At his inauguration John Street, the mayor of Philadelphia, expressed a
desire to see that city transformed. What did he mean? How would he do it?
To many, the word transform suggests a beautiful butterfly emerging
from its cocoon. The metamorphosis from ugly and
lifeless to colorful and alive is so stark it can only be attributed to the
Creator and, although proportionally small, is no less miraculous than a huge
city changed by the gospel.
To others, the image our mind projects might be of the popular action figure
Transformer, a toy created by Mattel. Whoosh! With a few tugs and pulls it is
instantly changed from a powerful 18-wheeler into a fearsome-looking, mighty
Ken Hall, Youth Pastor,
Salvation Army, Boston,
Hearts for Boston not only has a chance to impact Boston proper but all of
New England because of their wide understanding and attentiveness to the
physical and spiritual needs of the people in the area. They are able to do
this by sending volunteers to work with the various programs we offer at the
Margaret Ohanian, Hellenic
Gospel Church, Newton,
I am grateful to Hearts for Boston for all of their prayers. Without their
prayers I couldnt do what I need to do in ministry. When I need them they are
always there. When I ask for volunteers they are always sending people my
The Transformer toy is aptly named. It can change in external form, outward
appearance or internal nature. Did Mayor Street hope Philadelphia would change?
Of course. He wants the city to become a clean, modern, well-groomed,
respect-able center of urban pride.
Transform. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) often uses this same word
to describe what we want to do in major cities selected to be part of a concept
called Strategic Focus Cities (SFC). The goal of SFC is to see cities
transformed. This priority initiative is aimed at developing and implementing
ways of sharing the love of Christ in North Americas great cities by presenting
the gospel to people who have not heard about Christ.
Imagine presenting Christ to every household in a city. That would bring
radical transformation, the spiritual kind. Local Southern Baptist churches,
associations, state conventions and NAMB are partnering to develop and
implement strategies that will transform cities for Christ.
The first two cities were Chicago and Phoenix. Those cities implemented
their strategic plans last year. Four others are in varying stages of strategy
development: Las Vegas and Boston this year; Seattle and Philadelphia in
SFCs five main goals for spiritual transformation of a city are to bathe the
city in prayer, to evangelize, to conduct Christian ministries, to conduct
student ministries and to plant churches. City transformation by means of this
five-wave front is spiritual in nature; that is, true change only comes through
the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit. Through spreading the gospel, all
Christians who encounter and then reflect on Gods glory are transformed into
His image by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).
A city that comes to know Christ one soul at a time is similar to an
individual who comes to Christ. It undergoes a metamorphosis. Its people are
changed. They are made like Christ. They are transformed inwardly by the
renewing of their minds (Romans 12:2). A citys darkness is changed into light
when the gospel of Jesus Christ is spread through effective prayer, evangelism,
ministry and church planting, the basic elements of transformation.
Transformation happened in Phoenix where a summer-long Strategic Focus
Cities emphasis on Vacation Bible Schools and block parties led to a dramatic
21 percent increase in city-wide church attendance and a 350 percent increase
in baptisms. It happened in Chicago, where during a two-month period last year
the transformation was even more phenomenal. More than 100,000 presentations of
the gospel to city dwellers led to nearly 5,000 professions of faith.
These activities prove the light of the gospel is making a difference, but
real transformation is a continuing process. It unfolds over time, not in a few
successful events. Just like it takes time for a butterfly to emerge from its
cocoon, so a city does not transform overnight. Strategic Focus Cities aim is
simply to enhance and shorten the transformation process.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Loving Las Vegas is more than a theme to us here in southern Nevada.
As this partnership between NAMB and the Southern Nevada Baptist Association
begins to implement our Strategic Focus Cities ministry, we are loving the
people of Las Vegas with the gospel of Jesus Christ. God is at work here
in so many ways. Our missionaries are reaching out to the pastors and the
people in the Valley planning for a great harvest this year. The
opportunity for volunteers to come and be on mission it tremendous. The need is
great, but so is the opportunity. We have an urgent need for bilingual teams to
work with the Hispanic churches here. (Call 877-356-8464 to volunteer in Las
Satan understands this kind of transformation, too. He masquerades as an
angel of light and hides out in the darkness of cities. His apostolic phonies
fake transforming themselves into apostles of Christ, deliberately changing
their appearance to deceive many and fool us into thinking his counterfeit
ministries are really righteous (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). We see them as
unscrupulous televangelists who rob and mislead. We see them as cultists who
prey on the vulnerable and unsuspecting or religious extremists who subtly or
blatantly distort the truth. We see them in every form of evil imaginable in
our cities. Thats why cities need real spiritual transformation. Cities need
the gospel, because the gospel brings spiritual change. The more lives change
through Christ, the greater the transformation.
