Attention church planters….I have a list of the top 9 cities in the US that are ready for a church plant. Looking for somewhere to make a difference….a good place to offer hope….try…
Wichita Falls, TX
Santa Barbara, CA
Carson City, NV
Now these aren’t your typical prime cities for church planting. These aren’t seminary cities, these cities don’t contain large corporations or tons of affluent people. In fact, the opposite is true. Fox Business.com lists these cities as the 9 American Cities nearly destroyed by the recession. Planting in these types of cities goes against conventional wisdom. Andy Stanley planted Buckhead among the most affluent of Atlanta and recently the team of Giglio/Tomlin also chose Atlanta, a city which has a mega-church for every Starbucks around the city. I’m not saying they chose easy locations….but it makes you wonder….what if Giglio and Tomlin had planted in Flint, MI where there is a 21% poverty rate….would they have a mega -church before they even opened the doors.
What is the purpose of planting a church? To build a name, a brand, to launch a career, to gather disgruntled sheep from smaller, more traditional flocks…..or is it more than that. I see the church as a manifestation of “His Kingdom come” here on earth. A community of authenticity, a community that offers hope, a helping hand, a message of hope to those that are hurting. These 9 cities don’t need entertaining, they don’t need self-promoting, churches with laser shows and billion dollar budgets. They need people that will love them, serve them, and help them come together for the greater good. They need pastors who would rather feed the poor than dine with the wealthy, they need pastors who would rather cater to the spiritually lost than the spiritually disgruntled, they need pastors who would rather spend times in homes than they would at conferences. They need you!
-edited 1/25 for content and clarity
When I think of Christmas I think of comfort….traditional songs, warm food, candles, fireside chats, thick sweaters…to me Christmas is all about comfort.
When I look at the first Christmas I don’t really see much comfort. Jesus left the right hand of the throne of God for a dirty, smelly manger. He left behind the worship of the saints for the sounds of sheep and camels. He left a place of prominence for a place of obscurity. He was born to an unwed mother and went from being the Creator to the created. He went from being all-powerful to needing diaper changes and meals. He learned a new language, found a new role, learned a new craft and subjected himself to everything human….sore feet, acne, being hot/cold, temptation….everything human. And he did this…for us. He was the ultimate incarnational, cross-cultural missionary. He took on a life of being uncomfortable to please God and rescue us.
In our ministries we get to choose who is uncomfortable….us or them. Our traditional, attractional models are comfortable for us. We invite someone to our church or our small group or our event. We invite them into our world….and they are the ones made uncomfortable. They have to learn our rules, our “Jesus” language, our way of dress and our rules of behavior.
This is the primary way the US church does ministry….we like it on our terms, in our context…it’s safe for us. But if we look at the way Jesus did life and ministry we see a different approach. Not only did he become the uncomfortable one in his birth, but he maintained this approach throughout his ministry. He taught in the synagogues but he also dined with sinners. He spoke with religious leaders but also met a samaritan woman at a well. He was viewed with suspicion by religious leaders because he chose to hang out with tax collectors, whores, the sick and the crippled. He never lost his faith or became like the sinners he was with but he constantly chose to learn their language, enter their world, minister in their context and in doing so took the gospel to places it had never been before.
So it’s not about giving up our comfortable Christmas with our rich traditions, favorite foods and family. It’s about looking at the amazing life of Jesus and learning from Him. We have a hurting world all around us….most of which will never come in contact with our church campuses and dynamic worship services. They already gather and find community in clubs, pubs, coffee shops and other activities. What if we became uncomfortable and went to where they are….entered into their world. What if we stopped inviting and started going and serving. What if we went to church less and became the church more?
I want to learn to accept being uncomfortable as a way of life. The best way I can honor Jesus and his birth is to learn from his example and allow myself to be made uncomfortable for the sake of King and Kingdom. Merry Christmas!
Rick Elias was a passenger on US Airways flight 1549 which crashed into the Hudson river. He recently spoke at a TED talk and shared some life changing things that happened in coming so close to death and then having another chance. One of the things he took away from the event is that he would collect bad wines. In other words he was tired of collecting wines for some future event. He said from now on…”if the wine is ready and the person is there I’m opening it.”
