God told Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah decided to do his own thing.
The command was clear and concise, Jonah simply didn’t want to obey. Thinking he had a better plan Jonah rebelled and ran away from God’s plan.
Fear, prejudice, and concerns for safety likely played a role in Jonah rejecting his God-given cross-cultural preaching assignment. Most of all, Jonah hated the people in that wicked city. He really wanted the people of Nineveh to experience the judgment they deserved (the judgment we all deserve). Throughout the book, God’s concern for the city is evident. Jonah’s enmity toward the people of the city is jarring.
God got Jonah’s intention and when given a second chance to go to Nineveh, Jonah went. When Jonah finally proclaimed the coming destruction, the king and the people of Nineveh grieved over their sin and “turned from their evil ways.” God spared the city.
Unfortunately, Jonah’s heart hadn’t softened toward the people of Nineveh … God’s gracious act toward Nineveh made Jonah angry.
We enjoy preaching against Jonah’s rebellious, hateful, and selfish behavior. He failed in so many ways. Even when Jonah obeyed, he didn’t follow God with right motives. We clearly see that Jonah’s attitudes and actions were sinful. Why then is it so easy to harbor our own fears and prejudice that keep us from following God’s call to the cities.
Nobody is saying that a call to minister in a city is easy. Cities are tough. Each has a different culture and unique obstacles to the Gospel witness. Each city has its share of wickedness and people who don’t know “their right hand from their left.” Name a city, and we can find something wrong with it. Always, always, always the biggest need in a city is Christ.
When God first called me to a city, Pittsburgh, Pa., I found a group of pastors and leaders who knew Pittsburgh well and they taught me how to “exegete” my new city and my neighborhood. These men helped me to keep my focus on the Gospel, learn to love the people in my city, and maintain proper motives. They helped me “light a candle” rather than “curse the darkness.”
My own experience of being called to a city and not knowing what to do is one of the reasons I am so excited about “The Gospel and the City” conference at NOBTS Oct. 24. Local pastors and leaders from the seminary, the North American Mission Board, the New Orleans Baptist Association, and Multiply Louisiana will share what they have learned as they have answered God’s call to the cities. They will touch on a wide range of topics from evangelism, church planting, compassion ministries, and the challenges of urban ministry.
Even though I have been involved in urban ministry for more than twenty years, I still have much to learn. I can’t wait to hear from these ministers.
If you are called to proclaim the Gospel in the cities, or if you simply live and minister in this city, you need to attend this conference. Jonah didn’t care enough to prepare for the ministry he was called to. I trust you don’t want to emulate Jonah.
Learn more about the conference and register at www.nobts.edu/gospelandcity.
Gary Myers is the director of communications at NOBTS.