban congregations look at their surroundings, they have every reason to ask with hope and expectation, “What is God up to in this neighborhood?” 25 Indeed, it is essential that they do so.

Missional initiative has to do with how the church actively engages its context. In Jeremiah 29:7, God calls upon his people to seek the shalom of the city in which they are exiled. While this verse was addressed to the nation of Israel during its Babylonian exile, many urban missiologists agree that it can help us develop an understanding of the vocation of urban churches today. If the urban congregation is to be faithful to the purposes of God within its context, it must advocate and advance those things that reflect the marks of God’s reign of life and peace. 26 Michael Slaughter insists that “commitment without action is not total commitment.” 27 We urban Christians actively seek the peace of the city when we invite others to experience the good news of God’s reign (Rom. 10:15) and translate this good news into practices that demonstrate what God’s love in Christ means. 28

The earliest urban churches had many shining examples of such missional initiative. Aristides, a Christian apologist in first-century Athens, says of the church of his day, “They never fail to help widows; they save orphans from those who would hurt them. If they have something they give freely to the man who has nothing; if they see a stranger, they take him home, and are happy, as though he were a real brother.” 29 Two centuries later, the historian Eusebius gave this account of the conduct of Christians in Rome during a severe plague:

Then did they show themselves to the heathen in the clearest light. For the Christians were the only people who amid such terrible ills showed their fellow-feeling and humanity by their actions. Day by day some would busy themselves with attending to the dead and burying them (for there were numbers to whom no one else paid any heed); others gathered in one spot all who were afflicted by hunger throughout the whole city and gave bread to them all. When this became known, people glorified the Christians’ God, and convinced by the very facts, confessed the Christians alone were truly pious and religious. 30

These Christians understood something about what it means to pursue the purposes of Christ’s peace in their cities. Through hospitality, forgiveness, and reconciliation, they confronted “head-on” the pervasive bondage and brokenness of their communities and bore witness to the world’s “beginning and ending in peace.” 31

Today’s urban churches similarly must discern what it means to seek the peace of the neighborhoods and communities in which they live. At the very least, as Frost and Hirsch suggest, such peace will require that we “demonstrate God’s love in humility, mercy, and concern for justice.” 32 Village Church of New York provides a poignant example of this:

If Jesus were living here in Greenwich Village, New York City’s most prominent homosexual community, what would he be doing? For The Village Church, this simple question led to a radical unlearning: We should have a ministry to people with AIDS. So we created i58, based on Isaiah 58:10–11 as our guiding scripture. We cook and serve food to more than one hundred people with AIDS biweekly, including New York’s oldest AIDS residents. Showing concern to a physically and spiritually broken community has also opened doors to share the gospel. More than one person has commented, “I’ve noticed a big difference in your volunteers—you actually care about people. You don’t treat us like charity cases,” and “Our clients want you back.” 33

As we seek to be agents of shalom, we should hope that our cities will “feel compelled to give glory to God.” 34 However, even if we should suffer for doing good, we must strive to remain faithful to God’s purposes (1 Pet. 3:13–17), for we follow one who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). It is our place simply to let the light of Christ radiate through our lives, like “a city on a hill,” for others to see (Matt. 5:14).


I have suggested that each of these categories describes an essential component of the church’s missional vocation. However, as I have also noted, it is possible for urban Christians to lose their bearings where their identity, imagination, and initiative are concerned. The church may fail to honor its distinctiveness in relation to the social, political, and ethical landscape of its community. Or it may adopt a disposition of superiority or isolation toward its neighborhood. The church also can become driven by visions of its own success and glory or bogged down by discouraging images of the brokenness of its community. It can allow its deeds of love to be reduced to acts of charity or permit itself to become burned-out by its own good intentions. But these prospects are not inevitable. They are merely potential pitfalls. It is possible for the congregation to maintain a vital missional identity, imagination, and initiative over time. In order for this to occur, however, the congregation must remain attentive to the “heart” of the matter.

