Cities are Important to God
In the book of Jonah God challenges him about his lack of love for the city and reasons that the people there are important to God. In his book, The Meaning of the City, Jacques Ellul chronicles the cities of the Bible and the move from broken cities to a beautifully transformed city where the savior reigns. The importance of cities are big theme in the Bible: Babel, Bethel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Jericho, Jerusalem, Babylon, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Rome, Ephesus, Philippi, Collosae, Laodicia, Smyrna, Pergamum and to Thyatira, and Sardis all play important roles in preparation for the great city of Zion.
Urbanologists say 50% of the world's population lives in cities and by 2050 that will be nearly 75%. Cities are important. In order to develop a love or more than a selfish love for our city (San Diego) we must first catch God's vision for cities.
Christian History & the City
Christians have long recognized the significance of having a heart for and going after the city with the gospel. Rodney Stark, a historian, wrote a book called Cities Of God (subtitled: "The Real Story of How Christianity Became An Urban Movement and Conquered Rome") where he says the success of the gospel in the first few hundred years (from a historical perspective) was not because of "professional missionaries conveying a new message, but by rank and file members who share(d) their faith with friends and relatives" by devoting themselves to cities.
In the early 400's Augustine of Hippo, a pastor and theologian of the Church wrote what is now a hallmark book, City of God. In it he presents all of human history as a conflict between "the city of man" built around the pleasure of the individual and the "city of God" built around the worship of our Creator.
In the late 1600's reformer John Bunyan wrote the now well known Christian classic, Pilgrims Progress. The book is the story of a man's progress from the time he leaves "the city of destruction" and travels to the "celestial city" which is the dwelling place of God.
In the 20th century, Christian dedication to the city has declined. In his excellent article, Hate the City, Love the City, Jonathan Dodson notes that in our last century there has been a mass exodus of Christians from the city to the suburbs in order to escape crime and high costs of living. What we need is a renewed commitment to the city.
In the City & for the City
At the beginning of the book of Nehemiah, he walks into a deserted and destroyed city of Jerusalem and weeps because of it (Neh 1:1-4). God gives him a heart for the city and Nehemiah moves in. We need Christians who will rise to the challenge in seek to turn carnal cities into gospel cities. In his phenomenal piece, A Biblical Theology of The City, Tim Keller writes, "The single most effective way for Christians to 'reach' the US would be for 25% of them to move to two or three of the largest cities and stay there for three generations.”
Fleeing the city will do no good. We must be in the city and while in the city we need to work hard not to fight against it. Instead we need to work hard for the good of the city. Jeremiah 29:7 says, "Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you." The way we do that is by sharing and showing the goodness of the gospel. Our church's vision for our city is "to see San Diego as a whole be reached as we live and love as gospel missionaries through one person and one street at a time". See the articles below for more on that:
The way we increasingly become for the city is by learning, loving and linking with the city. We learn the city by educating ourselves about its history, its high points, its struggles, and its goals. For example, consider this recent article on San Diego in the Union Tribune titled, A Vision of San Diego as a Great City of the 21st Century. We love the city by actively putting practical effort forward to help solve its problems. We get involved things to help bring lasting change. We link with the city by befriending our neighbors, co-workers, and other city citizens to enjoy one another and this place God has called us to.
I'm always calling people to commit to San Diego. The biggest reason is because God has called me here and I'm giving my life to this city for the sake of the gospel in it. However, having a heart for a city and an understanding of the importance of cities actually precedes settling on the place. So may God give many a heart for a city and may the gospel continue to truly spread as we commit to cities and see them redeemed.