What do we need to grasp to be effective ministers of the gospel in a city?
1. Cities are the future
Today for the first time in human history over half of the world’s population live in cities. The UN estimate in World Population Prospects that by 2050 the world will be 68.7 percent urban.
Stephen Um & Justin Buzzard in their book Why Cities Matter write ‘never before have cities been as populated, powerful, and important as they are today. . .cities shape the world because what happens in the cities spreads.’
2. Cities never stay the same
Um & Buzzard point out a second feature of cities – the pace of change. ‘Nothing ever stays the same in cities. There is constant movement.’ A city like Birmingham has changed beyond recognition in the 40 years I have lived here. It looks different, feels different and thinks differently. It takes time, insight and skill to answer the question ‘what do I need to know to most effectively love and communicate Christ to my city both now and for the next 20 years?’
3. Ministry in cities is complex
One final observation worth highlighting from Um & Buzzard, ‘cities are populated with people of various cultures, different worldviews, and different vocations. Cities force individuals to refine their cultural assumptions, religious beliefs, and sense of calling.’
That raises important questions: what is the future of my particular city? What kinds of opportunities does urbanisation present for the gospel? What does it mean for our church to be a church for the city?
Meeting the challenge
If cities are growing in size, power and influence and if cities are always in a flux of change and if cities are ever-more diverse in assumptions and beliefs then the church must come together to face the challenge and to find answers to the issues we face.
2020birmingham will be holding its 2015 annual conference entitled City of the Future on the 10th March here in Birmingham. And the issues in this post form the heart of our conference agenda. Which ever city you represent why not come along and learn together how better to reach and serve our city now and into the future.
Which means that if we are to reach our city with the gospel of Christ we will need to establish churches and ministries that are committed to the city and that can also effectively engage the people of the city. The future of the city is therefore our theme because it has never been more important to discern all that is required to contextualise the never-changing gospel in an ever-changing city.
At this year’s 2020birmingham conference we will ask:
- What are the challenges and opportunities?
- What does the church need to do and be?
- What does it mean to serve the good of the city?
- What might it look like to not just live in the city but to love it now and in the future?
This year’s 2020 conference will equip you and your church to better understand what lies ahead so that, with humble confidence, we can do effective ministry now and in the coming years. We want to cultivate ministries that both honour God and bless the lives of those who live in our great city.
We are delighted that the Rt. Revd. David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham will be one of our speakers.
‘From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.’ Acts 17:26-27
2020birmingham is a catalyst for church-planting in our city seeking to assist in the planting of 20 new churches in our city between 2010 and 2020. For a brief introduction to the story so far visit Momentum. We are also part of City to City Europe.
In an earlier post we reflected on the fact that the virtue of compassion belongs, properly and uniquely, to a Christian worldview. In this second and concluding post we consider our response to the call of the gospel to live out lives of compassion.
Compassion: Our virtue
No wonder Brian Borgman in his book Feelings and Faith insists the Lord Jesus is our pattern for compassion. We need not only to see people as he saw them but feel for them as he felt for them.
How is compassion something that we can cultivate? Without doubt it is a deep reflection on the gospel of Christ that produces and promotes compassion within us. Tim Keller argues ‘to the degree that the gospel shapes your self-image, you will identify with those in need.’ Once I consider that Jesus was moved to meet my need I begin to see that others share my neediness and I can choose to cultivate compassion wherever I see need.
A Christianity without compassion is a Christianity unmoved by the gospel and where there is little or no concern for a world in need there can be little of Christ in our hearts. It’s quite possible for even a prophet of God to fail in this regard. Human nature, unmoved by the gospel will, like the prophet Jonah, place limits on those for whom we ought to be concerned. Jonah was indifferent to the fate that awaited the people of Nineveh when sent by God to warn of impending judgement. That God was a God of compassion was a cause of complaint because the heart of Jonah was not shaped by the heart of God. So much so that when the Ninevites repented and God’s anger was assuaged Jonah’s anger only grew! As far as Jonah was concerned God’s compassion ‘ seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love.’ (Jonah 4:1-2, NIV). My problem, Jonah concedes, is that you are a God of all compassion.
Compassion: A unique opportunity
Bruce Sheiman isn’t the first to see something unique in the kind of love shown by Jesus and his followers. Emperor Julian (332-363 AD) was the last Roman Ruler to persecute Christians yet even he could not fail to recognise that a love shaped by the cross of Christ is radical. He wrote of how the cause of Christianity ‘has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.’
