“This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce…seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it.'” [jeremiah.29]
I heard Matt Carter, Pastor at The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, expound on this passage. The entire message was fantastic but one thing stuck with me. He said there were 4 types of churches, 4 ways a church can relate to the city they find themselves in. I want to share those 4 types of churches with you and share my thoughts on each.
1. In the city.
This type of church just exists. Honestly, if they closed their doors tomorrow, no one outside the church would know. Some like to say that this only applies to old, traditional, existing churches. But, a church, no matter how long they have been around, can fall into this slump. They keep doing what they’ve always done just because it’s what they’ve always done. They settle for “church” being a Sunday morning meeting. They hope to survive. The city is just their final resting place.
2. Against the city.
The city becomes the enemy. The city is out to get the church. There is a war to be waged. It’s a us against them mentality. All those terrible, God-hating people over there and all of us good, God-loving people over here. The church assumes a posture of being the victim. The city is siding with the dark side…out to destroy God’s work. So, the church begins to speak out against the city. Attacking city officials. Criticizing every move. Sometimes the church communicates their attack loud and clear, while other times they communicate in with a clever new sermon series or mailer.
3. With the city.
This happens far too often. The culture is shaping the church rather than the church shaping the culture. Since this is cool, acceptable and trendy in today’s culture then we must implement it. Sometimes I feel like very little prayer goes into the decisions a church makes…they just look around at the culture and copy whatever it is they see. It does seem that the church will reach more people if we look more like the things they enjoy…but I stand by this…people need the church to be different then the world around them.
4. For the city.
The Lord said to the prophet Jeremiah, “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce…seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it.” Settle down. Commit to a group of people. Seek the peace and prosperity (success) of that city. Pray for it. Maybe an easier way to say it would be, “ROOT FOR YOUR CITY!” Now, what’s amazing about the Lord’s command to His people is the timing of the command. The Lord commands His people to root for the very city that was holding them captive. If anything, logic would tell us that the church should assume a posture of being a victim and plan a counter attack. This is not God’s command though…God’s command is to love the city that you find yourself in. The word peace might be the most important word in this command. The word peace in it’s most basic sense means, “God’s is here. God is with us.” A church that is for the city is a church that remembers that God has not abandoned the city, therefore the church should not abandon the city. The church should be the city’s biggest fan.
So, what kind of church are you?
How does your church relate to the city you find yourself in?