Missional passion: Patrick Keifert suggests that the most important partner for the missional church is God. 35 While that is certainly true, the church must keep squarely in focus the reality that mission “is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God.” 36 The notion that God has somehow assigned the task of mission to the church is an error to be carefully avoided. 37 We must remember that the church has been called to join with God in what God is doing. We are God’s partners in mission, and fellowship with God and reliance upon God’s enablement are therefore essential for the church’s vitality in mission. Apart from this wellspring of life, the church will likely fall prey to any number of distortions of its true vocation. When we neglect the spiritual heart of our missional vocation, insists Keifert, “We dissipate our lives into nothing, and, like cold water onto a hot griddle, our love and action evaporate into thin air if we do not order our loving by God’s will.” 38

Urban congregations today surely desire to be faithful to Christ’s call to love their neighbors as themselves (Matt. 22:39). However, such love can only truly come about as the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives (Gal. 5:22). Paul says that “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5:5). The love that the Spirit enables us to experience compels us to live as ambassadors of Christ’s reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:14–20) and liberates us to give of ourselves sacrificially for the sake of others (1 John 3:18). In essence, it enables us to be missionally vital followers of Christ who are being conformed to the likeness of this one who has modeled the greatest of loves for us (John 15:13). However, this becomes a reality in our lives only as we “keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). Thus, if the church is to remain vital in living out its missional vocation, it must maintain a commitment to a vital “missional spirituality.” 39

Gary V. Nelson points to the church at Ephesus as a poignant case study illustrating the importance of missional passion. The church to which the Apostle Paul addressed his epistle was one that “had provided a place that freed others from the bondage of superstitions and unjust systems that were the foundation of urban life in Ephesus.” 40 However, by the time of John’s Revelation, Jesus declared that this church had “abandoned the love [they] had at first” (Rev. 2:4). Nelson reflects upon this stark decline in the congregation’s vitality: “In my words, they lost their passion. People who live in the passionate purpose of their first love will risk anything and do anything for what they believe. Nothing is too much and nothing is too inconvenient. When we lose that passionate love, however, we also lose the radical purpose of our existence.” 41

Certainly, this prospect is as real for today’s churches as it was for the first urban Christians. We must guard against allowing such a loss of passion to undermine our faithfulness to the mission of Christ in the cities in which we live and serve.

Missional practices: Toward this end, it is important for the church to cultivate corporate spiritual disciplines that help to nurture and sustain its spiritual vitality. Most obvious perhaps are the various ways in which the urban congregation cultivates a commitment to prayer, Sabbath-keeping, and corporate worship. As Lois Barrett notes, these disciplines are essential to the life of a missional church. 42 Beyond these basic disciplines, however, there are a number of other practices that can benefit the life of the urban congregation as it lives out its missional vocation. I will briefly mention a few of these here.

First, many missional congregations are learning to employ the discipline of “dwelling in the Word.” This is a practice of listening together to Scripture in a way that engages the imagination of its participants and invites them to explore how the narrative of God’s redemptive purposes might direct their life and ministry in the here-and-now. Ray Bakke counts 1,250 uses of the word “city” in Scripture. 43 Certainly many of these passages have the potential to capture the imagination of missional disciples as they contemplate what God might wish to do in their city. But, as Christopher Wright reminds us, “the primary driving force of the biblical grand narrative is the priority of God’s own mission.” 44 Thus, as the congregation engages with the entire arc of the Bible’s story, they may discover that their missional identity and imagination is being enlivened and shaped.

Second, some congregations employ the practice of the daily offices as a means of cultivating missional vitality. 45 Christians gather, often in “third place” locations, in the midst of the day’s activities for brief periods of prayer, Scripture reading, and reflection. This practice offers several benefits: (1) members are daily shaped in the imagination that life is a gracious gift of God to be embraced and “a vocation to be lived in the presence of God and others”; 46 (2) members are assisted in remaining attentive to the competing demands of urban life and the many conflicting ways in which they disfigure our lives; (3) amid the chaos and “grind” of urban life, it encourages Christians to cultivate a sense of pace and rhythm as they walk with God.

