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How the church can and must reach Dublin?

10 October 2018
Dublin, Ireland

Each year, around the church birthday, I write an update on things we have learned, or where we are going, partly for my own sake (to track the journey of planting a church in Dublin) and partly because I hope it might help others (who knows if that is true!). You can read the previous years’ reflections here.

We’re 4 years old as a church now and so we have some experience and we have seen some trends in terms of what it means to do ministry in an urban centre. On our last leadership retreat day we spent some time chewing over 2 short Tim Keller talks on Urban Ministry from the 2010 Lausanne conference.

Here is a summary of the talks and then some applications for us as we look to become a church-planting-church in Dublin.

Why must we reach cities?

Keller’s first talk outlines that cities are important for three reasons

  1. Culturally – cities dictate culture and if we want our culture to be affected by Jesus’ values we must reach them.
  2. Missiologically – cities are places to reach 4 distinct people groups
    1. The next generation
    2. Unreached people
    3. The cultural elites (the movers and shakers in all sectors)
    4. The poor
  3. Viscerally (of the heart) – When God dialogues with Jonah in Jonah 4 he argues that Jonah should care about the people more than he does about his precious plant. Why? The city is full of more people than plants. God loves people more than plants. People are moving into cities at a faster rate than churches are being planted in cities. So we need to plant churches in cities. It’s a logical argument (the numbers make sense) and an emotional argument (people matter!).

Dublin, Ireland

How we can reach cities?

In Keller’s second talk he has 2 big ideas on how we can reach cities – firstly, ‘contextualised churches’ and secondly, ‘gospel movements’.

(1) Contextualized Churches

Cities are unique and therefore churches must be unique. Keller outlines a number of ways churches must adapt to the uniqueness of cities:

  • Cultural sensitivity – we must be patient with the constant charge of being racially insensitive. It’s inevitable in a city centre church which is very multi-cultural that people will rub up against one another. Be patient. Expect it. Learn how to handle it.
  • Integration of faith & work – work is very important in cities so we must stop taking people out of ‘work-world’ into ‘church-world’ but instead equip people to be Christians in their work.
  • Open to change and disorder – urbanites like diversity and innovation so churches mustn’t become static or become too orderly. Or as Kathy Keller puts it in her 30 year reflection on ministry ‘church as usual will not work’
  • Intentional evangelism – since cities contain a vast diversity of people and world-views, we’ll need to adapt our evangelistic approach and be well trained in different types of gospel presentations and apologetics – for example reaching a traditional Irish Catholic is very different from reaching a young urban Dub who feels they have thrown off the ‘shackles’ of religion. Dublin is full of elder and younger brothers and they need different evangelistic approaches.
  • Famous for the care of the poor – so the people in the city don’t just think you’re about increasing your tribe. We want to get a reputation in the city that even though people may disagree (even despise) what we believe, they say “our city can’t do without you…you do so much good in your care for the poor” and that care must be genuine.
  • Focus on the arts community – artists are unique and cities are full of them. You have to listen to and empower them rather than annoy and hinder them.
  • Protect indigenous relationships – cities happen through relationships and relationships take years to develop so don’t take indigenous people out of the city to train them for ministry. Train them in the context.

Dublin Crowd

City Reaching Movements

Secondly Keller asks the question, how can we get it so the body of Christ in the city is growing faster than the population of the city? He suggests a number of things that churches and para-church organisations can work together on.

  • 5-6 church planting movements – One church network can’t do it all!
  • A network of prayer – amongst church, para-church and Christian leaders
  • Evangelism specialists – especially on campus and with young adults
  • Justice and mercy ministries – Christians in the city working together.
  • Vocational connections – arts, business, sport, mothers etc. Mentors and networks.
  • Faith & work ministries
  • Institutions that keep families in the cities (e.g Jews in NYC)
  • Leaders connecting and praying together

Applications for Christ City Church

As a church we have just spent 4 weeks in the book of Jonah to consider some of these themes of what it means to reach the city. And as we discussed Keller’s points at our leadership retreat, there were some encouragements (we’re on the right lines) and some challenges (we have a lot of gaps!).

Here were some applications we made (in no particular order)

(A) Cross-cultural training – we must train people on how to interact with different cultures. We have to learn to be incredibly patient with the constant charge of being racially and cultural insensitive and allow for lots of discussion, debate, listening and learning. We mustn’t become cliquey.

