On a recent trip to the US I was encouraged by how many more churches are developing a desire to fill their cities rather than simply fill the seats in their buildings. I think that’s reflective of a growing desire that I have seen more here in Northern Ireland as well.
I believe that the church of 2015 is beginning to at least gesture towards the city and my hope is that these gestures will become postures that lead to the redemption of cities globally.
Our ability to see change in our cities will depend on our posture towards the city.
We have talked often in our context about how, historically, the church has done all that she can to resist the city; in most cases she turned her back. Churches were places that believers could retreat into, a safe haven, away from the godlessness that existed outside the walls. This removed us from the city, not physically in all cases, but certainly spiritually. Sunday was a recovery from the perils that lay within the other 6 days of the week.
We settled for a faith that would survive the week rather than thrive during the week
That had consequences for our cities. When there is no one modelling Christ in the marketplace then it is to be expected that the city will grow increasingly less like Christ. As we look around our cities many of us would conclude that they resemble God less now than they used to.
Surely this departure away from the Father’s glorious design should not surprise us given the defensive posture/hidden approach that we have taken to the city?
The godless behaviour is something the church can tolerate because of the distance it keeps but every so often there are moments, touch points, where the actions of our cities becomes intrusive to even the churches resistant state and we feel the need to speak out about the godless practices that we see around us.
Often the church uses a tone of annoyance and condemnation in these scenarios. The problem is if you are anything like me you don’t tend to be hugely receptive to a condemning voice, especially if it is the voice of someone you no longer recognize, someone who has had little input in your life up to this point. It’s like when your older brother tried to discipline you when there were left in charge when your parents went out.
We can’t be an older brother to our cities.
Our cities don’t need an older brother who only speaks up to condemn and look down on its behaviour
Many of us understood this; and so to correct this wrong what some have done is move to the opposite end of the spectrum and do something equally as damaging as resistance to the city – relevance to the city. We watched what was happening in the city and allowed that to inform our every move. Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians that this is a dangerous game.
“You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience”
If resistance was the older brother then relevance is the cool new friend. Cool new friends are a lot of fun to hang with and they can have influence over us but only if they remain cool and attached to the norms of the friendship. Cool, new friends rarely rock the boat. Cool, new friends can’t call us into life but simply reflect and agree with the things that are already in our lives.
Our cities don’t need cool new friends who refuse to do anything other than reflect the behaviour of the city
What our cities need is a Father; they need fathers in the city; fathers who reflect Christ.
Fathers who are prepared to give generously; to see the city flourish.
Fathers who are prepared to correct and forgive, to honour and steer.
Fathers who will get alongside but aren’t afraid to show the way ahead.
Fathers who lead because they love.
How can we best be Fathers in our cities?