The Urban Christian: Effective Ministry in Today's Urban World 
by Ray Bakke with Jim Hart (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1987)

 The expression "Urban Christian" caught my attention. I am an urban Christian. Most of us are urban Christians. The blurb on the back jacket of the book read thus: "With half of the world's five billion people in cities, there is almost no end to the exciting challenges that await us. Ray Bakke has been there. For over twenty years he and his family have worked with and love the people of today's cities, bringing a message of faith and hope.  He knows how the city works and how it can be used to the advantage of the gospel.  He knows how people hurt too, and he knows how Christianity can heal and make whole. Now he offers us the basic building blocks we need to love this young, rootless, mobile, media-tuned population. Here is practical, time-tested wisdom on what the church can and is doing in worship, work and witness."

This book addresses the problems of both world class cities like New York, Los Angeles and London, as well as unwieldy, chaotic cities in the Third World. I would recommend that every pastor and church leader read it. “The call to the cities” needs to be sounded afresh. Dire conditions exist in many sprawling cities where the influx of the the poor, often unruly and desperate, from the surrounding rural areas have brought about disastrous consequences. The book does not have all the answers, but it will provide a good and proper perspective and direction from which we can begin to tackle many of the urban problems.

This book is conversational in style and highly readable. It is insightful one can often discern behind the words first-hand experience from those who have lived in such cities and agonised over their needs.

I would like to single out three urban issues. First, conditions rapidly becoming a hallmark of large cities: widespread unemployment and the resulting poverty. The author’s point that the urban poor in the inner city needed to be empowered is directly linked with a sense of helplessness. One critical need in inner-city ministries is to empower people to tackle this problem. 

IIn chapter five, Bakke discusses ways to implement this in the church: allowing people to participate in decisions big and small (pp. 94-96).  He describes how as a pastor he led his inner-city Chicago church, Fairfield Avenue Baptist, in a process to decide what color to paint the church.  It took three months, which may seem excessive at first glance. The church was located in a poor and radically mixed.  And a quick decision would have caused certain groups to feel left out.  So what they did was to paint each of the four windows in a different color. Once each month during a Sunday morning worship service, they voted on which color they liked least, and then removed that color.  This continued until one color was left.  A similar process was used to decide what color to paint the back porch. When bright red won, there was much consternation among the old-timers. Yet the growing Puerto Rican community felt the church was making a real step toward them.

The crucial point is that this process empowers people. Whether their individual preferences win or lose, people know their views matter.  Why is this important to the gospel?  Because in Ephesians, Paul describes the church as a Christian society in which the walls of race and ethnicity are broken down by the gospel; in which people relate to each other as reconciled through the blood of Christ; in which the truth is spoken in love to strengthen unity; and in which each person feels he or she is a valued member.

Second, Bakke deals with paternalism, which sometimes exists subtly when money is used to control an organization from the outside. Bakke lived modestly during his inner-city pastorate to preclude dependence on outside giving.  He writes, "I could not pastor people who were not paying me because that would have been turning my back on them.  Their powerlessness would have been reinforced if their pastor had been paid by and accountable to outsiders.  I scrounged and taught classes in college and seminary, and my wife gave piano lessons, so we could stay with this group without receiving external funds" (p. 91). 

But the question which keeps coming back to my mind is: While urban churches should strive to be self-supporting, the inner-city is also a legitimate mission field that needs the same support given to other mission fields. Bakke writes, "However large the numbers of those unreached by the gospel in traditional mission fields, it seems likely there are many more millions on the church's doorstep, in the city."

One final point, which I have found interesting, is Bakke's chapter on bringing up a family in the city (pp. 158-178).  I found some of the best advice I have read on the subject.  Bakke says the pastor's children can be a bridge into the community rather than a sacrifice. He taught his kids to master the city's transit system at age 6.  This is comparable to what a 6-year old farm child learns about his community, Bakke says.

He also deals with the issue of public versus private schooling and demonstrates how parents can influence the educational system. He knows racism is still prevalent: "In our case we found the Board of Education was not interested in the inner-city situation until a few White faces appeared at parents' meetings. Coalitions need to be built across class and racial lines to improve these schools. Because we sent our sons to an inner-city school and became extensively involved in it, we have been able to develop some influence" (p. 164). Providing supplemental education in the evenings and on weekends is one helpful strategy he offers.

Some of you who read this book might think Bakke's emphasis on social issues is unbalanced.  That is not an accurate assessment of his ministry.  In fact, he has done significant work in the past on the theology of urban ministry. But this book grew out of his concern that for too long the church has emphasized preaching the Word without following the biblical mandate to live it out in the city. He describes how he has tried to balance the two.

Bakke concludes with a very helpful chapter, which he called "Do It Yourself."  This consists of six exercises together with a Training Issues Checklist by Jim Hart, to help the reader to put the ideas of his book into practice (pp. 188-198). 

God is allowing the world to become increasingly urban and Singapore is increasingly becoming pluralistic. We no longer need to travel thousands of miles to reach Pakistanis, Indians, Mainland Chinese, Filipinos, Indonesians, etc….   Bakke's book will help us all to take better advantage of the opportunities this trend represents.

This book is available from BGST Library.  Ref.: LC 253 BAK.

(Reviewed by Dr John Lim)


     This week's chapel was taken by Dr John Lim.  He spoke on the topic "Sharpening Our Christian Life."  Three suggestions were given:

  1. Relaxation:  We need rest to help us from exhaustion and burnout.

  2. Relationship:  We need to build our relationship with our heavenly Father.  Our Lord Jesus did!

  3. Learning:  We need to keep on learning to face the challenges of today.  However, learning must not only take the form of information. Learning must lead to transformation into Christlikeness.

Chapel next week on October 8 will be taken by Dr Quek Swee Hwa.


Extraordinary General Meeting. Please pray with us as the members come together on 24th Oct to discuss the purchase of the property at Tanjong Pagar. May the Lord’s will for BGST be done!

Give God what's right ... not what's left.

- Anon


Mr Hosea Lai  29/9

Dr Tan Lai Yong  29/9

Mrs Wong Kar Foon  29/9

Ms Wong Ee Kian  30/9

Mr Lim Yew Meng  30/9

Pastor Freddie Ho  1/10

Ms Dorothy Hwang  1/10

Mr Jason Chen Fang Hao  1/10

Ms Grace Lam  1/10

Dr Ling Moi Lin  2/10

Mr Gordon Tan  2/10

Mr Michael Teo  2/10

Mr Kwek Khee Leng  3/10

Mr Yue Fah Yong  3/10

Mr Winston Tay Ed San  3/10

Mr Leong Kwok Hoong  4/10

Ms Lorita Lim  4/10

Mdm Lye Mui Fong  5/10

Mr Frederick Yong  5/10

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