In 1999 the Spirit of God began to emphasize to me the recognition of the marketplace as part of the Kingdom of God, and since then many began to recognize the biblical mandate to disciple whole nations according to the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:28 and Matthew 28:19.
Now I believe it is time that we go from talking about taking cities to actually doing it in a practical way. The following article is based on what I have been doing through Resurrection Church in my particular community. I am not dealing in this article with what we have been doing in the body of Christ in our city, but what we are doing for our community.
This article was triggered by a conference advertisement apostolic leader Ed Delph sent me a couple of years ago regarding a “Church @ Community” conference that aptly describes our congregation’s practices. This concept smashes the separatist mentality of much of the Fundamentalist Evangelical Church that began since the end of the Civil War, and has the potential to radically recontextualize church praxis without compromising church biblical orthodoxy.
The following characteristics outline the “Church in Community” revolution that is going to sweep the globe.
(Note: The titles of the first seven points [only the point titles] were taken from Ed Delph’s “Church @ Community” conference advertisement.)
I. It Transitions the Body of Christ from Being Church-centric to Community-centric
1. The body of Christ is finally going to move away from escapist theology, in which community involvement was replaced with an obsession with the rapture and the world to come.
2. The body of Christ is finally sowing the incredible gifts of the congregations for the good of the community instead of just having Holy Ghost parties within the confines of a physical building.
II. It Releases the Saints to Serve God by Serving Their Community
III. It Is Giving Churches Favor With God and Man
1. I truly believe the main reason why community boards and elected officials try to use zoning laws to stop churches from having more land is because they see the church as an irrelevant, tax revenue sucking leech that contributes nothing to the life of the community.
A. The church was originally granted tax exempt status because it was so involved in the social life of communities that it was saving communities an enormous amount of money through the redeeming nature of its work with individuals and neighborhoods. Thus, when the church only emphasizes the next world and the rapture, judgment comes upon it in the form of tax exemption revocation, which corresponds to our irrelevance.
B. In the present, our church is dealing with some contextual zoning limitations regarding our plans to construct a new edifice for our congregation but a strange thing is happening: Contrary to the numerous war stories we hear around the country, the elected officials and community leaders involved in the zoning in my community are almost at competition with each other in their attempts to help us avoid zoning limitations.
IV. The Church’s Main Cause Becomes the Community
1. Jesus told the church to affect Jerusalem before going to Judea and Samaria (Acts 1:8).
2. Much of the body of Christ spends millions of dollars every year with mission trips while neglecting their own local community. Many of them do this to cover their lack of community impact.
3. Many will send a person to Africa to minister but ignore the African-American families in their proximity.
4. The body of Christ can utilize their congregants to serve according to their natural and spiritual gifts, thus giving their communities their expertise in economics, the environment, and various community issues too numerous to mention in this article.
V. Churches That Equip People for Life, Not Just Church Life
When our burden is for the community, we then train our church in a practical manner and not just a mystical manner regarding spiritual things.
VI. Churches that Enhance Kingdom Influence by Working With Community Spheres of Influence
When the church learns how to recognize, celebrate, and serve the various jurisdictions of society, then God can bless us with influence. If you want influence with the local police, serve them. If you want influence in local community government, then make yourself available to them, etc.
VII. Today’s Influencers in the Church Become Tomorrow’s Influencers in the Community
1. When the church understands this paradigm, then it will recognize those in the church called to minister primarily in the marketplace. These folks should be honored in the church as ministers in the same way we may honor the deaconate in the church. God calls the civil authorities in Romans 12:4 His servants (“deacon” in Greek means servant).
2. This paradigm will give the church membership motivation to be trained as leaders because it will take the utilization of every gift possible to meet all the vast needs of a community.
3. This paradigm has a double-edged sword since it enables the church to simultaneously affect both the local congregation and the community in its discipleship process.
VIII. Common Grace Issues Become Common Ground for the Church to Connect with Key Community Leaders and Initiatives
One of the most important theological awakenings pastors can have is when they realize that they can work with leaders in various levels of authority in society (including the unsaved) without compromising their faith because of the fact that God extends His common grace to all involved in the stewardship of a community.
IX. The Senior Pastor Becomes a Chaplain/Statesman to a Whole Community Instead of Just to Their Flock
X. The Church Becomes a “City on a Hill” and the “Light of the World”
1. This kind of church employs a holistic approach to ministry that includes educational and social ministry out of their church building, not just worship and soul-winning sermons.
2. This kind of church takes advantage of the social structures and outreaches already present in a community and releases servant leaders into those structures to bless and transform from within.
XI. Soul-Winning Reflects the Daniel/Joseph Model
1. Instead of employing only one strategy, e.g. preaching on the street, this kind of church reflects what Daniel did when he gained favor and built a platform to evangelize a nation by serving a pagan king in a pagan system with wisdom, faithfulness, and prophetic insight.
2. The typical “Christian Right” methodology of merely emphasizing politics and moral issues will never work in most urban areas of the Northeast United States. The Daniel model is the only one that works in a post-Christian or humanistic environment.
XII. The Church Penetrates and Transforms Culture Before It Emphasizes Politics
1. One of the biggest mistakes the Evangelical Church has made is to only target moral issues and political elections without a multi-generational plan to transform culture.
