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Should the Church Be Led by Scholars and Teachers? by Donald Miller

I think it’s a good question. It’s one Donald Miller (writer of Blue Like Jazz) has asked over at Catalyst’s resource page.

The question assumes that the church today is led by scholars and teachers. So the first question then is, is that true?

Well, it certainly appears that way.

Many of the most influential Christian leaders in the world today are pastor/teachers and/or scholars. They lead larger churches, have resource heavy websites, create podcasts, lead and speak at multiple conferences, are a part of leadership networks, host seminars and workshops, do video Q&As, write a personal blog with a large following, stay busy in social networking (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and oh yeah, write a bunch of books (like 1 a season it seems).

Like Donald Miller says, our churches are shaped by who leads them. And how our churches are being shaped in turn shapes how we do mission, approach the world and culture and therefore how we spend our time. It also therefore shapes what atmosphere our churches create and therefore what types of people we attract, keep and repel. And how we grow them and what we aim them towards.

Having a church led by scholars/teachers can create an atmosphere like a classroom which can tend towards more theory, book knowledge, study and inreach. But I think Jesus was wanting a more Ephesians 4 approach to the church in that it would be led by men and women who were gifted to lead (apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, pastors) and equip the saints for ministry. And a Great Commission approach, one that says it’s about accomplishing the mission; which requires real, raw action not simple theory.

I don’t believe Miller is pitting theory (or in this case doctrine, theology, teaching) against practical action (or obedience, faithfulness). I think Miller is only making the case that the church today is often one-sided in its leadership structure which dictates the atmosphere, people and mission of the church. And that atmosphere tends towards an academic, schooling aproach to ministry instead of naked pragmatism. Just doing the mission, not merely talking about it.

Like I heard someone say one time, “God is not merely a topic to be casually debated on in a local coffee shop, but a supreme person to be adored and worshiped and loved and expressed!”

Even as a confessing reformed, charismatic and missional Christian (yes it exists and I hate titles, just making a point for now), I grow weary of conferences, events, networks, initiatives, coalitions, webinars, events, training, workshops, movements, etc. Not because they are ill-motivated or ill-intentioned at all. I whole-heartedly believe that the men who launch and create these love God, love the church, love the mission and love the lost.

But do you ever stop and think how much money, time, resources, management, promotion is put into these events? For what end? Sure, I’ve gained much from many conferences, seminars and retreats. Yes. But if any of these attendees are like me, these Christian getaways are good at content but not at creating a context for it or effectively managing the application of it.

What does this have to do with the church being led by scholars and teachers? Well, scholars and teachers typically perform best in a teaching context; a platform for discussion of ideas. Good, we need that, always. But where are the people who meet simply to worship, encourage one another, pray and then go back out on mission together.

Not trying to bash on conferences, the importance of doctrine and theology, the gift of teaching or the need for a focused environment to learn and grow in. God created those for a reason, for the mission. But the American church culture today, no denomination excluded, is too heavily dependent on a teacher/student context to accomplish the mission. I would argue that the best equipping for ministry is not primarily done in a large, classroom setting but in a small group or local church setting. You know, raw, real naked ministry. On the streets in the hood. The hard but simple stuff. The mundane. The details. The ugly and the dangerous and the risky and the informal and the uncomfortable and the dirty. Not the dressy, formal, safe, pretty, organized, comfortable and clean way.

Disciple-making, being the church and accomplishing the mission are not about creating and training more scholars and teachers; but more Christ-followers. More disciple-making disciples.

And the mission is not accomplished through that larger classroom context but in a smaller local gathering of sent ones where a community loves the word, loves the Spirit, worships Jesus, is on mission as a community, making disciples and practicing the gifts for the sake of the mission.

I say we trade the classroom for the home (or wherever for church gatherings) and the street. Being a community on mission together. I bet Christians would be much more productive, fruitful, hopeful and happy in their daily walk with God.

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“It’s The Mission Stupid!”