Brian Borgman invites us to join him in praying; ‘May God the Father, who is full of compassion, and the Lord Jesus who is our model of compassion, fill us through the Holy Spirit with the holy emotion of compassion that compels us to relieve suffering, misery, loneliness, and lostness wherever we can. When we do that, people will see Jesus.’
Richard Dawkins can’t stay out of the headlines for long. Mostly recently, Dawkins has caused a stir when tweeting in reply to a woman expressing her moral dilemma. What would she do if she discovered she was pregnant carrying a child with Down’s syndrome? Dawkins volunteered his judgement and his answer is a sobering one; ‘abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have a choice.’ A considerable disquiet ensued and Dawkins offered a speedy clarification writing it would be ‘immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare.’ There is an obvious and evident lack of compassion in Dawkins’ reductionist argument. But as he is quick to point out his argument is a rational response from his atheistic perspective. ‘Those who took offence because they know and love a person with Down’s syndrome, and who thought I was saying that their loved one had no right to exist, I have sympathy for this emotional point, but it is an emotional one not a logical one.’
Compassion: An unexpected virtue
At the other end of the Atheistic spectrum is author Bruce Sheiman. His book, An Atheist Defends Religion, certainly has a title designed to grab your attention and Sheiman’s book is unusual in its defence of religion. We might go so far as to say a lone voice amidst the hubbub of a more militant atheism vocal in its refusal to recognise that religion is capable of making any positive contribution to advancing the welfare of human-kind. So why is Sheiman moved to write a more generous estimation of a life lived for God? Not least because he recognises that Christ’s coming into the world paved the way for a brand new view of humanity. Apart from Jesus the world would have looked very different. In his historical survey Sheiman concludes that before Christianity ‘a commitment to human dignity, personal liberty, and individual equality did not previously appear in any other culture.’ It was a distinctly Christian view of humanity that led to a radical acceptance of the place and need of others. ‘Once we see ourselves as free individuals, and to the extent that we understand that we are all creatures of one God, we understand that freedom and dignity are the right of all people.’ Here’s an observation from outside of the church – Jesus’ followers committed to seeing the world differently and that included how they chose to view and treat others, especially those in need. In this article I want to explore briefly one particular expression of that impact – the place of compassion. Put simply, the gospel calls on us to feel something for those who are less fortunate than ourselves and that in turn leads to action.
Compassion: The supreme virtue
Jesus saw people as no-one had ever seen them. C.H. Spurgeon said ‘If you would sum up the whole character of Christ in reference to ourselves, it might be gathered into this one sentence, “He was moved with compassion.” And J.C. Ryle observes ‘It is a curious and striking fact, that of all the feelings experienced by our Lord when upon the earth, there is none so often mentioned as “compassion”. Nine times over the Spirit has caused the word ‘compassion’ to be written in the Gospels.’ The Bible word we translate as compassion describes, first of all a feeling, an emotion that comes from the heart (or more literally the bowels!) and so Jesus was moved by feelings of concern and sympathy. Those feelings compelled him to come to the aid of those in need. A quick word-search and we might remember the compassion Jesus showed an ostracized leper when he not only healed but first touched the unclean man (Mark 1:40-42), or his decision to delay his entrance into Jerusalem because of the cry of two blind men (Matt. 20:29-34). Jesus weeps with Mary and Martha over the death of Lazarus (John 11:32-36) and he is moved more by the fate of those who stood under God’s judgement than his own on his journey to the cross (Matt.23:37). There never was a heart like his.
A very helpful article on life in your 20′s.
(HT: Ash Cunningham)
Want to know what to do with your money? Randy Alcorn in his book The Treasure Principle highlights 6 keys to shape our attitude to wealth and giving.
Key 2: My heart always goes where I put God’s money. (Watch what happens when you reallocate your money from temporal things to eternal things.)
Key 3: Heaven, not earth, is my home. (We are citizens of ‘a better country – a heavenly one.” Hebrews 11:16)
Key 4: I should live not for the dot but for the line. (From the dot – our present life on earth – extends a line that goes on forever, which is eternity in heaven.)
Key 5: Giving is the only antidote to materialism. (Giving is the joyful surrender to a greater Person and a greater agenda. It dethrones me and exalts Him.)
Key 6: God prospers me not to raise my standard of living but to raise my standard of giving. (God gives us more money than we need so we can give – generously.)
In my reading this morning I came across this section from a sermon on 1 John 1:1-4 by Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843). M’Cheyne is perhaps best known for his advice in a letter he wrote that the key to transformation in the Christian life is ‘For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ’. The extract from the sermon on 1 John 1:1-4 applies this call to consider Christ to the daily battle many of us face in fighting our fears and anxieties.
Learn the true way of coming to peace.-It is by looking to manifested Jesus. Some of you think you will come to peace by looking in to your own heart. Your eye is riveted there. You watch every change there. If you could only see a glimpse of light there, oh, what joy it would give you! If you could only see a melting of your stony heart, if you could only see your heart turning to God, if you could only see a glimpse of the image of Jesus in your heart, you would be at peace; but you cannot,-all is dark within. Oh, dear souls, it is not there you will find peace! You must avert the eye from your bosom altogether. You must look to a declared Christ. Spread out the record of God concerning His Son. The Gospels are the narrative of the heart of Jesus. Spread them out before the eye of your mind, till they fill your eye. Cry for the Spirit to breathe over the page, to make a manifested Christ stand out plainly before you; and the moment that you are willing to believe all that is there spoken concerning Jesus, that moment you will wipe away your tears, and change your sighs for a new song of praise.”
2020birmingham will be holding its annual conference on Tuesday 3rd June in Birmingham. At the heart of our commitment to mission is a belief that to reach our cities for Christ we need to see churches planted that in turn will plant churches. We need nothing less than church-planting movements of all shapes and sizes. At our conference this year Richard Coekin of Co-Mission Network in London will share something of a vision to plant 360 congregations in London over 25 years.
But to reach the people of our cities it won’t be enough even to plant many more churches. To impact our cities we will need churches established that can creatively engage with the gospel across culture, class, ethnicity and every sphere and interest of life. The focus of this year’s conference will be to ask what might it look like for church-planting movements to engage our communities and impact our cities for Christ
If you live in a UK city (or have a heart for our cities) and want to think through what it might look like for you to work towards a church-planting movement where you are then why not join us. If you want to consider what it might look like for your church to engage through social action, the arts, politics and more then this could be a good place to meet with others who are also seeking to engage their communities in this way.
Here’s a short video introducing our conferences.
I have become all things to win all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Cor. 9:22-23 (NIV 2011).
As I mentioned in the last post the Bible has a lot to say about marriage not least because the principles behind how we ought to behave towards one another as Christians in general can be applied to the marriage relationship in particular. So if the Bible says love one another, be patient with one another, they are lessons for Christian marriage.
But it is in Ephesians 5v.22-32 that we find Paul identifying that it is in husbands and wives living out their God-given gender roles that we find a key to healthy and happy marriage. Our marriages are modelled on the relationship witnessed between Christ and the church.
Today, we start where Paul starts and a word to wives.
Wives submit to your husband v.22-24
Now I recognise how counter-cultural and for some downright offensive Paul’s words appear here. Many are tempted to simply ignore these words or to relativise their meaning for our own time and culture. But let me highlight five reasons to see wisdom for today in this command.
1. Paul’s words are to wives not to the husbands. What that means is that submitting to the leadership of the husband in a marriage is active and voluntary. It’s an instruction to the wife not an invitation to a husband. Paul has a lot to say to husbands but compeling your wife to respect and submit to your leadership is not one of them.2. All Christians are called on to submit. We shouldn’t think that submitting is something only married women are asked to do. The reality is that ALL Christians face multiple situations and circumstances in which God calls on them to willingly and voluntarily submit to the leadership of others. Men and women must submit to Christ in becoming his disciple (Matt. 7:21-23), also to submit to local church leadership and discipline (Hebs. 13:17), to the civil authorities (Rom. 13:1-7) and of course to their employers (Eph. 6:5-8).
One writer comments: We live in an ordered universe, in which there is authority and submission to authority everywhere (cf. Rom. 13:1). Authority and submission relationships are therefore natural and necessary.
3. Not all types of submission function in the same way. They differ, often radically, from one another. Time doesn’t permit me to build a case here. But in the context of the Bible as a whole we see, for example, that a wife is not called on to submit in the way for a child submits to its parents.
4.There are limits to our submission. We should only ever obey the word of a husband IF his leadership is consistent with what the Lord Jesus calls on us to do c.f. Acts 4:18-20.