2. Culture trumps politics and ideology. While we are winning an election we are losing our children because they are inculcated by the MTV world and secular humanistic college professors.
XIII. The Church Views the Community (or City) as a Gift to the Church, Not Only Vice Versa
1. The church will begin to recognize that even as individuals and congregations have specific redemptive gifts for humanity, so communities and cities (and nations) are also endowed by God’s common grace with a redemptive gift to be a blessing to all its inhabitants, including the church.
2. Instead of the isolationism of the twentieth century, the twenty-first century church is going to learn how to both appreciate and capitalize on all the resources presently available in their cities for the purpose of serving, leading, and transforming all systems to reflect God’s purposes.
3. The twenty-first century church will love the city (community) even as God commanded Israel to love a pagan city some 2,700 years ago in Jeremiah 29:7.
The Resurrection Church Model for “Church in Community”
The following is what our local church has done in the Sunset Park community of Brooklyn, New York. This does not include the various citywide initiatives we spearheaded though City Covenant Coalition, the apostolic network I oversee.
1. Children of the City
My wife founded Children of the City, a separate non-profit 501c3 that holistically reaches out to more than 1,000 children between the ages of 3-16.
Among the programs for our community are:
• “Create Success” after school and summer school tutoring.
• “Heal New York,” a counseling ministry for children and families after 9/11.
• “Parenting Solutions,” teaching parents skills for raising children and various other programs.
• A guardianship program so parents in the church can work with parents of at-risk children in our program to have legal guardianship of their children until the parents are emotionally ready to take them back.
2. New York Police Department
NYPD outreach which includes adopting our local police station. We have a prayer task force for the officers and commanding officer; give the officers Christian apologetic books; minister to their personal needs and meet regularly with all of the commanding officers of the local precinct regarding community issues.
• After 9/11 I served as a community crisis manager that met with the precinct commander once a month with other key community leaders so we could adequately prepare for a terrorist attack in our region.
• After 9/11 we worked with the borough chief to organize a means so all the police officers in the precincts in the borough of Brooklyn would have access to counseling in New York City churches.
• Our church building was used several times to mediate issues between the NYPD and our local community. I also functioned as one of the mediators.
3. Clergy Crisis Responder Facilitation
After 9/11 we worked with the Office of Emergency Management and the NYPD (through Detective David Hartman) to help recruit about 50-75 clergy to be trained and certified to have access to Ground Zero and any other places of crisis in our city to minister and offer counseling.
4. Elected Officials and Community Leaders
I meet regularly with and on occasion advise and minister to numerous elected officials and community leaders.
5. Community Board Membership
I serve on our local Brooklyn community board along with a few other folks either in our congregation or who relate to me in some capacity. While serving on the community board I found numerous people volunteering their time to steward their community regarding economics, the environment, education, affordable housing and real estate development, zoning laws, garbage removal, highway and roadside development, etc. These people are more responsible and love their community more than those in the church who don’t even bother to show up for town hall meetings and other important events related to the stewardship of the community.
We are actively involved in putting together a major school for grades K-8 for the community. This will be a huge blessing for all.
7. Sowing Our Church into the Community
We have a history of encouraging our congregation to help with local elections, community boards, elected officials, and community based outreaches, and to help either serve or facilitate various community events.
Some Cautions Regarding the “Church in Community” Model
I. The Pastor and Sent-Out Community Leaders Must Be Theologically Grounded
1. When Christians begin to get involved in a community, they will be exposed to all sorts of belief systems, power, money, and political corruption. If a person is not rooted and grounded in the Word then they may either get confused or compromise to accommodate.
II. The Church Must Be Grounded in the Cultural Mandate (or Dominion Mandate) of Genesis 1:28
If the church doesn’t emphasize the lordship of Christ over all, then all service in the community collapses down to humanism.
III. The Church Must Never Stop Emphasizing Saving Grace Methodologies of Discipleship and Soul-Winning
In spite of the vast needs and opportunities of ministering to a community, the church should never stop preaching the Gospel, saving the lost, healing the sick, and producing full-time ecclesial ministers.
IV. The Church Must Understand Saving Grace/Common Grace Distinctions
1. The church in the early 1900’s fell into a social gospel in which the preaching of the cross was gradually supplanted by just doing good works.
2. The fundamentalist approach reacted to the social gospel and eschewed common grace methodologies because their hyper-dispensational end-time eschatology taught that it was a waste to “arrange the chairs on the Titanic.”
V. The Church Must Never Surrender Leadership of Its Programs to Unbelievers
As the church begins to integrate itself and its programs into the community with various partnerships, the temptation will be to allow those with money, power, influence, or smarts to control their governing boards and leadership committees. This is why many or most of the Christian organizations that started off preaching the Gospel stop doing so in the second or third generation of their existence. The unsaved eventually get on the governing board and commandeer the organization away from its Christian foundations.
VI. The Church Congregants Must Learn the Balance between Community and Congregational Ministry
The tendency of pastors when they learn a new truth is to go to extremes. In this regard, pastors must make sure they don’t only emphasis the community to the neglect of their local church’s internal needs.
This article was originally posted in March 2017
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