“It’s the economy stupid!”

It was the political phrase made famous in Bill Clinton’s 1992 race to the White House to beat George Bush Sr. It was said that Bush’s strong points for reelection were his firm stances on foreign policy and the War in Iraq while Clinton’s strong points was refocusing the aim back to what he thought really mattered, the economy.

Sometimes all it takes to reenergize a people toward a successful vision is to remind them of what really matters. Not that Clinton had it right or that this refocusing strategy was the determining factor in his winning the Presidency. The content of the strategy may have been wrong, but the strategy itself was genius.

Bush focused on the wrong thing. He was focused on the minor things, not the main thing. Reminding people of the main thing, of what really matters, gives them purpose again and re-shifts their focus back on target. The goal is hitting the target, not getting close. Bulls-eye is the goal, not almost dead on.

Bush was fighting the wrong battle. Clinton apparently guessed right and found what most Americans agreed our focus should be on.

What Are We Fighting For?

Sometimes in the American Christian church today, it feels like we are fighting the wrong battle. And about what?

If you look across mainstream Christendom, there is so much infighting. Infighting over the right theology, right doctrine, right distinctives, right practices, right churchology (ecclesiology if you prefer big words), right missiology, right leadership structures, right music style, right definition of worship, right discipleship approaches, right cultural interpretation, right bible translation, right right right. Even infighting among guys in the same denomination or movement over trivial things like how services are implemented or where.

Gifts or no gifts? Calvinist or Arminian? Topical preaching or expository preaching? Tie or jeans with holes? Formal or informal? Day or night service? Traditional or contemporary worship? Relevant or different? Seeker-sensitive or discipleship-focused? And so on and so on.

I feel like someone should stand up and shout at the top of their lungs, “It’s the Mission stupid!”

Missing the Forest for the Trees

Christians are so good at missing the forest for the trees. We focus on what type of tree, how old it is, what leaves it produces, what fruit it yields, what kind of root system, what type of soil it needs, historical background, layers of bark, tap root size, best weather to plant, best time to seed, best type of fertilizer, etc. And we forget about the forest. Each individual tree makes up one big forest.

The pop-Christian topics are the trees. The forest is the mission! We miss the mission, the real bulls-eye, because we are focused on expository preaching or reformed theology. And quite often we miss the mark; even the whole target altogether.

My Greatest Fear: Becoming Sunday-focused instead of Mission-focused

The last few years I’ve seen more personal change than I’ve seen my whole life. Especially my view of the church and our purpose. I know our ultimate goal is to glorify God by exalting His Son Jesus Christ by becoming more like Him through making disciples. But it’s as if we believe the best way to do that is through a single Sunday gathering.

For too long, churches have been all about Sunday gatherings. What time? What happens? Who is our target audience? What program? How many services? How long should the service be? What’s our style of worship? Meeting space?

Even the word “church” conjures up to most nonChristians a place to go on Sunday. Our own culture reflects accurately what we’re becoming.

Every week so much work, planning, effort, time, energy, money, resources and prayer goes into one single Sunday gathering all over America. Days of work for 2 hours of time. It’s like training months for a job that lasts only one day. It doesn’t really make much sense. It seems almost foreign to Biblical church life. It feels more event-oriented than community-oriented.

I don’t think Jesus spent three years pouring into 12 guys to build into them how to master event planning. Then why does the church spend so much time trying to become the ultimate event planning, food catering, live entertainment, motivational speech business?

Jesus showed them how to live and die for something big. How to lay down your life for someone. How to live on mission. How to have power. How to beat temptation. How to fight sin. How to love one another. How to walk in the Spirit. How to embody grace. How to obey the Father. How to duplicate yourself and make more Christ-followers.

Sometimes I wonder if Jesus were physically on earth today if he’d be doing a lot of jack-slapping. Not trying to be disrespectful. But I wonder if he’d tell us, “It’s the Mission stupid!” It’s what he lived, died and rose for. Now it’s what we live and die for. Not to have gatherings and meetings and services and master them. But to make disciples and master disciple-making. To baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and to teach them to observe all that Jesus commands.

