Weeping Over Your City
From time to time Compassionaries will feature a guest blog written by someone outside the Inasmuch ministry. This one is a guest blog written by Dr. Bill Wilson, President of The Center for Healthy Churches. Learn more about Bill from his bio below.
Churches ask me regularly how they can not only survive their current challenges but also thrive in the midst of them. Unfortunately, most of them are asking for quick fixes, or technical solutions to their challenges. The illusion is that new worship style or more lenient dress code or more attractive playground will do the trick. Many hope that they can mimic the big box church on the edge of town that seems to be siphoning off all sorts of people from other churches with a hot band, scintillating preacher, or both. Most are disappointed when I respond that there are no quick fixes to the challenges they face. Like all of us, they want to believe that a few tweaks and minor adjustments are all that is needed to regain the glory days of the past.
Instead, I push them to revisit Acts 2 and examine closely the blueprint for the church that verses 42-47 have provided for the Church for two centuries. There, they will find the familiar five pillars of any healthy church: Worship, Community, Discipleship, Evangelism, and Care for the City. I then invite them to do a thoughtful self-examination of their church to see how they are engaging in each of these five essentials. I remind them that they do not get to choose their favorites, and that all are necessary for the kind of balance that a healthy church requires.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”Acts 2:42 NIV
Sadly, I nearly always find that our churches have prioritized internal community, worship and some form of mild discipleship while relegating outreach of any sort to a select few who “have that gift”. What is nearly always true is that the church has gradually grown inwardly focused and lost its mission, vision, and heart for those outside the church family.
That internal focus is one of the chief traits of a church struggling to survive in the 2020 decade. Ironically, the more their metrics trend downward, the more likely the church is to double down on its internal structures, policies, administrative processes and language of exclusion. The church assumes a defensive posture and erects visible and invisible barriers to outsiders that communicate clearly that this is not a place for newcomers nor are they interested in the needs and issues that plague their city. The vicious cycle accelerates and eventually the church dwindles to a few hearty souls who run the church into oblivion wondering why all their efforts to revitalize have been for naught.
The solution to this gradual decline and death is found in Acts 2. The energy and life that comes to a church which balances an appropriate internal focus with a healthy focus on their external opportunities is a powerful force. The Holy Spirit erupts and engages such a church in a way that breathes life into every nook and cranny of the building and the hearts of those who participate.
We don’t have to wonder what Jesus would do in our place. Jesus modeled the way he wants his church to look at their city or community. Remember how he felt about the cities of his day? As he traveled around the communities, Matthew 9:36-37 tells us:
Later, as he looked over Jerusalem in Luke 19, he wept over the city as he contemplated their blindness to the gospel. What a powerful and instructive moment this was for those who claim his name. Jesus only wept twice in the gospels: once when his friend Lazarus died, and in this moment, when he pondered the dying city before him. If your church isn’t weeping over your city, you are not following Jesus.
When was the last time you wept over your city? Not out of anger or bitterness, but out of a love that moved your heart to a level of compassion that broke your heart and caused tears to stream down your face? Such tears move us to follow the example of Jesus and go to the outsiders with gifts of love, compassion, food, and healing.
Thriving churches in the coming years will be those who weep over their city in compassion and who are then motivated to mobilize themselves en masse to make a difference in the name of Christ. This can’t be left to a few brave souls, or to those who engage in missions when its convenient or who believe loving those outside the church is a matter of “turkeys, toys and trips”. The call is to know your city and embrace your city and give yourself to your city in love and in the name of Christ.
Our churches must uncross our arms, unclench our fists, and let go of our prized possessions if we are to find the abundant life Christ promised us. It is the way of Jesus, and it has been the way of dynamic and thriving churches for 2000 years. Love your city enough to weep over it, and then give yourself away to them. What you will experience will be your own version of Pentecost, and you, too, may see many, many people come to faith in the one who loves them more than they can imagine.