Message 6: One For Our City

 

Jesus prayed in John 17 – verses 20-23: " ... May they [the disciples] also be in us [the Father and the Son] so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus is praying for us which means that there is hope for us. As we listen in on this prayer, we discover that God wants to lead us, is committed to lead us, is determined to make us succeed, where we ourselves fear to tread. Jesus’ prayer challenges us on three accounts: 1. Complete unity among all Christians requires more than our current practice. 2. Unity facilitates revival. 3. Church unity leads to the pastoring of cities – not just congregations.

What I take for granted by now is that church unity – our unity – is a unity of the Holy Spirit and not of agreement in all doctrines and experience. The Bible says – 1 Corinthians 12:3: " ... no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." Since the Holy Spirit has had mercy on us and has made us believe in the same Lord, therefore we all belong together – whether we like it or not. You can choose your friends but not your family.

Taking that for granted I would like to make only brief comments on the first two points which I mentioned and then mainly concentrate on the third point. Point number one: Complete unity among all Christians – and that is what Jesus is praying about – complete unity requires more than our current practice. That raises the question: “How do we achieve a greater measure of functioning together as the one body of Christ?”

Point number two: Unity facilitates revival. Jesus clearly made a connection between church unity and mission effectiveness which brings us straight away to point number three. Point number three: Church unity leads to the pastoring of cities – not just congregations. In John 17:20-23 Jesus foreshadowed that church unity leads to world evangelism. He said: " ... May they [the disciples] also be in us [the Father and the Son] so that the world may believe that you have sent me ... May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." Unity among Christians will make the world take notice of God. The world – including our town or city!

Let's focus on where we live. How big is our vision? Can we see with the eyes of faith and behold an entire city transformed? How would we function as Christians if education, the media, government, leisure, business, ... , everything was under the lordship of Jesus Christ? How would we provide spiritual support and nurture to Christians actively pursuing the transformation of their work-places and areas of influence?

Tommy Tenney writes: "If we are going to reach our cities, we must change our mind-set. It is time to stop pastoring our churches and start pastoring the cities in which we live. As long as you just pastor your church, that's all you'll ever have. But if you can start pastoring your city, then revival will come to your city. It is time for the gatekeepers to take their places in the gates and to guard the source of influence over a city" (Tommy Tenney: God's Dream Team, Ventura 1999, p90). Another quote from him:

"One of the analogies I've referred to in this book is that of the 'gatekeepers'. This term can refer to pastors, intercessors, teachers – virutally anyone who exercises spiritual influence. The same term is equally valid in both the spiritual and the secular realms. There are certain influential people in the secular realm – including bankers, lawyers, professors, doctors – through whom influence is channeled into and out of a city. This universal pattern tells us that if we want to affect the spiritual atmosphere of our cities, then there must be spiritual gatekeepers" (Tommy Tenney: God's Dream Team, Ventura 1999, p130).

Who are the spiritual gatekeepers in my city, in your city? Who are the people of God-given influence in business and politics, the media and education? Do we begin to share God’s vision for our entire community – entire cities and nations, not just churches?

I hand over to Ian Shelton now. He came up with an illustration which may help us to see how God wants us to reach into every aspect of society.

 

Ian Shelton & The Transformation Wheel

This “old fashion wood and steel wagon” wheel is an attempt to put in diagram form what a community/city/nation could look like if Jesus was its Lord and was the centre of its life.

The central steel axle is the Lord Jesus who also “centres” life and gives meaning and hope. The wooden hub is the church in unity centred on Jesus. Only the church of the city in unity can centre totally on Jesus. All lack of unity reveals some lack in declaring Jesus Lord and the centre of all life.

The wooden hub is held together by a small outer steel rim representing the common servant leaders or elders of that unified citywide church. Thus the hub in its completeness displays the church gathered as one in corporate worship of its Lord and at the same time bowing in humble obedience to his Word.

Out from the hub radiate the spokes supporting the outer rim and together representing the church scattered through the spheres of society that support the people in their families along with the vulnerable: aged, young and poor.

The eight spokes represent the spheres of society (sport/arts/leisure, welfare, health, media & information, law/police/judiciary, politics & government, business & commerce, education) that the Lord would govern and bless for the betterment of community life … It is the mission of each Christian operating in a sphere to ensure that the sphere reflects obedience to God’s Word and submits to his Lordship thus ensuring a sphere that would bring great blessing to the citizens of that community.

We currently live in a community where the spheres reflect, in many cases, the work of the “enemy” who only delights in destruction. Broken spheres make for a poor wheel.

Godly spheres ensure health, vibrant families – the outer metal rim – ensuring care and blessing for the vulnerable – aged, young and poor. Blessed families run as a central theme from the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 12 through to the New Testament. No society can claim any blessing without strong families.

A transformed city brings great glory to God.

 

Yes, a transformed city where all the spheres – sport/arts/leisure, welfare, health, media & information, law/police/judiciary, politics & government, business & commerce, education – a transformed city where all the spheres come under the lordship of Christ brings great glory to God. What that requires though is that we begin to pastor cities not just congregations and that we do that together.

How we may ask? How can churches effectively unite so that there will be some concrete results? What does God want? What is he doing and how does he want us to join in? In what manner does he want to grace us with complete unity?