Somehow along the way we’ve managed to make it all about how to have attractional (outward-focused) meetings or how to have discipleship/fellowship meetings (inward-focused).

If we place our emphasis back where it belongs, the mission, we reshift our aim back to what matters, the center of the target: the bulls-eye. Then we’ll also see more daily missional living as we go and do, instead of event-oriented Sunday-only living. It’s not about what we invite them to, but who we introduce to them; who we bring to them.

The Church = sent ones

The church is a sent community. A community of goers, not stayers. It’s news on the go. Our message is mobile. Our message is meant to be lived out in and among the culture. Not inside and away from the culture. We were meant to be “in the world, not of the world”. “Set apart”, not stay apart.

There are 7 days in a week. We can’t possibly think all or even most of our mission work and kingdom living can be done in 1 day, or even a few hours a week for that matter. Gatherings are crucial, don’t get me wrong.

The church is called to be a community. Communities must gather together in a place in order to pray together, worship together, equip one another together. But that can’t be done only once a week. It must be lived out daily.

The community gathers around a common goal: the mission. We don’t just gather simply to gather. As if gathering in itself has power and hope. No! It’s the mission that we gather around. It’s the missionary, King Jesus that we gather to worship and emulate. It’s His mission, so it’s also our mission. That’s why we exist. It’s why we are sent, meet back up and go back out.

To make disciples, not to gather. That’s our mission. And when the Sunday gathering becomes the bulls-eye, the mission loses its target position.

The mission touches every corner of our lives, every nook and cranny of our worlds. Every day and night. Every breath we take. Every decision we make. Everywhere we go. Everyone we meet. Every minute we spend is about the mission.

It’s not about the gathering or a Sunday meeting. It’s the Mission stupid!

Followship Is Real Leadership, Part 1: Intro

LEADERSHIP

Leadership. Leadership schmeadership.  To lead or not to lead, that is the question.  What is leadership? Who are leaders? What makes a good leader? How can existing leaders become better leaders? Leadership is what it’s all about, right?

Leader-ship. It seems that everyone’s getting on board these days.  From the secular world to the religious community to the Christian community, leadership is a new buzz word.  Everyone wants to be a leader, because afteral everyone is a leader in some way, right?  Radio, t.v., internet, podcasts, books, conferences, webinars, business seminars and more are all focusing on leadership.  You would think by now that we’d all have mastered leadership.  So then, why the constant barrage and surge of leadership venues and themed products?

Why Leadership?

“Ooh, ooh pick me teacher pick me! I know I know I know!”

Isn’t it obvious?  Apparently not.  Like most of life’s real answers, they’re always staring us right in the face.

Alright I think we don’t know how to lead because we don’t know how to FOLLOW!

Following is Out, Leadership is In

Seems too simple huh? That’s kind of the point. It’s always the simple answers that aren’t good enough for us so we have to find the complex answers and pour our time, money and resources into them.

Plus, who wants to buy a book, attend a conference, get certified in the art of ‘following’? Leadership brings certain connotations like following does. Leadership is manly, tough, strong, proud, skilled, trustworthy, independent, at the top, hard-working, responsible, etc. Leading brings the notion of power, force, action and productivity. A leader is someone who has people following him so it brings the idea of authority, respect, command and importance.

Following on the other hand, well let’s just say if Leadership is the dark and handsome older brother, following is the red-headed step, half-brother who ain’t too bright. Following is weak, gullible, lacking self-confidence, not trustworthy, dependent, at the bottom, lazy, stupid, irresponsible, etc. Following brings the notion of powerless, soft, passive and unproductive apart from a leader. A follower is someone who has to be behind a leader, not in front.  They bring up the rear, the caboose. A follower is someone who commands little respect, authority or significance in decision making or life determination. Everything they do or say is all in step with their leader.

