The other day I posted about how our church was given the opportunity to bless the city. You may read that HERE. It was funny, weird, and an easy decision for us to do what we did. While I made the decision without needing a church vote, I’d be willing say that there are some things in life that are up for conjecture, and difficult, and need wise counsel to know what is right and good; this was not one of those decisions. I’ll say it on the outset – I have a core conviction/plumb line that is becoming part of the DNA of our church. This has taken over four years to achieve.
Plumb Line: (In part) the church exists to bless the city.
As a young pastor (one day I won’t be able to say that), I’ve learned from one of my “heroes” of the faith, Charles Spurgeon. While reading and studying the life and church ministry of Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, I learned that his model for ministry was simply this: preach the gospel, meet the needs of the city, especially the poor.
With the bats invading the school, it gave us the opportunity to meet the needs of the city, in other words – to bless the city – especially in a “crisis” (at least for them). My learning from this was amplified by reading and listening to Timothy Keller, the senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Specifically, it was Keller’s sermon on The Meaning of the City that helped me understand more fully this principle. Side note: His book Center Church is just as important to consider.
In Jeremiah 29, most, if not all of the people of Judah were exiled in Babylon – the capital city and hub of their arch enemies, the Babylonians. These were not allies, and they wanted the Israelites to assimilate and look like and talk like them. False prophets were pleading with the Israelites to form their own tribe – smile on the outside while subversively working against the Babylonains.
But the LORD comes to his people through the pen of Jeremiah and says essentially: “Build houses. Settle down. Plant a garden and eat what it produces. Develop deep roots. Increase where you are, not decrease. Seek the peace and prosperity of the city where you are in exile…” (my translation -see Jeremiah 29:4-9).
What God was inviting the people to intentionally see the flourishing of the city to which they were planted. God was inviting those in Babylonian captivity to make it their aim to live, invest, and BE in the midst of the social, cultural, societal world of their enemies. They should do this by encouraging and supporting the places they are planted, and enjoying the fruits of that place by being peace-makers. This must have been utterly astounding. This was not just about engaging the city, it was about praying for the city, loving for the city, rooting for the city, cheering on the city, and wanting the ultimate flourishing of the city.
What does that mean for us? Well, anyone who has studied history and the work of God over the centuries knows that this was Jesus’ point in Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
We are to do good works (acts of service) among the city, not to make a name or get recognition for ourselves or power – because we already know that we’re loved. We’re not trying to gain love from anyone, we have all the love we could ever imagine from Jesus. We’re His bride!! So we can go into a city with joy, with satisfaction, knowing that God has placed you in your job, etc. to (with convictional kindness) display what it means to bring Shalom to those around us.
Thus, we need less churches that aim to be cool, hip(ster), trendy, or even relevant. We need less churches who think the city exists for them. We need less churches who think they should gain some type of power within a city. We need more churches that understand what it means to preach the gospel and meet the needs of the city.
Why does the church exist? The church exists to exalt Jesus and reach as many people as possible for the glory of Jesus.
The gentleman who I’ve been working with from the school district approached me last week and asked if the school district needed to compensate us for the use of our building – without hesitation I declined his request. Why? I mean, are they not using OUR A/C units?! We are here to bless the city: freely we have received, freely we give.
Sometimes, churches confuse this – because they think too much of themselves. Church is an interesting organism that exists for people who do not yet attend. So, because we know the identity of the church, we then therefore understand the mission of the church:
The church exists to bless the city, the city doesn’t exist to bless the church.
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