(B) Celebrate and train people in ‘secular work’ – we must continue to celebrate, affirm and train those in ‘secular work’ that they are doing God’s work and that the pinnacle of the Christian life is not Christian ministry. I have written some stuff on this and reflected on my personal experience before, so this is a big passion of mine.

(C) Envision, support and inspire families/parents to adapt – raising a family in the city can be costly and many parents run to the countryside or go back to be with their parents. However, there are great benefits as outlined in these articles – ‘it takes a city to raise a child’, ‘the advantages of raising children in the city‘ and, ‘why the city is a wonderful place to raise children‘.

(D) Challenge a consumer-church mentality – Cities are transient places where people come to take what they want and then leave (studies, job, relationships, visas/permits, career development, an experience etc). So Dublin is full of people who want to consume and then leave. This attitude infects the church and prevents us being a church that is for the good of the city; a church that serves the city. I talk more about this in the CCC blog – ‘Staying In The Big Bad City’ and did a our whole preaching series on this earlier in the year.

(E) Help parents change their expectations of church…and ensure the church provides for the needs of parents – When you become a parent, your expectations of church, as with all life, must change. Suddenly it’s not about you anymore…it’s about the kids! If you have a ‘consumer’ attitude to church you’ll soon find it is not easy to ‘consume’ and unless you prioritise church community, service and belonging above ‘getting my hit of songs and sermon on a Sunday’ you’ll find you drift from church. But Keller also suggests we need to think of support structures for families that enable them to stay in the cities, like the Jews have done in NYC. Cities are costly and often exhausting, so we need some thinking on how we can practically help. Hiring a childrens-worker and developing our provision for infants, children and teenagers is something high on our discussion list. We want to take as much weight from parents as is healthy and possible.

(F) Help people who are busy and under pressure learn good sabbath rhythms.This is partly linked to the ‘training people in secular work’ point above but broader. Cities are generally quite relentless and exhausting places. So we must teach Sabbath and not overload people with church jobs or meetings. The rhythm of church must be sustainable and life-giving and not just add to the pressures. But we must also apply grace to the heart so people can trust God, rest in God, switch off and say “no” as their value comes from him, not their work.

(G) We need people to stick around and make long-term decisions for Dublin Jeremiah 29:4-8 – this is ultimately what will change us from being consumers to being servers. The advice God gave the exiles in Babylon is exactly the same advice I sense he would give to young Christians today who are new to Dublin and CCC – build houses, settle down; plant gardens, marry, have children, work, pray for the city, invest in the city”.  Make life, career and family choices based on the kingdom of God in Dublin, not based on the kingdom of you, career progression and comfort. Again, I reflect more on this in ‘Staying In The Big Bad City’

(H) People want long-lasting friends who they know are sticking around. A challenge I have heard repeatedly is ‘I got to know so-and-so but they left after a year’. Or ‘I was building a trusting relationship with a girl in my city group but she left town for another job’ – and so those who are long-termers in Dublin can feel as if they were ‘used’ for their friendship and that they never build good friends. I always want us to be an open-armed church who loves and welcomes all. However, for us to be that church and people not to burn out, long-term friends and community must form. People need to know others are sticking around.

One Final Thought – compelled by the love of Christ

I am sure there are more things to say and reflect upon, but these were the main takeaways from the leaders’ retreat. As you read the list above it can feel daunting and scary. We just reflected how Jonah wanted to ‘run away’ from the city and God kept calling him back into the city. The only reason we’ll ever do this is that if we appreciate afresh the sacrifice that Jesus has made for our salvation, we’ll be willing and empowered to make sacrifices for the salvation of those in Dublin. Part of that is realising that our home is in heaven. Therefore, we can live as ‘aliens and strangers’ on earth as so many of the heroes of the Bible did.

When Paul was talking about his ministry and the many sacrifices and heartaches he had to be willing to endure for the sake of the gospel (he had to die to himself) he summarises it like this – 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

If you have any questions or feedback or are interested in talking more about this don’t hesitate to get in contact – steve@christcitychurch.ie – or do come along to our Becoming A Church-Planting-Church Seminar after the service on Sunday 14th October

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