The problem is, these views aren’t fair and accurate to leadership and follower positions. They don’t accurately encompass reality about these positions. Every leader is not be definition strong and commanding great authority. And every follower is not weak and overly dependent.

Leaders + Followers = Solution

But here’s the interesting thing.  Without a leader to be followed, a follower is without direction.  Yet without followers to follow, a leader is without purpose or influence. So they both need each other. Which to me sounds like both are equally as important.  Then why all the obsession in our culture about leadership and not following?

I think at the heart of this is a deeper issue.  I think deep down, people avoid learning how to follow and instead learn how to lead because leading plays more to our self-confidence and self-authority. If I can learn how to better lead, then I can gain more control of whatever. But following means I have to give up some control and trust another leader who is not myself. And I know that I am the best and most trustworthy leader I know. So it’s best if I’m gonna follow at all, I only follow myself; my own leadership. I am my own leader!

Wow! Now we’ve crossed in to the territory of our foundational human deficiency: our sinful nature. Which is a Christianese way of saying our innermost desire for self-reign for self-pleasure. I am in charge of me because that makes me happy.

Don’t confuse my tone here either. I am just as guilty as anyone. I’ll be the first to confess, I don’t get real excited when it comes to following leadership. The very sound of that phrase “following leadership” brings negative connotations. Why is that?

Following Sucks

First because sin has tainted our hearts and made them desire to rebel against authority (or leadership).

Second because sin has tainted our world (animals, culture, nations, religions, etc.) and made them desire self-reign.

Both our individual desire to rebel against authority (leadership) and our collective desire to self-autonomy have corrupted the original design of Father God.

Father God desired one thing at Creation from His created ones: worship And what did we give? Self-worship. We chose to do what we wanted to do instead of what God wanted us to do. We chose to trust and follow our own leadership, not God’s.

So today as a result, people not only don’t want to follow leadership but also to distrust it, mock it, rebel against it, undermine it, replace it and destroy it. From churches to schools, from politics to religion, from wall street to main street, from homes to communities all over our culture is this idea of self-leadership. That noone knows best but ME. And with ME at the center of everything, its a world where every ME is trying to lead itself towards success, power and happiness only to find failure, weakness and discontentment.

Enter Jesus, Leader & Follower

What does Jesus have to do with any of this? Afterall, isn’t he the ultimate leader? Ooh, you’re good, touche!

Well actually, he’s not only the ultimate leader (with a band of 3 or 4 billion worldwide) but the ultimate follower too. Jesus is both 100% man and 100% God. As man he displayed leadership and follower qualities. As the son of God he submitted to the Father and as God he led with authority. As leader he taught with authority, turned over money changer tables in the temple, and commanded demons and disease to be cast out. As follower, he said and did everything his Father told him to. He knew both how to obey and how to command obedience.

In Mark 10 he even taught that he did not come to be served but to serve. Jesus’ level of humility and acceptance of his servant-like nature was overwhelming and radical. He alone had every right to lead and demand worship and service at anytime from anyone. But instead he chose to humble himself like a lowly servant follower, washing people’s feet, walking among the outcast and diseased, and hanging out with the worst of sinners. He could have had money thrown at him, used his superpowers for gain and political ground and gotten way more followers in his group by keeping his mouth shut more often with all that “eat me, drink me” talk.

But here’s the king of the universe, the righteous heir to the throne of God his Father, placing himself in a position of humility like a mere follower, not a leader. (Philippians 2)

Final Thoughts

THE Leader, being a follower of God, exhibiting followship to his followers. In so doing, Jesus taught his followers how to follow AND lead. You don’t exhibit leadership in order to teach how to follow. You follow leadership in order to teach how to follow. And that’s what Jesus did best, by following His leader, God the Father.

Next time I’ll discuss more on how leading well depends on following well.

Be A Good Neighbor: Love Your Enemy!

I’ve been reading through the Four Gospels this year again, starting with Matthew and ending with John. I’m in Luke 10 now and I always love when I come to the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). So much new is unpacked every time I read it.

