In the Cities

Greetings from Kansas City, Missouri, USA.  I am attending a Regional Leadership Conference and have been invited to be a part of a panel focused on “Mission to the Cities.” It is such an honor to speak about this topic along with many urban mission leaders and General Superintendents as part of the panel.

Each one of us will be giving a short introduction to our ministry context, and I wanted to share with you what I will be saying at the opening of the panel:

Good morning! ¡Buenos días!

I’m a Nazarene missionary in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  My family and I have lived in five different countries in the last 15 years, and now we are coordinating an initiative called Genesis. Genesis seeks to bring a new beginning to the big cities of the Mesoamerica Region, which is ironic, because just 8 years ago, I hardly cared about urban mission.

We began our missionary career by living in Guatemala City, Guatemala and San José, Costa Rica: two huge cities with lots and lots of need.  And, of course, as a missionary, I was passionate about winning the world for Christ!  But during that time if you were to have asked me why cities are important to God, I would have stammered and faltered.  Aren’t all places important to God? What’s the big deal about cities?

It wasn’t until 2011 when my family and I moved to Panama City, Panama, that I started to get it.  You see, we went from living in a house to living on the 19th floor of a high-rise. The view was amazing.  Because of a healthy fear of heights, I did not go out on our balcony often, but one night I did.  I thought about all those lights representing one person, or even one family. And in that moment – I don’t know where it came from, but – for the first time I stretched out my arms and I whispered the prayer that now I have prayed a thousand times: Lord, give us the city!

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About that time, our region was researching where we, as a Nazarene Church, were strongest and where we were weakest, geographically-speaking. We found out that 79% of our region lives in an urban context, but only 29% of our Nazarenes are there! In other words, in the most populated places, we have the fewest Nazarenes. We realized that ministry in our region had to be ministry to the urban core.  We have spent the last eight years training urban missionaries and equipping our existing churches to creatively reach their cities.  Maybe later we will explore how urban ministry needs to look different compared to rural and suburban ministry.

Some of you are wondering: “But that’s your region.  What does that have to do with us?” Well, the statistics in the USA and Canada are a bit different.  This region is actually the most urban of any in the world.  Nearly 9 out of every 10 people in these two countries lives in a city of 100,000 or more!

As a Church of the Nazarene in the USA/Canada, we are not quite as rural and suburban as the Mesoamerica Region.  Still, did you know that Nazarene membership is .17% of the total population in our big cities?  In other words, not even 1 of every 500 urban dwellers in Canada and the USA is a Nazarene.

That may be more statistics than you were bargaining for.  So let’s simplify it.

We have a lot of work to do.

And that work must be in the cities.

As author and pastor in New York, Tim Keller, says, “We don’t need churches only in cities. We need them everywhere there are people.  Therefore, we need them especially in cities.”

Towards Missional Effectiveness: The Mark of Multiplication – Part 6 of 7

By Ed Stetzer

Go where people are, make disciples, plant churches.

I’m in a series covering the topic of missional effectiveness. In the previous two posts, I have explained the marks of God’s mission. What I have sought to do is stress the major foci of each mark in an effort to build a visual of the enactment of the message and movement of mission. Today, I’ll cover the missional mark of multiplication.

The Missional Mark of Multiplication Explained 

Thus far, I have attempted to outline the missional marks of community and sentness when the missio Dei is enacted in a local church. But there is one more missional mark that is enacted when the church embraces the totality of God’s mission, and that mark is multiplication.

Multiplication is used by God to advance His mission throughout the world. While the impulse of multiplication is hinted at in the OT in places like Genesis 1:28 (“be fruitful and multiply”), Genesis 15:5 (Abraham’s infinite number of offspring), and Jeremiah 29:6, it becomes very clear in the New Testament.

The missional mark of multiplication, particularly in the New Testament, rests upon Matthew 28:18–20, Acts 1:8, Acts 9:15, and Romans 15:20. In these passages, it is clear that God’s mission extends outward to the nations—to those who have not heard the gospel.

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The Apostle Paul clearly understood this. In fact, Paul saw God’s global mission connected to an aspect of God’s covenant with Abraham. Paul writes to the churches of Galatia, “Now the Scripture saw in advance that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and told the good news ahead of time to Abraham, saying, all the nations will be blessed through you” (Gal. 3:8). 

By understanding the mission of God as being directed towards the nations, Paul implemented a missions strategy that included targeting populated urban centers, evangelizing the city (micro multiplication), and planting and establishing churches (macro multiplication).

According to Eckhard Schnabel, there are [at least] fifteen phases or locations of Paul’s missionary work that took place in 35 years between his conversion (31/32 AD) and his death in Rome (67 AD). During those years, Paul had three missionary journeys.  As Paul went to the nations, he would go to their cities.

Tim Keller asserts that part of Paul’s mission strategy included going to the largest cities of the region. Very seldom do we see Paul navigating away from cities. It seems Paul believed that cities were where the potential for gospel impact and gospel multiplication would be greatest. Alvin Reid expresses that if churches reach the cities, they’ll reach the world. 