When we share the love of Christ in a city, we also have a responsibility to
attempt social change. When we experience and share the love of Christ, we are
compelled to reach out to others in need.
People in the inner city have many needs. Multitudes are hurting, without
hope, and struggling just to survive. Jesus met peoples needs as He led them to
Many today shy away from promoting social change because of the past stigma
of the social gospel, a popular late-1800s concept among some liberal
theologians. They devoted their efforts to changing the misery in which urban
masses lived by wrongly putting social change ahead of the gospel itself.
Today, Christians share the love of Jesus in a practical way by engaging in
servant evangelism through acts of kindness in Jesus name.
For example, in Greater Chicago, Strategic Focus Cities mobilized more than
7,000 volunteers to share Christ through door-to-door evangelism in every part
of the city in an effort called SearchLight 2000. The Chicago city-reaching
strategy also involved doing deeds of kindness to encourage social change. And
Phoenix organized a weekly food bank ministry to share the love of Jesus
through a warm hug and a hot bowl of soup. Demonstrated lovethrough these acts
of kindness and many otherscan bring significant social changes and leads to
true spiritual transformation.
Philip may have been one of the first to attempt to transform a city for
Christ. When he went to Samaria and preached, there was great joy in that city (Acts
The apostle Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, took city-reaching to the next
level. His ancient strategic focus was on the big cities of his day.
As he traveled, he proclaimed the gospel and planted churches in places like
Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Colossi and Corinth. Scripture tells
us the Word changed these cities significantly.
When Scott Newton and his team from First Baptist Church, Claremore, Oklahoma,
came to Chicago for their mission trip they could not have imagined what an
impact they would have on their host church. Pastor Ernest Younger of the
Pilgrim Valley Missionary Baptist Church in Robbins, Illinois, is still pumped
up from the groups ministry in his community: Having a mission group benefited
us a lot. It was really wonderful, not only for our church but for our
community as well.
The mission team helped the church with VBS and door-to-door evangelism as
part of the SearchLight 2000 outreach. We hadnt had a VBS in five years, noted
Younger. This was the best one we ever had ... more than 300 people came, and
nine made decisions for Christ. It was awesome!
Although the evangelistic events were successful, the church learned a lot
just from fellowship with and working alongside the team. It helped us put our
focus on the importance of witnessing, said Younger. We learned some things
from the team such as the process of witnessing and how to get out into the
community and talk to people. It woke us up altogether.
We also learned to fellowship with a different race of people. We had been
leery of witnessing to people of a different colorthis got us over that
Pilgrim Valley hosted a total of three mission groups this summer, and it
was a life-changing experience for this Chicago church. If your church has the
opportunity to host a mission team, by all means do it, says Younger. You will
learn something, and no matter how large or small your congregation, it will
still be great!
In many large cities Paul encountered stiff opposition from local city
officials and death threats from unbelieving town thugs (Acts 17:7-9).
Undeterred by persecution or hardships, Paul and his followers were accused of
turning cities of their time upside down for the Lord (Acts 17:6). Today, we
face similar circumstances in winning a city to Christ. One has only to look at
the media furor over Baptists proposing SearchLight 2000 in Chicago to see
opposition like Paul saw it.
So what does it really mean to transform a city? It means do everything you
can to introduce and spread the gospel, and watch for the spiritual change it
brings to the city. The effect of transformation, according to Acts 17:6, will
be to turn the world upside down.
Acts 8:4-8 points to the evidence of transformationpeople heeded the Word.
The Word was confirmed by the miracles which accompanied it. If a city is
spiritually transformed we will see signs of its transformation today too.
People will accept Christ. Lives will be changed. Churches will start and
flourish; others will be strengthened. Intercessory prayer will abound. There
will be a newfound respect for the church in the city. Christian leaders will
be heard. Unbelievers will be converted. Thats transformation at its best. It
happened in Pauls day, it can happen today. Thats why the overriding goal of
Strategic Focus Cities is to transform the city.
Now that you know what transformation is, what will you do? Anyone can join
the effort. You can help in transforming a city by praying for it or by giving
your time directly, going to a city and being on mission there. Who knows? It may just
transform you too.
For information on how to be involved, contact NAMBs Adult Volunteer
Mobilization Action Center at 800-462-8657 or visit one of the Strategic Focus
City web sites.
John Reale is a strategic cities planning coordinator for the Strategic
Cities Strategies Group at NAMB.
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC