Pastoral Perspectives

Understanding Our times – Urban Missions

In the Bible, we see that the story of humanity begins her journey in the Garden and subsequently moves on the city of Jerusalem and culminates in the vision of the Holy City shining with the glory of God. Interestingly, the glimpse we’re given in Revelation 21 and 22 of the climax of history is a description of a city, with all its multi-ethnic diversity, population density and cultural riches. In short, it is a picture of paradise restored.

However, like Jesus’ disciples, we can be too easily impressed with the splendour and grandeur that are associated with economic wealth and human accomplishment and be mistaken about what human flourishing in a city should look like (Mark 13:1). Indeed, in an age where wealth can flow in and out of cities with astonishing speed, our cities may be thriving only in the thinnest of senses.

In contrast, Jesus understood what God’s “shalom” should look like. And in order bring God’s shalom to the cities, Jesus had to penetrate it. Indeed, we see that Jesus didn’t box himself inside the four walls of the synagogue. He walked into the lives of sinners and ministered to the marginalised and those who were the outcasts of society. Likewise, if Christians are to impact and influence the world for Christ, we too must find meaningful and helpful ways to “penetrate” it.

John Stott said, “We are to go as he went, to penetrate human society, to mix with unbelievers and fraternize with sinners. Does not one of the church’s greatest failures lie here? We have disengaged too much. We have become a withdrawn community. We have become aloof instead of alongside.”

It is understandable that when some look at the spiritual and social plight of the city, they rush to critique the church for her seemingly lack of involvement in the well-being of the city. After all, many evangelical churches are middle-class in their demography and their worshippers may be unwilling or find it challenging to come out of their comfort zone to engage those who are very different from them. And therein lays the danger that churches can easily become irrelevant when they overlook the common good of their neighbours. A church that only does good to the household of faith, and not to “all” (Gal 6:10) will be seen as tribal and sectarian. If pagans don’t “see your good deeds” they won’t “glorify God”. In fact some researchers have suggested that if urban churches put all their energy into evangelism and none serving the needs of the city, their evangelism will be much less effective

From Scripture, we learn that an experience of grace inevitably leads to a life poured out in deeds of service to the needy (Is 1:10-18; 58:1-10; James 2:14-17). God instructs the Israelites that they should serve the needs of the poor “alien”—a foreigner who may be a non-believer—because they were once aliens in Egypt, but he delivered them (Deut. 10:19). Indeed, an experience of grace should always lead you to love especially your poor, unbelieving neighbour.

For generations Christians have been providing charity for those who suffer most from the idolatries and injustices in their midst of eking out a living in the city. Some run “rescue mission” to restore dignity to countless people who otherwise might have been lost or forgotten. Others are involved in community-development aiming at restoring and revitalising the whole neighbourhood. Church historians also record for us that the church has never left even when the city was at its worst.

When Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount, it wasn’t to a gathering of the United Nations, a conference of the superpowers, a sitting of Congress or Parliament, or even an assembly at City Hall. It was to a group of common people in mostly lowly positions or without any judiciary powers. In fact, they were under Roman occupation! They couldn’t plan their own futures! They couldn’t determine their own destinies! Yet Jesus says to them: “You are the salt of the earth! You are the light of the world! You make a difference in this community!”

The calling of every Christian is not only to maintain personal holiness, but also to touch the lives of those around us. Here in Queenstown, we are one of the most Christian- saturated neighbourhood in Singapore with churches stretching from Grace Assembly all the way to New Creation. To an average Queenstown constituent, will they find True Way Presbyterian Church – English Congregation relevant in the neighbourhood?

As a Church, we know that God calls us to serve the poor. Through PFS, our members seek to serve those in the Children’s Care club and visiting the families of inmates. We are also involved in tuition ministry every Fridays, the Senior SAC in Strathmore Green. We also have a Thai Service. There are still others who help with Meals on wheels, buying and delivering food to the Queenstown neighbourhood. What about the Domestic Helpers in our home? Do we empower them, lead them to Christ and send them back as missionaries to their own home country?

As Christians, we are to be the soul of a city, to participate actively and responsibly where we live and work. Even at a national level, we can contribute by exercising conscientiously our voting rights during the time of election. Instead of being indifferent or becoming critical, we should grow in discernment and also pray for the national leaders who are accountable to those whom they are called to serve.  

It is very encouraging to know that the pastors from the various churches in our neighbourhood have sought to come together to pray and strategize to be more effective in reaching the Queenstown community. Indeed, this is a good example of modelling what a Christian community is to people living alongside our churches. Hopefully, those of us in True Way will see that Queenstown is our mission field. May we also be eager to bring glory to God as we seek to touch the lives of the people around us!

Rev Tan Cheng Huat (Non-resident Missionary to SQ)

April 14, 2019