The priests in the Old Testament were assigned, as were the Levites, to cities. They were required to live there. Priestly ministry was never confined exclusively to the temple. Priests were not to become other worldly. Ray Bakke, sociologist and missiologist, says that twenty-five types of urban ministry can be found in the historical books of the Old Testament, and they were carried on by the priests. They were agents of health care, there to eradicate plagues and to certify cleanliness for the good of all. They were charged with maintaining corporate conditions in the city that made life safe. They were charged with pastoral care. They looked after families. They were educators. Their ministry was no narrow ministry focused only on soul care. Through the priests, prayer and care came together. Their walk with God and their daily interaction with people made them social change advocates and agents. They were in the community, walking the streets, not salt in a salt box!
The average church is completely unaware of the city-social environment around it. In fact, we disconnect the church from the city in stark ways. When Rusty Dotson pastored an inner city church in St. Louis, his facility was at the heart of the city-wide gay festival. Thousands passed by his empty and dark facility. The city was at his doorstep and the church was closed. He decided that if any such opportunity came again, the lights of the church would be on and the doors open. When the festival took place the next year, his church offered free food and drinks. They entered a float in the “gay pride parade.” They advertised themselves as the church “that would leave the light on for you.” As the float made its way through the animated crowd, church members waved and smiled. Three television stations were covering the parade and it was being syndicated across the nation as well. When Pastor Dotson’s float was in front of the reviewing stand and live on television the church van pulling the float caught on fire. The parade was halted. Parade officials were frustrated. There was little for the television anchors to do but talk about “the church that kept the lights on!” They had to ponder the question as to why an evangelical church would participate in a gay pride parade. The answer was both awkward and obvious. It was a message of God’s love and grace, a refusal to be excluded.
The harvest around us, passes our empty buildings. In one depressed and drug-infested section of Miami, intercessors discovered fourteen church buildings. Only two had any activity at all Monday through Saturday. One had an office open a few days a week to serve the needs of its members. The church had a base for ministry in a need saturated area, but it was unengaged. Most telling was the discovery that drug dealers preferred the parking lots and alcoves of the abandoned church buildings for drug deals. The absence of light gave place to the darkness.
Cities lead nations! They have a ‘prophetic’ quality about them. We see the city as bricks and mortar, asphalt and concrete pathways. In truth, every city is spiritually alive with a unique personality and purpose. The Biblical idea of ‘nation’ is not primarily a geographically bounded region, but a distinctive ‘people group – an ethnic and kinship network.’ We have not finished our obligation to heaven until we are praying for every tongue and tribe, every kinship group – then in love, making of them disciples.
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P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.
 Ibid, 69.