Third, the discipline of “holy conversation” can be an important source of enrichment for urban Christians. The value of conversation in urban life cannot be emphasized enough, for the urban environment often makes it difficult for us to talk meaningfully with one another. Holy conversation may take many forms. A missional congregation will carve out spaces for reflecting together about what its members are experiencing and learning. Members may also look for opportunities to offer words of encouragement and affirmation to one another. The sharing of testimonies is another form of conversation that can renew the congregation’s imagination and reinvigorate its commitment to God’s purposes. Finally, by creating “hospitable” spaces within which they can listen to their neighbors, urban Christians are enabled to come to a truer understanding of the needs, stories, and realities of those whom Christ has called them to love. In all of these modes of conversation, we can trust that Christ is present and may indeed be speaking to us in, around, and through what is said.

Practices like these play a crucial role in nurturing and sustaining a dynamic spiritual passion within the lives of urban Christians. They can be powerful resources in helping members of the congregation to remain rooted in a profound experience of the love of God and to be enlivened to bear witness to this transforming love within their neighborhoods and community.


God truly loves the city. He calls urban churches to join in expressing this love in the urban environments in which they are situated. Many urban congregations today are striving to live in faithfulness to this call. Along the way, we have much to learn about our identity as a colony of heaven, about how visions of the new Jerusalem might come to bear upon the realities of our communities, and about how Christ would have us seek the peace of our cities. Amid the challenges and demands of urban life, the congregation must strive to cultivate a missional vitality that enables it to remain true to this missional vocation. May today’s urban Christians be sustained in this way of life as we continue “looking forward to the city . . . whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).