Sometimes when pastors get together and together strategize/plan for action, an objection is raised: “We need more prayer, not more strategies.” And most of the time that objection is true. Many a time we don’t pray enough. However, that objection can also have another root. We shy away from strategies because strategies require structure, and as soon as you talk structure, you talk power and we don’t want to share it.

Reinhold Scharnowski writes: “At city or national level, we may have a good idea or two, and a couple of tactical methods, such as the Alpha course, but we hardly have any strategies, in the all-encompassing, long-term sense. One of the reasons, particularly in Switzerland, is the lack of true leadership at city level. We are good at allowing everyone to contribute, but often bad at orchestrating the contributions to become a choir. Either nobody wants to take responsibility for a servant leadership, or they are democratically neutralised with all sorts of concerns. How may courageous initiatives are stopped because someone has a problem with some aspect or another? Building something which lasts in a federal system is a real challenge” (Reinhold Scharnowski: CityVision – A Strategy For Our Cities And Regions, From The Internet).

Imagine a committee of hundreds of pastors equally sharing and then finding consensus on a future plan of action. That’s the federal system and we struggle to make it work. Jack Dennison observes that our city reaching initiative has become largely event and activity driven.

He writes: “ … our dream of seeing the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole city … requires a different approach, a strategic approach, rather than one that is punctuated by one event or activity after another … “ (Jack Dennison: Cityreach International Report, October 2000).

He may be right. Change happens slowly. Christians mature slowly. A city transforms slowly. Usually there is a slow progression from spiritual milk to solid meat. Therefore a one-off event or activity cannot be a substitute for sustained outreach and nurture.

Once again, how can we plan for long-term transformation without getting bogged down by a federal system where no true leadership emerges? The answer is difficult and we have to be careful. We may benefit from hearing the warning again: “We need more prayer, before any strategy.”

Along the same lines a church consultant shares some wise insights. He writes: “ … if we do what seems right to us, it may well be wrong … I recently met with a national leadership team representing 10 cities in their country … One city in particular was deeply challenged by the need to identify the biblical leaders of the City Church. They promptly returned home, called together a dozen pastors and voted on the appointment of a handful of leaders to be ‘city elders’. In so doing, I am convinced; killed the initiative at its inception. Though leaders are needed, following methods of the past (voting, balloting, assigning, etc.) to select them is wrong, and the usually harmful approach” (Jack Dennison: Cityreach International Report, October 2000).

Voting and balloting may not always be the wrong approach but we have to be careful. What does God want? We need to wait on him. Who is he raising up in our midst? As we move from a federal system to a system where we recognize citywide church leadership of some sort, much prayer and spiritual discernment is needed – let alone humility and the surrendering of pride.

You may have guessed by now that I am a pastor because – as one belonging to the clergy – I am in danger of missing the point. The true transformation of cities and nations requires more than just pastors getting their act together.

City elders, gate keepers – call them what you like – they include more than just ordained people because we need leadership in the spheres of government, education, business, media, and so on, and pastors are not usually the experts in these spheres. Christian men and women, people of wisdom, professionals need to live out their calling and provide spiritual leadership where they live and work, rest and play.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how God wants to raise up the various leaders even in our city I don’t know. And whether we would be willing to recognize them I don’t know either. However, allow me to share some personal thoughts. This is just food for thought and not necessarily divine inspiration. There are some church leaders that advocate a return to what the early church in Jerusalem did, that is: people meet in both small house groups and citywide gatherings. The Bible says in

Acts 2:46-47: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. [And] they broke bread in their homes and ate together [there] … praising GodSo there were two types of church meetings: small groups and citywide stadium events. And just imagine they did that daily and God added to their number daily.

While I would not go as far as saying that what happened in Jerusalem mitigates against having our own traditional medium-sized congregation, I do think that there is merit in resurrecting regular citywide worship. I know that some of that is already happening – usually on a free Sunday evening or a week night.

However, what if Christians of a city came together on a regular basis for the regular worship time of Sunday morning? Maybe do so every three months. I think that could have a number of positive outcomes:

1. Church unity would then not just be an additional church program which adds to the burden of already busy people. 2. Church unity would no longer be treated as an optional extra but become central to who we are and what we do in the city. 3. Regular citywide worship – sacrificing our church segregation on Sunday mornings, venturing outside of our own four walls – that would signal to believers and unbelievers alike that we are not just about growing our own congregations but the kingdom of God in this place. 4. Regular citywide worship would shape a common identity among Christians. As we pray and praise God together, hear his appointed word, he may answer us with shared revelation and inspiration. 5. Regular citywide worship would provide a platform for citywide needs and initiatives. 6. Regular citywide worship would bring those together in worship that during the week need to work together in the spheres of the city.

At this point of time you may say: “Dream on,” and you are right. There are so many valid concerns: “We need to meet in our own building because we cannot miss out on the offering. You never get everyone to come. We couldn’t agree on the worship style.” And so on. Anyway, that was just food for thought.

Can we consider a response to what we have heard? Complete unity – the unity which Jesus prayed about and which facilitates the discipling of nations – that kind of unity requires more than our current practice. God wants us to pastor cities and nations, not just congregations. How is that going to take shape? How much are you prepared to change? Amen.

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