It seems that Paul thought that as well.

Once in the city Paul did at least two things: evangelized people and planted churches. Paul evangelized through preaching at the local synagogues, participating in small group Bible studies, meeting people in the marketplaces, renting halls and lecturing, and engaging people in his profession (tent-making). As he made disciples, he would then plant and establish churches.

Keller summarizes Paul’s missional engagement with the cities in this way:

When Paul began meeting with them [converts], they were called ‘disciples’ (Acts 14:22), but when he left them, they were known as ‘churches’ (see Acts 14:23). To put it simply, the multiplication of churches is as natural in the book of Acts as the multiplication of individuals. 

As seen in the life of Paul, multiplication requires intentionality. It requires going to where people are, sharing the good news of Jesus, and planting and establishing self-supported, self-governing, and self-propagating churches.

The Missional Mark of Multiplication Exemplified

The church in Antioch exemplifies the missional mark of multiplication. They multiplied exponentially in Antioch—reaching both Jews and Gentiles. Not only did they multiply in Antioch, but they also reached beyond their city. Antioch became the first sending church by sending the first missionaries and becoming the first church-planting church (Acts 13:1–3). Simply put, they became a multiplying church.

The missional mark of multiplication is really the missional program of the Early Church. The end result of the missional program of the church is found in Revelation 5:9 and 7:9, where John sees a vision of God’s people being from every tribe and language and people and nation. Thus, for a church to be missionally effective, it must become a multiplying church—going to where people are, making disciples (micro multiplication), and planting churches (macro multiplication).

 

This article was originally posted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2017/january/towards-missional-effectiveness-mark-of-multiplication-part.html

 

Towards Missional Effectiveness: The Mark of Sentness – Part 5 of 7

By Ed Stetzer

God’s mission involves sending. But what does God send His people to do? 

I’m in a blog series covering the topic missional effectiveness. In the previous post, I started to explain the marks of God’s mission, beginning with the missional mark of community.

Today, I’ll cover the missional mark of sentness.

The Missional Mark of Sentness Explained and Exemplified

God’s mission has a dual movement—it moves centripetally and centrifugally. Thus, God’s mission isn’t static—it’s active.

One of the active characteristics of God’s mission is the notion of sentness. God establishes this pattern early in redemptive history. He goes to Adam and Eve, sends Abraham to the Promised Land, Moses to Egypt, Jonah to the Ninevites, Israel to Babylon, Jesus to the world, the Spirit to the Church, and the Church to the nations.

Clearly, God’s mission involves sending. But what does God send His people to do? Taking into account passages such as Genesis 1–2, Genesis 12:1–3, Jeremiah 29:1–7, Matthew 5:13–16, and Jesus’ sentness, the missional community of God is sent in the world to do at least two things.

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  1. God’s missional community is sent to be faithful in all areas of life.

This point dives deeper into the community’s obedience to the word of God in all areas of life. While I don’t have space to look at all of the verses above, let me note Jeremiah 29:1–7 to explain this idea.

Some may wonder, why use this passage?

Wasn’t Israel taken into captivity because of their sin? Yes, Israel finds themselves in Babylon because of their sin. However, we read in Jeremiah 29:4, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon….”

So, God has intentionally sent them into Babylonian exile. And in the proceeding verses we learn why He sent them.

God sent them to live in Babylon as if they were living in Jerusalem. Israel was to build houses, have families, plant gardens, and to multiply in exile. In other words, they were to live in Babylon as if they were living in Jerusalem. Since faithfulness was to be a mark of the people of God in the Promised Land, faithfulness was also to be a mark of the people of God in the foreign land.

Israel’s faithfulness would display a life that revolved around the glory and life of God. Greg Forster identifies this aspect as the joy of God being displayed through the life of a believer. As a result, Forster writes,

That embedded joy will not consist simply of a changed attitude. Our actions will change. In our families, we will act differently as sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, fathers, or mothers. In our workplaces and other economic relationships we will act differently as employees, employers, managers, co-workers, students, teachers, clients, customers, or vendors. In our communities, we will act differently as friends, neighbors, members, or participants.

In addition, Israel’s faithfulness would lead them to operate as the city of God within the city of man. I love what Tim Keller says to this point. He writes,

Every city has two cities, the city of God and the city of man. Every city contains a smaller city, the city of God. The city of God is the people of God who forms an alternative city. What does that city look like? The Sermon on the Mount tells us. Christians are to take sex, money, [work], and power and instead of using them the way the city of man uses them, they are to use them the way God intended.

This leads me to my second point.

  1. God’s missional community is sent to bless the city spiritually, socially, and culturally.

As God’s people demonstrated the life of God and lived as the city of God, they were to seek the blessing and flourishing of the city of man.Interestingly, God doesn’t tell them to assimilate, withdraw, or seek the total transformation of the Babylonian culture (the city of man); he simply tells them, in their faithfulness, to seek the prosperity and shalom (human flourishing) of the city and to pray for it to thrive.