Our lives can change in a moment…an accident can happen, a person can move, a country can enter a revolution, a job can be lost….and we can find ourselves with a good “wine” and no one to share it with. Or even worse we can leave the good wine behind and no one will ever enjoy it. So enough waiting. We can all make excuses for why we wait to share, for why we wait to love, for why we wait to connect. But life can change in a moment…and we may lose the chance. None of us will face our final moments and wish we’d followed more rules, obeyed more policies. None of us will wish we had been more fearful….but we will regret not taking risks, we will regret not being the husband, father, son, daughter, wife, follower, leader, friend that we could have been.
What would happen to our families…our churches…our teams…our cities if we would start collecting bad wines…because we’re constantly sharing the best we have with everyone we meet?
They have their own narrative. Regardless of which narrative they’re in…Hybels, Warren, Piper, Bell, Driscoll, Hirsch, Frost…they’re all being shaped by someone. Over the years I’ve noticed that there are very few if any missionaries speaking into their narratives. In the past this was largely impossible because those of us living overseas rarely spend time in the US. Conferences would he held, events attended and we were never to be seen. But all of this has changed….sort of.
Over the last few years more and more of us living overseas have started blogging….and a new tribe has been born. In many ways we’ve started our own narrative. Most of the overseas bloggers are more forward thinking and missional in practice. The great thing has been our ability to connect with each other. I for one usually feel like a misfit in my organization due to my relational/missional approach to life and ministry but among this tribe I feel at home….I experience community in this new tribe. I’ve not only learned alot from reading the blogs but also received alot of encouragement. But could we do more…could we build our tribe and influence the US narrative at the same time?
Some would say it’s not our role to influence the US church. They would argue that it’s the job of the seminaries, the conferences, denominational leadership. I would say this argument is flawed because it reduces mission to a theory…one not being practiced by those teaching about mission. So if we believe that the US church being on mission is necessary for our work…and if we believe that what we do on a daily basis can actually help the US church engage their world better as well….then it’s up to us to not only engage our local narratives with the gospel…but it’s also up to us to engage the US narrative with missional living.
We’re writing our blogs…but are they reading them.? We’re reading our blogs….but are we reading theirs? Are our blogs too focused on missions….too branded for them to see the connection? How else can we help shape the narrative? We can’t complain that we’re left out of the conversation if we’re not actively trying to participate in theirs. On the field we leave our comfort zones, learn the language and enter into their 3rd places in order to have a voice and exercise influence. The same goes for the US pastoral narrative….we need to leave our comfort zones, learn their language and enter their 3rd places …only then will we have a voice and will be able to influence. So the big question is…how do speak into their narrative?
At first it sounded so noble…”I spend 2-3 hours with God every morning.” Then he said “And every afternoon I read a Christian book for 2-3 hours”….and then he hit the home run….”And at night I get in another 1-2 hours with God.” Sounds like a good missionary to me….but then more came out. He had time to do all of this because he had nothing else to do. You see he had been sitting on the field for over a year literally doing nothing. Why? Because his boss created his platform…it wasn’t working and so he was waiting. What was he waiting for? Even he couldn’t answer the question.
What are you waiting for? Permission? Acceptance? Skills? Being comfortable? A book deal? Record deal? A new title or position? I say…screw the reasons and go for it. If what you’re doing isn’t working…then change it. If your dream seems impossible…make it possible…start moving towards it. Whether we’re missionaries on the field or business people in the US we can do more than wait. Amanda Hocking isn’t waiting, and she’s making millions writing books without a publisher.
Sometimes it just takes a few moments to get unstuck from the moment. The guy in the first paragraph took about 5 minutes. We sat and talked, he finally shared his frustration and also his dreams. And I gave him permission…he doesn’t work for me…or even in my part of Europe…but he’s not waiting anymore. What’s your dream? Do you have an idea? A ministry you want to try? What are you waiting for?
:::remember me…Grady Bauer? I’ve left my home over at Missional Space and am now writing with my good friend and fellow sarcastic saint AlmostM. Thanks for dropping by!