The Encounter

It all starts with the typical encounter that Jesus came across in his day: a religious leader asking Jesus a super spiritual question in order to test Him. And in like fashion, Jesus always answered the questions in a way that gives them more than they could expect or imagine and that reveals their hearts. An expert in religious law asks Jesus, “what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds, “What does the law of Moses say, how do you read it?” In case you can’t tell already, Jesus is asking a leading question.  It’s not as if Jesus is ignorant of the Law of Moses, he wants to know what the expert teacher thinks it says.

The law expert says to inherit eternal life one must love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus tells him he’s right and says if he’ll do this he’ll live!

Good enough right? Unfortunately not. Getting his question answered wasn’t enough, nor that he answered rightly, which would have puffed up his pride like he wanted. The followup question would both reveal the expert’s heart and original motive and Jesus’ aim in the entire setup.

The text then says, “the man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked, ‘who then is my neighbor?'”

Yes, the perfect precursor question to usher in Jesus’ parable. This parable is quite possibly one of Jesus’ most famous, even among the non Christian world. The parable of the Good Samaritan.

The Story

Jesus proceeds to tell a story of a Jewish man traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, probably on a business trip. He gets attacked by some bandits who strip him of his clothes, beat him severely and leave him half dead along the road.

Several people pass by this dying man, only to skip over him and even go out of their way to avoid him.

First a priest, surely religious, walked by and when he saw the man, went to the other side of the road and passed him by.

Second a temple assistant, surely also religious, walked over to the man and looked at him, but then passed him by and went to the other side of the road.

Finally a “despised Samaritan” came by, when he got close he felt compassion on the man. He came to him and bandaged his wounds, cleaned him up, put him on his own donkey, took him to an inn to be cared for, and told the innkeeper to care for him and leave him the bill.

Jesus finishes his parable and asks the expert, “which one of these men do you think was a neighbor to the man?”

The expert has no choice but to answer the Samaritan, the one who showed him mercy, especially since his heart is now arrested by the point of the story.

Jesus finally says, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

The Point

Now there’s a lot to unpack here, but I only want to share what I think are the most important take-aways.

First of all, the most important point to draw out of this story is the identity of the two main characters: a Jewish man and a Samaritan man. In case you don’t know your Biblical history, these two nations were sworn enemies. The Jews called the Samaritans dogs. They both hated each other. Jesus could have picked anyone to be the beaten man and anyone to be the good helper. But he specifically chose two people who would have hated each other. Why? To bring more weight and completion to the command “love your neighbor” with his call to “love your enemy”. It’s easy to help a stranger, or even a foreigner of neutral or unknown relation, but an enemy? No way! That’s Jesus’ point. Loving your neighbor as yourself also includes loving your enemies. Neighbors include enemies! Pretty radical huh? And it would have been so at the telling of this parable since this national hatred was fresh at the time and since the person Jesus directed his story at was a Jewish religious leader.

Second, another important point to draw out is the fact that Jesus chooses the Jewish man to be the one in need and the Samaritan to be one who gives mercy. Again, it’s no coincidence that Jesus does this.  He knows that if he were to place the men in opposite roles, the expert would not have received the parable and probably missed Jesus’ point. If the Samaritan was the man in need and the Jew was the man with mercy, it may have only made the issue worse keeping Jew thinking he was better and the Samaritan was less of a man; that the Jew had something the Samaritan didn’t and needed. But because of his audience, Jesus turns the tables and makes the Jew the one in need. And who provides his need with compassion and care? That’s right, his enemy that he hates: “a despised Samaritan”. I can imagine at this point the Jewish hearers of this parable are pretty arrested in their hearts about their hatred toward their neighbors the Samaritans. Especially the law expert who originally asked the question.

Finally, I think Jesus makes it clear not only who are neighbors are (anyone in need, especially enemies in need) but how we can be good neighbors by showing mercy and compassion.