  1. See, for example, Ray Bakke, A Theology as Big as the City (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997); Harvey Conn and Manuel Ortiz, Urban Ministry: The Kingdom, the City, and the People of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001); John Perkins, With Justice for All: A Strategy for Community Development, 3rd rev. ed. (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2007); Charles Van Engen and Jude Tiersma Watson, God So Loves the City: Seeking a Theology for Urban Mission (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009).
  2. This phenomenon was captured powerfully in Gibson Winter’s The Suburban Captivity of the Church (New York: Macmillan, 1961). The trend he describes certainly has continued in the nearly forty years since his study was first published. While the “flight” to the suburbs is perhaps understood to be a well-documented phenomenon among white, middle class citizens (i.e., “white flight”), the growing trend of “black flight” among middle class African Americans has also begun to gain notice in recent years. For further insight into this trend, see Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra’s article, “Black Flight” in the January 2009 issue of Christianity Today.
  3. This is a fundamental assertion of the missional church conversation, a perspective that I enthusiastically embrace. A great deal has been written in recent years to explain what is meant by “missional church.” It is important to note that there is a certain amount of confusion surrounding the use of “missional church” language. This is due in large part to the fact that, as this language has become more widely familiar within the Christian community, it has been appropriated to describe a host of things. While the substance of my article will hopefully evidence this, my own understanding of missional church is closely aligned with the vision articulated by the Gospel and Our Culture Network in publications like Missional Church, ed. Darrell L. Guder (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998) and Treasure in Clay Jars, ed. Lois Y. Barrett (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004). I was an active participant in the GOCN’s annual consultations for several years in the early 2000’s. For the clearest, most accessible, and most succinct articulation of the term “missional church” as I have come to understand it, I would recommend Alan J. Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren’s Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009).
  4. Roxburgh and Boren assert that missional churches can exist in urban, suburban, or rural contexts (47–62). This point is illustrated in Barrett’s Treasure in Clay Jars. This study of missional congregations includes examples from contexts as diverse as urban New York, suburban Washington state, and rural Montana.
  5. As I write this article, I have recently been reminded of the unique challenges of living and serving in an urban environment. In the first twenty-seven days of 2010, our community of 500,000 people experienced twenty-seven shootings. At least fifteen of these were gang-related. My area of the city continues to experience the uneasiness brought about by a stabbing and drive-by shooting that occurred recently within a twenty-four-hour period on the street just outside of an elementary school. Beyond this, our community continues to grapple with the implications of a 2005 Brookings Institute study that found our community to be home to the highest rate of concentrated poverty in the United States. These sorts of realities profoundly impact what it means to be invested in urban mission in my community. While it is a rich privilege to serve in this environment, it is not always easy.
  6. Quoted in David J. Bosch, Believing in the Future: Toward a Missiology of Western Culture (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1995), 33.
  7. Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), 24.
  8. Ibid., 23.
  9. George R. Hunsberger, “Missional Vocation: Called and Sent to Represent the Reign of God,” in Missional Church, ed. Darrell L. Guder (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 82.
  10. Inagrace T. Dietterich, “Missional Community: Cultivating Communities of the Holy Spirit”, in Missional Church, ed. Darrell L. Guder (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 146–7; Guder, Continuing Conversion, 58.
  11. While some translations of this verse choose to render the text as “our citizenship is in heaven” (e.g., NIV), many scholars suggest that this verse bears the significance of “we are a colony of heaven.” Indeed, this handling of the text is widely evident within contemporary New Testament scholarship. For example, see Ralph P. Martin, The Epistle to the Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, 2nd rev. ed., Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987); Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995); Gordon D. Fee, Philippians, The InterVarsity Press New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1999).
  12. Barry Harvey, Another City: An Ecclesiological Primer for a Post-Christian World (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1999), 23–26.
  13. Ibid., 15.
  14. Alan J. Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk, The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006), 148.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid., 30.
  17. N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008), 90.
  18. Ibid., 211–12.
  19. Roxburgh and Boren, 78.
  20. Randy White, Encounter God in the City: Onramps to Personal and Community Transformation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), 15.
  21. In “Planting Covenant Communities of Faith in the City” (in Van Engen and Tiersma Watson), Richard Gollings notes that prominent modern theologians have not always managed to answer this question affirmatively. For example, he cites Jacques Ellul as one who viewed the city as “antithetical to God and his kingdom” (142).
  22. Charles Van Engen, “Constructing a Theology of Mission for the City,” in Van Engen and Tiersma Watson, 242.
  23. Roger S. Greenway, “Biblical Perspectives on the City,” The Reformed Ecumenical Council Mission Bulletin 22, no. 3 (1992): 10–11. Cited in Van Engen and Tiersma Watson, 243.
  24. Roxburgh and Romanuk, 18.
  25. Roxburgh and Boren, 20.
  26. Contemporary urban churches sometimes fall prey to the mistaken notion that, by simply giving funds to service organizations within the community, they relieve themselves of direct responsibility for demonstrating missional initiative. While such financial support for para-church service organizations certainly has merit, it is interesting to note that, in Christ’s story of the Good Samaritan, the giving of money is depicted as the very last expression of care. This should be instructive to us.
  27. Michael Slaughter, Unlearning Church: Just When You Thought You Had Leadership All Figured Out (Loveland, CO: Group, 2002), 214.
  28. Guder, Continuing Conversion, 89.
  29. Quoted in Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson, The Externally Focused Church (Loveland, CO: Group, 2004), 58.
  30. Quoted in Rusaw and Swanson, 117.
  31. Harvey, 31.
  32. Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), 74.
  33. Slaughter, 210.
  34. Robert Lewis, The Church of Irresistible Influence: Bridge-Building Stories to Help Reach Your Community (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 64.
  35. Patrick Keifert, We Are Here Now: A Missional Journey of Spiritual Discovery (Eagle, ID: Allelon, 2006), 63.
  36. David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991), 390.
  37. Mike Riddell, Threshold of the Future: Reforming the Church in the Post-Christian West (London: SPCK, 1998), 18.
  38. Keifert, 72.
  39. Reggie McNeal, The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 27.
  40. Gary V. Nelson, Borderland Churches: A Congregation’s Introduction to Missional Living (St. Louis: Chalice, 2008), 45.
  41. Ibid.
  42. Barrett, xii–xiv.
  43. Bakke, 15.
  44. Wright, The Mission of God, 177.
  45. Roxburgh and Romanuk, 153–5.
  46. Ibid., 154.
Cory Seibel is Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministries at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary and Worship Pastor at Bethany Mennonite Brethren Church in Fresno, California.

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