Memphis, Miami, Milan and Mumbai: Why every Christian needs to be globally minded
[tweetable]Authentic Christian ministry often comes in a context of danger and risk.[/tweetable] We want to be a generation ready to live dangerously for the gospel: ready to go, ready to witness, ready to serve, ready to live and ready to die.
We are geographical people. We know the apostle Paul largely through letters with the names of places where he planted or nurtured churches. What makes our modern era unique is that we have the opportunity to think of place with virtually no restrictions whatsoever. We can go anywhere and can be in many different places over the course of a relatively brief span of life.
Some people will minister on international soil for a time, and then later serve Christ here in the United States. Others may be called to the remotest parts of the earth for a lifetime. Because God calls the church to go into all locations, he also will call individuals to go and take the gospel to those places.
The message of Acts 1:1-8
During the brief time between his resurrection and ascension, Jesus gathered his disciples together and grounded them in a deeper understanding of the gospel and of the kingdom of God. He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
It is within this context that Jesus gave the Great Commission: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Upon finishing those words, Jesus ascended into heaven.
The Lord taught the disciples that they would not be co-regents in an earthly kingdom, but instead would be co-witnesses of the spiritual kingdom of God. Their role would be that of witness – a word Luke used more than 30 times throughout the remainder of the book. The word “witness” here is effervescent, a natural action coming from seeing the culmination of God’s redemptive work in the incarnation of Jesus Christ and having been witnesses of his life, death, burial and resurrection.
Further, Acts depicts a global vision of the Great Commission. The structure of the book arises from the mention of geographical places in the first verses of chapter one. That is, the disciples obeyed the call to be witnesses in Jerusalem (1:9-8:3), in Judea and Samaria (8:4-12:25) and to the ends of the earth (13:1-28:31). Saints from every tongue and tribe and people and nation will one day stand before the throne of God because witnesses of Christ took the gospel to all places.
We must admit that “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth” are distant from us in terms of what they represent to our 21st-century missionary calling. Therefore, to aid our thinking, let us instead consider the cities of Memphis, Miami, Milan and Mumbai. These are four cities with four different contexts and challenges, each filled with people who desperately need Christ and the establishment of gospel churches.
First, we need a generation that is ready for Memphis. Memphis symbolizes the buckle of the Bible belt. A recent Gallup poll of relative religiosity across the United States revealed that Tennessee ranks in the top ten, with 79 percent of its citizens in agreement with the statement: “religion is an important part of my daily life.” By contrast, only 42 percent of Vermont citizens agreed with the statement.
We do not delude ourselves into thinking that 79 percent of Tennesseans are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, however; for within the Bible belt, there is a massive representation of institutional Christianity. The pervasive presence of cultural Christianity offers a ministry context much like that of Jerusalem, where people thought they were right with God because they were sons and daughters of Abraham. Likewise, far too many in the Bible belt imagine they are right with God because they were raised by Christian parents, they live in a religious city, or they regularly attend church. In truth, they desperately need the gospel.
The greatest threat to the missionary endeavor of the Southern Baptist Convention is not an absence of young people willing to go. The greatest danger is that there will not be sufficient support to send them. Because the Great Commission is sustained by the financial support, prayer support, and sending support of gospel-minded churches here, we need a generation of preachers who will go to cities like Memphis in order to build great missionary churches that have a high level of gospel intensity. We need a generation that is ready for Memphis.
Second, we need a generation that is ready for Miami, a city that represents postmodern, multi-ethnic America. The Miami metro area is the fourth largest population center in the U.S., and only 12 percent of the citizens identify as non-Hispanic whites. The population consists of 65 percent Hispanics and 20 percent African-Americans.
Miami is the capital of international banking for North America, and is the international capital for Latin and Hispanic entertainment. When you arrive at the Miami airport, the signs are in Spanish and the subtitles are in English. This is America, and this is the future.
Southern Baptists did well in Miami when the city looked like Memphis with a beach. But Miami is now the Buenos Aires of the American peninsula. There are little more than 150,000 evangelical believers within the 7 million inhabitants.
We must understand that as Miami is now, so also much of America will soon be, for this is the shape of the American future. We need a generation ready to go, risk and live dangerously in a city that is very different from what our forefathers in the Southern Baptist Convention could have foreseen. We need a generation ready for Miami.
Third, we need a generation that is ready for Milan, Italy, a city that represents the secularity of a post-Christian world. Milan, a modern European city, serves as a center for international banking and the fashion industry. With more than 8 million inhabitants, it is the largest metropolitan area in Italy.
Milan has played a central role in church history. In A.D. 293, Roman emperor Diocletian declared Milan the capital of the Western Roman Empire. In A.D. 313, Emperor Constantine declared the Edict of Milan, granting religious freedom to Christians. Ambrose, one of the four recognized doctors of the Western church, served as bishop of Milan from 374 to 397, and through his ministry of preaching in Milan, he had a massive theological influence on Augustine.
Even with all of its significance in church history, Milan has now become a near-perfect symbol of post-Christian Europe. The reconversion of a continent that had once heard the gospel is in many ways a far greater challenge than taking the gospel where it has never been heard in the first place.
We need a generation ready for Milan, a generation ready to go and address the vast secular wasteland where hundreds of millions now live. We need a generation bold enough to replace the false and artificial Christianity that was the cultural artifact of centuries past with a vision of a vibrant gospel Christianity. We need a generation ready for Milan.
Fourth, we need a generation that is ready for Mumbai. The Portuguese settled Mumbai in the 16th century and then it was colonized by the British. When India received its independence in 1947, Mumbai became one of the central cities of the new nation.
Mumbai represents the financial and entertainment center of India, and it is the center of India’s cultural life and national identity. Hindi is the national language and English is the commercial language, but there are 14 other official languages spoken in Mumbai.
Religious adherents within Mumbai consist of Hindus (67 percent), Muslims (19 percent), Buddhists (5 percent), Jainists (4 percent), and Christians (4 percent). Mumbai represents the cutting edge of population growth in the developing world. The United Nations estimates that there may be 100 cities of one million or more in the developing world by the end of this decade. Some of these will be cities of mega-city status with as many as 50-70 million inhabitants. With many citizens and little gospel witness, we need a generation that is ready for Mumbai.
[tweetable]The Great Commission does not need updating.[/tweetable] Just as Jesus sent his disciples of the first century to the ends of the earth, the church in each generation must also hear and obey the command and call of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must evangelize and make disciples of the lost. [tweetable]We must train the next generation of Christians to pursue intense and dangerous gospel work in all places.[/tweetable] We all can’t go everywhere ourselves, but we can send the gospel everywhere if we are faithful in doing what the Lord Jesus Christ has called us to do. By God’s grace and to his glory, disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ will eventually be found somewhere, anywhere and everywhere.
You can connect with R. Albert Mohler Jr. on Twitter at @albertmohler, on Facebook, or at AlbertMohler.com. Dr. Mohler has also written many other books including The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters. This article was originally published in the Winter 2012 issue of Southern Seminary Magazine.