I see Jesus listing the traits of a good neighbor in the things that the Good Samaritan did for the Jew in need. I don’t think is a definitive, complete list of how to be a good neighbor as much as its a good example with general qualities.

What is a Good Neighbor Like?

  1. Second-nature immediate response of care for others – The Samaritan man was on a journey headed to Jericho, when he saw a need, immediately stopped to take care of it. He could have kept going thinking, “I’ve got business to tend to in Jericho and I don’t want to be late”. But his second-nature response of care for others kicked in. This is something my good friend and pastor Rob Wilkerson and his wife have taught me and lived out well.
  2. Feels Compassion – Unlike the others who passed the Jewish man by due to disgust, annoyance or maybe fear of consequences for helping an enemy, the Samaritan man saw him and “felt compassion on him”. No cost/benefit analysis was used, no praying for direction, no interrogation of the victim, just simple compassion. Jesus calls this mercy. The Samaritan man gave exactly what the Jew needed. And out of his own heart, gave compassion.
  3. Meets Needs – Immediately after feeling compassion, the Samaritan is moved to act. From feeling to doing, he begins to address the Jews immediate needs. He was beaten badly, so he dresses and cleans his wounds. Its pretty humbling cleaning up someone else, especially someone you don’t even know. Especially an enemy. Some of this even happened in the Civil War believe it or not.  At the end of the day, good neighbors can put aside differences and hostilities to meet each others’ needs. If not, then we’re not really neighbors but enemies afterall.
  4. Gives Sacrificially – After cleaning the Jew up, knowing he probably can’t walk at all from the beating, he puts him on his own donkey. This is giving sacrificially of his possessions. Then he takes him to a local inn to have him care for and pays the bill for any additional costs (health, food, housing, medicine, etc.). This is giving sacrificially of his time and money. Putting his money where his mouth is. So already this Samaritan is a day behind in his journey. But without a thought, he has given up his time, reputation, money, journey, desires and personal possessions to care for a man who probably hates him. Like I’ve heard before, it’s not giving if it doesn’t require you to sacrifice something.
  5. Personal Care – The text says, “he took him to the inn where he took care of him“. I don’t want to split hairs here, but it seems to say that the Samaritan took care of the Jew at the inn the first night. This shows a very personal, intimate care for the Jew. It would have been easy for the Samaritan to simply drop him off at the inn and leave money for the bill bidding the poor Jew good luck. But instead he spends the night with him, cares for him personally, then leaves the next day ensuring he’s cared for again. There’s something powerful about care and compassion when it’s personal. You can give a homeless man a dollar. You can give him a prayer. You can even take him to dinner. But invite him into your home and care for him yourself? That’s personal. And its powerful.
So if you’re like me and you start this parable with a finger pointed at the Jewish law expert and finish the story with the finger pointed back at yourself, don’t be condemned. There’s hope for us law men. Jesus is our supreme “good Samaritan” because he came to us when we were at our greatest need and showed us compassion and mercy. We were sworn enemies because of my sin against Him, but he put aside that broken relationship and forgave me those sins and cared for me because He loves me.
Its hard to read this parable and chock it up to a nice little story. This parable, as do all of Jesus’ teachings and commands, demand action! If you have ever asked, “well who is my neighbor?” You now know Jesus’ answer: everybody who is in need, especially enemies.
Go and be a good neighbor like Jesus and you’ll inherit eternal life!

Jeff Vanderstelt – Gospel Rhythms

This has been one of the most helpful teachings I’ve ever experienced on how to live out the Gospel. Watch the video clip below, download the teaching session, or listen to the audio podcast.  You’ve got to to experience this for yourself!

Jeff Vanderstelt: Rhythms [VERGE 2010 Main Session] from Verge Network on Vimeo.

Free pdf teaching session.

