By Dean Inserra
In a ministry culture where we’re told to be “known more by what we’re for than what we’re against,” it has become increasingly popular to claim our churches are “for the city.”
While I believe churches should be known both for what we’re for and against, it’s certainly good news that the cities and towns where we find ourselves ministering are places we love and desire to see reached with the truth of the gospel.
At the church where I pastor in Tallahassee, Florida, our mission statement is to be “for the gospel, for the city.” Because of our unwavering belief in the good news of what Jesus Christ has accomplished for sinners through His death, burial, and resurrection, we are compelled to love Tallahassee, and that is the only possible option when one believes the gospel.
Loving and being “for one’s city” is easy to claim. But it must become a cultural value in our churches, rather than simply an annual service project, if we’re going to have lasting impact in the places God has placed us. For a church to actively love a city, it’s not so much a strategy or a plan, but a culture in which church members continually immerse themselves in the life of the city.
A local restaurant owner, who is not a believer, recently told me, “You City Church guys are everywhere.” That’s the point. We’ve created a culture of loving our city, and by God’s grace, Tallahassee has taken notice of our people immersing themselves in the culture without resembling unbelievers.
In creating this culture, we’ve intentionally followed some principles and missional convictions that are helpful for churches to consider:
1. Do life with your neighbors.
As Christ’s ambassadors, we don’t want to resemble the city; we believe distinct lives point to our distinct God. At the same time, we believe that to remove ourselves from the city is equally ineffective for mission.
We want our members playing on city league teams with their co-workers and participating in neighborhood events, rather than creating Christian alternatives. We encourage our college students to live on mission by joining traditional sororities rather than “Christian” ones.
Loving your city means going to it, not removing yourself and expecting it to come to you. Most Christian alternatives are created with good intentions by the church, but to truly be in the city, you have to create a culture that’s intent on leaving the church property to join life where it’s already taking place.
2. Be the biggest champion of your city.
If you think Tallahassee is lame and can’t wait to move to a bigger city, our staff is not for you. We need people who love Tallahassee and want to help make it a better place. We try to be vocal champions for new restaurants, high school sports teams, local business, and anything that makes Tallahassee a better and more exciting place to live.
We encourage college students to look for jobs locally after graduation and follow all of the new developments in Tallahassee. We host a monthly networking event for the Chamber of Commerce. Our city is growing and changing, and I believe the local church should be in the center of all that’s going on.
3. Get out of the office.
This year, the high school down the road from one of our church campuses invited our youth pastor to play in the faculty vs. student basketball game at their homecoming pep rally. That’s how involved he is in the school.
It’s difficult to grow a ministry from the office. While there’s certainly “on site” work to do, there’s more work to be done outside the doors in the city.
4. Be careful what you post on social media.
Once again, this is about culture more than strategy. The leadership of a church that loves the city never posts anything negative about the life of the city.
I am strict with our staff about never posting any complaints or grievances about a local business or restaurant. Someone reading the post might be the owner or manager of that store, and could have visited for the first time the Sunday before. That’s how we must think!
5. Focus on the Christian and his or her vocation.
In his book The Next Christians, Gabe Lyons rallies believers to see their work as a mission field and to see themselves as being “called, not employed.” Every job might not be ideal or directly tied to someone’s passions, but church members go on a mission trip each time they leave their homes in the morning and drive to the office.
Discipleship in the church should focus on equipping church members to see themselves as missionaries in the very places where they spend a significant portion of their time.
6. Become involved in your kid’s school.
Whether in a public or private school, Christian families have an incredible opportunity to connect with others outside of the church through their kids’ schools. The parents of your children’s friends will become your friends. This provides great avenues for making personal connections in the city.
The wife of one of our staff is the president of a local school PTO. As a stay-at-home mom, she’s using her role to live on mission.
Loving your city is first a culture that’s created. Let your gospel convictions fuel a desire to create a culture in your church where seeking the welfare of your city is an essential aspect of your church’s mission.
Dean is the founding and lead pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Florida and author of The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel.