We in the Disciple Nations Alliance regard the local church as God’s primary instrument to bring transformation to its neighborhood and community. Yet we also argue that local churches in a city need to band together to be “the church in the city.”
In the New Testament, the church is often identified as gathering of small congregations into a “church in the city.” In Revelation 1:4, for example, John writes to “the seven churches in the province of Asia” (See also Rev 1: 11).
Churches with an internal focus live within their own walls, concentrate on the pastor’s vision, and ignore other churches. The result? A church of little influence or impact on the community. Churches that band together with a vision for the kingdom of God can have an impact on that transcends that of separate congregations.
Church leaders need to ask How can we help catalyze a movement that will bring transformation to our cities? How can we work together to champion reform and initiatives of transformation in the city?
In my recent trip to Australia, I had the privilege of seeing a movement model of a “city church” in the city of Toowoomba. One of the leaders, Pastor Ian Shelton, has been active in catalyzing the Christian Leadership Network (CLN), a group of 80 pastors representing virtually every denomination in the city. For 20 years, representatives of these pastors and churches have met weekly to build unity, pray for their city, and network their churches in strategic partnerships for the sake of the city. Together they seek to be the “city church,” representing Christ and his Kingdom to Toowoomba.
Several examples will create a picture of the Toowoomba city church.
Churches to the Rescue
When massive flood swept the city in January 2011, the CLN created the Toowoomba Churches Link Groups to mobilize churches as first responders. Churches funneled money and resources to the families and businesses most severely affected. The CLN also organized a joint worship service in the heart of the city to gather Christians and government/civic groups to pray for the restoration of the city.
For years, large numbers of people left the city for Easter week. This mass exodus hurt the economy, fostered crime, and emptied local churches during the holiest week of the calendar. So, in 1997 the CLN launched Easter Fest, an outdoor music festival. The City Council, Chamber of Commerce, and Police Department were all invited to participate in the planning. A large city park became the site of the festival. Gospel singers and artists were invited. Now instead of Toowoomba emptying during Easter week, people come from all over Australia and abroad to celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ.
Image an entire city where the Gospel message is at the heart of the life of the city for a week!
Toowoomba, like many cities, has seen rampant growth of sexual abuse destroying the lives of girls and young women. Pornography has grown in the city, and individual men as well as businesses have objectified girls and women, diminishing their glorious imago Dei creation. In response, individuals, families, and churches have begun ministries to bring healing to women and girls who have been demeaned by the men. A few years ago, the city church realized that if these small ministries could collaborate, the resulting critical mass could have a greater impact on improving the health of women in the city. Thus began City Women, another initiative of city church. Their motto is “making our city a better place for women and girls.” City Women contiues to grow. The 17 current ministries include:
- Fresh Hope—family-centered homes for young women and their children who have been trapped in drug abuse.
- House of Nathan—a home for young women fleeing domestic violence and homelessness.
- Shine—an eight-week discipleship training course to help young women to learn how to live godly lives in a broken society.
- Collective Shout—a campaign to reduce pornography and challenge corporations, advertisers, and media outlets which objectify women and sexualize girls for marketing purposes.
- Emily’s Voice—a pro-life movement to recruit sponsors of unborn children and change a pro-death culture’s view of the unborn as Wilberforce changed his culture’s perception of slavery.
- Bella G—a line of clothing that will highlight the beauty and dignity of young women.
These are just some of the ways that the city church through City Women is helping to bring hope and dignity to women and transformation to the city.
We need city churches like Toowoomba’s, and initiatives like these, all over the world. Indeed, this is just the beginning. A city church could start … cityenterprise to band the business community together to market products that edify the community, to encourage family wages in the market place, to reduce corruption, and the objectification of the people. cityart encouraging the poets, painters, writers, and musicians to speak prophetically to the city and provide an entry point of beauty and godly culture to the life of the city. cityhealth, Christians in health care professions banding together for strategic relationships to improve the health of the citizens. cityjustice, Christian lawyers and legal professionals developing and adjudicating laws that bring justice to the community, strengthen families, and help promote health in the market place.
May the churches begin to look outside their walls, banding together across denominational lines, with other churches, to create an ongoing celebration of the coming of the kingdom of God to the market place and public squares of our cities. May “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth – in Toowoomba, and your city, as it is in heaven.
– Darrow Miller