Audio podcast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeff Vanderstelt on Hospitality and the Church in America

This is an question session with Jeff Vanderstelt behind the scenes at the Reformed Charismatic Missional Conference earlier this year. Jeff is an elder at Soma Community church in Tacoma, Washington, VP of Acts 29 and a defender of biblical hospitality and Gospel-intentional living.

Jeff Vanderstelt // Hospitality & the Church in America from Newfrontiers USA on Vimeo.

Bored with Divine Geography, Part 2: Longing for an urban south

| continued from part 1 |

Back to my birthplace

I was born and raised in Orlando, Florida in 1981 for the first 10 years of my life.  Even though I’ve spent 2/3 of my life in southern Georgia, I often feel a piece of me stayed in Orlando.  I’ve spent the last two decades of my life (yes I’m gonna hit the BIG 30 this year) investigating why I feel this confusing draw toward my birthplace.  I mean all I’ve known most of my life now is southern, old-fashioned, country culture of rural Georgia.  So you’d think I would’ve let go of Orlando.   Not until the last two years or less have I begun to closing the case on this internal investigation.  I bet you’ll never guess what I’ve been discovering as the reason I feel like something is missing inside.

I miss the city.

Sounds silly, I know.  Even sounds a bit strange or immature.  But I’ve discovered something inside of me that longs for the city.  Being in the presence of a city.  It’s contagious.  There’s a certain synergy about a city.  An almost tangible energy to a city.  I don’t know why.  Sure now that I know what I feel I’ve been missing, the bigger discovery is to find out “why” I’ve been missing it.

Why the city?

That’s kind of the real point, right?  I mean if I’m missing “the city” for some silly, immature shallow reason then it’s kind of pointless, right?  But if there’s something bigger here, deeper in my heart, something that God, the Creator of cities and the King of the Heavenly City, has planted in me then it’s worth pursuing.  Right?  I mean if God has designed me personally with a passion for reaching the city, then I want to know that, grow that and go that way.

Me, or the church?

But I seriously doubt that this is just an individual passion, calling or gifting in me.  I think from the Bible and the movement of our socio-economic culture that God has written this passion for the city into the DNA of His body, the church.

Everything I’ve seen, read and heard the last 10 years seems to show the need for God’s people (the church) to move into cities.  People are moving into cities by the truckload.  Rural towns are either shutting down and disappearing or relocating toward industry or colleges and transforming into suburbs of growing cities.  Why?  Simply because that is where people are living, working, playing and dying.  Life happens now in and around cities.  That’s where culture is born:  arts, entertainment, business, education, politics, the marketplace, etc.

If you pay close enough attention, even though it seems that our world is growing farther and farther a part (socially, emotionally, relationally) with things like social media and technology, we’re simultaneously growing closer and closer together (physically, socially, economically).  So while we all live together in one common place, we still are functioning in worlds apart online.

New York City, the double standard

My wife and youngest daughter made a 2-day trip to New York City in May of 2011.  NYC is often heralded as THE standard for pop culture:  arts, entertainment, theater, music, food, business, industry, politics, etc.  Yet when you experience the people who make up this culture, you are left feeling empty, dry, cold and hopeless.  Take a simple ride on the NYC subway and see how together the people are.  Sure they all live in NYC, ride the same subway and live close to one another.  But there is little to no human, face-to-face interaction.  Especially among strangers.  That frustrates and fascinates me at the same time.

I am drawn to that paradox.

Longing for an urban south

You too may know what I mean when I say I am content with where God has me and my family in southern Georgia.  Yet also wonder if God has built me for an urban culture where this paradox exists.  I believe whole heartedly what Paul the apostle says in Acts 17 about God sovereignly placing men where they live for a season so that they would search for and come to know Him.  I love that truth!  Yet I also wonder if this rural south season will soon come to end and God will move my family to a more urban south perhaps.  Or to a city where the people live and move and breathe needing an intimate presence of God’s people to live with them in the paradox.

And to bring some sense and completion to the paradox to show them the mysterious beauty and need of God.

Have you experience this longing too?  I’d love to hear about it.