Essentially, God sent Israel to Babylon for the sake of His glory and for the good of the city. Keller puts it this way,

[God sends his people] to be used in life giving ways. The way you bear witness of God’s city is to go into the city for the city’s sake. The citizens of the city of God are the very best citizens of the city of man because they do not move in to assimilate, to use the city for their gains, or to move in for their own tribe, but they move in for the sake of the city.

As a reminder, the Babylonians were a polytheistic, pagan, ruthless, and violent people. In other words, they were dead in their trespasses and sins. Yet, God tells His people to live and pray towards their flourishing and peace. But what does that look like? Once again, without being exhaustive,

I believe people like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego function as examples of what it means to live faithfully and bless the city.

These men served the empire civilly. In their service, they demonstrated the tension of living faithfully for the city of God while striving to serve the city of man. From their service, they exhibited at least three ways God’s people can bless the city of man.

First, they blessed the city spiritually by maintaining spiritual fidelity to God in the face of temptation.

In other words, they loved God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. All of these men faced the temptation to bow down to a cultural idol, yet they chose to be faithful to the supremacy of God. As a result, many people were convinced of the truth of YHWH.

God’s people cannot bless the city spiritually by living unfaithful lives. When our words and witness line up, we exhibit an alternative plausibility reality for which the world needs to see.

Second, they blessed the city socially by having a humble and gracious disposition towards those in authority and in the larger culture.

They did not complain, grumble, or react unkindly towards those whom either had spied them out or who had treated them unfairly. Another way to look at it is that they loved others. When we exhibit grace and mercy towards others, we once again put the city of God on display for the world to see.

Third, they blessed the city culturally by doing their job with integrity, excellence, and skill.

They worked vocationally as if they were working for the Lord. The king recognizes their faith, character, integrity, and skill and honors their God and gives them a promotion. As the people of God work in a manner that reflects the glory of God, they exhibit a work ethic that surpasses (or should surpass), the work ethic of the city of man.

By embedding themselves in the larger culture and living faithful lives for the glory of God, they inevitably bless the city in spiritual, social, and cultural ways. As a result of the presence of God’s people and their participation in the culture, the city was better off. This reminds me of the question which many church leaders and churches ask themselves: If they were to one day cease to exist, would their community take notice and miss them?

In sum, the missional mode of sentness speaks of the church (and individuals) having a missional posture. Thus, missional effectiveness requires churches to teach, train, and equip believers towards a faithful presence where planted so that they may be used as God’s temple to reflect His radiant glory in all areas of life as He works through them to bless others spiritually, socially, and culturally.

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In the next post, I’ll talk about the missional mark of multiplication.

 

This article was originally posted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2017/january/towards-missional-effectiveness-mark-of-sentness-part-5.html

The Most Offensive Word in America – Part 2 of 2

This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

We don’t always acknowledge it, but many of us subconsciously believe God gives us commandments to force us into a stiff, single-file line. This lie makes God seem like an angry referee obsessed with rigid rules and regulations, as if He bitterly paces back and forth in heaven, waving a red flag and trying to control our every word and step. Who would want to obey a god like that?

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The reality is that God is much more like a loving father trying to keep his children from running into traffic. The more we learn to submit to His commandments, the more we see they are not burdensome rules but rather signposts pointing toward the path of true joy, life and peace. For instance, I always thought King David sounded a bit crazy in Psalm 19 when he said the rules of God are “sweeter than the drippings of the honey comb,” but when I compare the peace of submission to the emptiness of sin, I know he was right.

We may think independence is what we want, but it comes with a hidden cost.

Speaking to an atheist who asked about the difference between heaven and hell, renowned author and pastor Tim Keller once said, “Nobody ever goes to hell unless they want to. People go to hell because they want to be away from a god who will tell them what to do. People in hell would say, ‘It’s pretty miserable here, but I would never want to be in heaven with God, where He is telling people what to do.’”

Our culture tells us true freedom comes in following our desires wherever they lead us. While this sounds nice and provides the plot for most romantic comedies, reality reveals why this is false. For example, I have a number of friends who have overcome extreme substance abuse. When one of my friends recounted his past addiction to pain killers to me, he said, “I had become a complete slave to pills. My desires were killing me.” In many ways, unrestrained pride, lust, greed, fear, control, jealousy and anger have the same effect.

Defiance of God’s commandments may give us a fleeting sense of power and independence, but this actually reveals our weakness and constant need for grace. We have to have the humility to acknowledge our own faults and the trust to follow God’s commands, even when they run contrary to our personal desires. Because something better is on the other side. God offers us abundant life, the fullness of freedom and more love than our minds have the capacity to comprehend.

If we ever hope to experience these things, we have to do the most countercultural, rebellious thing imaginable within our culture: submit to a truth deeper than ourselves.

This article was originally posted at: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/god-our-generation/most-offensive-word-america