Churches can be IN the city, AGAINST the city, OF the city, or FOR the city. It is the latter approach that Darrin Patrick and Matt Carter encourage churches to adopt. Actually the word “city” could be replaced with culture. Whether it be a rural farming community, a ghetto, a wealthy suburban area, or a gathering of mountain men in the hills of Kentucky the church has these four options in regards to her response to the culture.
The church in the city is primarily focused with bringing outsiders into the church. The church against the city has adopted a defensive posture that considers the culture irredeemable. The church of the city “bends so far to the culture that they lose their distinctive Christian identity—they lose their ability to speak truth effectively.” (25) But the church for the city is:
…a model of engagement where a church speaks the truth of the gospel and is not afraid to uphold a biblical worldview and moral standard. Such a church proclaims the truths of Scripture with passion, clarity, and boldness. At the same time, though, this is a church that commits itself to seek the shalom, the flourishing, of the city. This means seeking the shalom of the people they live in community with, living sacrificially and using their gifts, time, and money to seek the peace and prosperity of their neighbors. (26)
It is this vision that Darrin Patrick and Matt Carter unfold in the latest book in the Exponential Series: For the City. Carter and Patrick each write four chapters and then tag-team on the last two. In the first part of the book (which is very engaging) both men share their experience of planting a church in a large city. Patrick helped plant The Journey in St. Louis and Carter helped plant Austin Stone in Austin, TX.
In the second part of the book Patrick tackles the topics of contextualization, community, and what it means to serve the city. Carter considers equipping and suffering. The book closes with both men sharing confessions of what they have done wrong, and then with a passionate plea to live like Jonah.
The community that houses the church where I serve is home to a little over 15,000 citizens. If you combine the smaller surrounding towns there is at maximum 40,000 people in the area. This is hardly what Carter and Patrick have in mind when they use the term “city”. But that is okay says Carter, “those of you who aren’t located in a larger city, many of the concepts we discuss will work equally well where you are”. (26)
So does it? That is one key question that I was asking as I read through this book. Does it transfer or do I need to be in a big city to apply the principles of For the City?
Darrin Patrick’s chapter on contextualization is certainly something that can be transferred to our church setting. After giving a brief definition and defense for the necessity of contextualization he asks wide-open questions that can be used to exegete any culture. He encourages churches to ask head, heart, and hand’s questions. Such as, “what events rally the community?”, “what do they suffer and sacrifice for?, “what are people passionate about”? Answering these questions can help a person exegete any community no matter the size.
Churches in any community are also tempted to drive off the ditch into syncretism and sectarianism. And the healthy contextualization that Patrick presents–one which clings to “the true gospel with its brutal truth and beautiful grace (81)”—is certainly reproducible in any context.
Patrick’s chapter on Community is also highly transferable. Because the concepts are rooted in creation and inter-Trinitarian community they can be transferred anywhere. The same thing goes for Patrick’s chapter on serving the city. A smaller community may not be able to reproduce Luminary Center for the Arts or build a Karis House but they can ask questions that discern the needs of the community and figure out tangible ways to meet those needs.
Matt Carter’s chapters on Suffering and Equipping are a little less concrete than Patrick’s. It is not difficult to see that suffering is universal. And therefore the need for the church to not only suffer well but also meet the needs of those suffering is easily transferable.
Carter’s central statement on equipping–1. Act, 2. Repeatedly, 3. Over Time (121) is a helpful reminder to any community. Such a work takes time. If we really want to be a church for the city it will take many efforts done repeatedly over time.
For the City could easily be changed to For your Community because the concepts here really are transferable. That alone does not make the book good. Heresy and error could just as easily be transferable to every community as could solid biblical truth. What makes this book good is that it is very solidly biblical, gospel-centered, and helpful to every church community.
The fundamental question that this book leaves hanging over every church (or gathering that claims to be a church) is this one: If we shut our doors tomorrow would our community know we were gone? Would the city leaders celebrate, feeling as if they had gotten rid of a nuisance? Or would the city grieve and mourn our disappearance? (26)
If the principles of For the City are applied I believe that many more churches would be able to say, “yes our community would know that we were gone, and for the most part they will feel the impact of our departure”.
There is one frustration that I continue to have with the books like this one. They are almost solely written for church plants or younger churches. I’m left with questions about how to apply some of these principles in a church that is heavily burdened (if not out right shackled) by a building program gone to seed.
I agree that most churches are “so enamored with its own survival and maintenance that it forgot its mission” (74). But how does that change? In a church plant the planters/pastors have a much greater influence over creating the church culture. Those of us that are pastors placed within a context that sometimes has deeply entrenched ideas about missions, giving, contextualization, etc. are often frustrated by the slow movement.
I’m not faulting Patrick and Carter for not speaking to those of us that are not ministering in church plants. We are not their fundamental audience. I am speaking to those that are responsible for this exponential series. Please, please, please find some people that have done it and write a book about changing a church from missional complacency to missionally passionate.
I imagine the answer is slow patient but passionate plodding in gospel preaching.
This book is very helpful. Even if you are not a church plant and not in a “city” the questions in this book are broad enough to apply. Every person reading this book will benefit from hearing Matt and Darrin’s confessions. It will humble and encourage all that read.
The passionate plea in the last chapter to be like Jonah is so soaked in the gospel that it will hopefully motivate for action and cause the heart to rise in worship.