Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Ministry like Jeremiah (Part 1: Love the City)

God has recently prompted me to read through the book of Jeremiah. I'll admit, I wasn't too excited about the idea. This lengthy prophetic tome is filled with blistering passages about God's wrath for the sinful nations, as well as Jeremiah's suffering at the hands of his own people. Yet as I read, I am reminded over and over again of God's faithfulness, His covenantal love for His people, and the nature of ministry. It is this latter point--the nature of ministry--that I wish to unpack here more fully.

Here's what I'm learning about ministry from the prophet Jeremiah:

1. Love the city where God has placed you. Jeremiah writes a letter to the exiles who have been dragged off into Babylon, and it's a surprising message--love the city:
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Plant roots. Establish homes. Be present. Love the city you're in. Instead of viewing this season as a temporary trial--which, in a way, is true--choose to seek the welfare of the city. Many churches and ministry leaders view their city as a lost cause worthy of pity (at best) or a diabolical antagonist to their ministry and the gospel (at worst). Yet our cities are made up of people, the very same people who need the gospel and are in our church communities. To love the city is to love the people. I recently saw this fantastic talk from Rick McKinley for Q Ideas:

Rick is the pastor of Imago Dei in Portland, and I love the picture of a church choosing to love their city with passion and fervor, truly believing that the gospel, church, and culture have an intertwining almost-trinitarian relationship, weaving in and out of one another in a dance. Both Rick and Jeremiah remind us--loving the city is a critical component to gospel-centered ministry.

Years ago, when I first moved to Mesa, AZ, I did not love that city. Having just transfered from the lush diversity and quirkiness of Portland, OR, Mesa felt bland and beige as a culture. Oh I loved the people of my church family, and was devoted to the ministry I was doing with junior highers. But the city of Mesa, not so much. It took years of prayer and repentance, asking God to stir up a love in my heart for the whole city, not just the people coming to our youth group. The more I read through Scripture, the more I realized that Jesus loves the city, and if I love Jesus, then I must love what Jesus loves.

Jeremiah calls the exiles to love a hostile city. They are the enemy! This is Babylon, the very city and culture that is pictured as the opponent to God's people throughout the Bible. Yet Jeremiah still exhorts the people to love this city where God has led them, to be salt and light in a dark place. Instead of pulling a Jonah and running away from the city or calling condemnation upon their heads, Jeremiah calls for grace. Rather than throw judgment upon the city and its people, or to completely avoid and condemn culture around us, we are simply called to love and extend grace and good news to our neighbors. After all, we're going to end up in a heavenly city. Let's begin to practice heaven in our own cities today.

How can you begin to love your city more? If you don't love your city, pray that Jesus may convict your heart and stir up an affection for the city where He's placed you. He changed my heart for Mesa; I hope he'll continue to stir up a love for Langley. I keep a map of Langley on the wall above my office desk to remind me to pray for my city, to seek its prosperity and peace in the name of Jesus.

-Good News in the Neighborhood (Adam McLane, Jon Huckins).
-Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Tim Keller)

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