5. This is an invitation to be like Jesus. Jesus always and only did the will of his father in heaven.
So Paul in 1 Corinthians 11.3 says: Now I want you to realise that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. In Ephesians Christ is the model for servant-leadership in headship. But in 1 Cor. (and elsewhere) He is the model for submission. If we think that submission is simply just wrong then we are taking issue with Jesus. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he died showed what an extraordinary thing this submission is. He said to his Father (this is Luke 22.42):
‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’
6. It functions differently in different situations. It is self-evident that this aspect of a marriage relationship will look different i) from couple to couple, ii) generation to generation, and iii) one culture to another. There are plenty of women in the Bible taking initiative, exercising leadership, managing others and in every way using their God-given gifts and abilities. This is not a call for women to be passive and subservient!
7. No-where does God give us a list of what men and women are to do. This is not about who manages the money, or does the washing up, or has the highest paid job.
8. It is a blessing. Submitting to the leadership of a man who is seeking to love you as Christ loved the church should bring us great blessing. A husbands job is to be deeply ambitious for the spiritual growth of his wife (and children). Ambitious enough to make you his personal priority and spiritual focus.
A word to single people thinking of marriage
If you are a woman hoping one day to marry. You need to look for a man who, v.32, you can respect. This has nothing to do with his dress sense, or ability with money, etc., but everything to do with whether you would be willing to let him lead spiritually in the marriage relationship.
I’m sure that means it is not a good idea if you are a woman to marry a new Christian who would need to constantly look to you for a lead in spiritual matters. This instruction of Jesus also shows why it is positively dangerous to marry a non-Christian who cannot lead you into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
What exactly is God’s purpose for marriage?
In Ephesians 5.31-32 we read ‘for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.
For many people marriage is a total mystery. Maybe it’s a mystery to you that anyone would want to make the kind of commitment that marriage requires. Some of us might question why anyone would ever want to give up their freedom it that way. Maybe it’s a mystery for you that people still think marriage works – you’ve experienced marriages that have been painful or come undone.
When Paul uses the word mystery he doesn’t so much mean something that is beyond our understanding. By mystery he means something that is hidden and must be revealed. The word mystery could equally be translated ‘secret’. In other words Paul wants us to know the secret of marriage. What could be more important to us not only to know what marriage is but what it is for.
So what is the secret of marriage?
Paul says the secret, v.32, is that marriage is ‘about Christ and the church.’ We can’t understand God’s purpose for our marriages, as believers, unless we look deeply at the relationship between Christ and the church. What on earth does Paul mean?
I’ve used this illustration at a few weddings recently but I think it captures something of the idea. A 2000 piece jigsaw is hardly a wedding present many people would put on their list. But imagine I gave a couple a 2000 piece puzzle but without the box. You know that if you can only put them all together they would make a beautiful picture. But what is a puzzle becomes more of a mystery when there is no picture on the box to look at – you just don’t know where to begin.
In our culture marriage has become like a jigsaw without the box. We just don’t know what we’re meant to be making of it. Now think what pressure that puts relationships under, when you are competing to make different things of the puzzle. Inevitably it leads to stress and conflict.
But the Bible insists that the key to marriage is to understand that the picture on the box is here in the Bible. We know that there is a day still to come when God will have a relationship with his people so perfect, so intimate, so loving that the nearest we come to it on earth, the only way we know how to describe it is a marriage. Christ and the church are made for each other, they will share eternity together in a perfect relationship.
Marriage now is about re-creating in our lives a picture of the marriage that is still to come. The pieces become the picture on the box. Marriage and the gospel inform each other. And we see that idea all of the way through the passage. Five times our passage Paul says to husbands look and learn from Jesus (vv. 23, 24, 25, 29 and 32). He tells us that Christ is the head of the church, that Christ loved the church by giving up his life for her. We learn that he cares for the church by feeding it and sustaining it and that the living Christ is united to his church for all time. And then Paul says six times look at the church and learn, (vv. 23, 24, 25, 27, 29 and 32). Christ is the head of the church; Christ loved the church, he feeds it and sustains it and the living Christ is united to his church.
In our society so many solutions are offered to the challenges of marriage. The state might try to offer tax incentives – appealing to our pockets. Self-help books and agony aunts insist marriage works when we stand up for our rights in a relationship. Paul’s radical message is that husband and wife, by looking to that gospel, learn to give up their rights. The power for Christian marriage comes when wives give up a right to autonomy and independence and husbands give up their right to self-interest by dedicating their lives to the good of their wives.
As we grapple with this passage we find Paul’s key to healthy and happy marriage lies in God, the gospel and his purpose for Christian marriage in the world. Paul will tell us let the gospel inform your marriage and let your marriage glorify the God of the gospel.
Next time ‘why should wives submit to their husbands and what does that look like?’
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