Christians in Retreat? Why the Church prefers Tulsa to New York
and finally to Rome.
In fact Paul wanted to get to Rome so much (arguably the most influential city in the known world) that he allowed himself to get arrested just so he could appeal to Caesar as a Roman citizen and catch a free ride there. The Book of Acts finishes with Paul’s impact being so great that he is even sharing the gospel with those in Caesar’s household.
Paul reached cities and people of influence so the gospel could spread to, and transform, the world… a strategy that has possibly been lost by a large portion of Christian leaders today.
I shared in church on Sunday morning about a Christian radio program I listened to sometime ago where they were interviewing a Jewish man who had become a Christian. The gentleman was critiquing the “retreat” mentality Christians in America had developed by congregating in cities that little to no influence either in the country or the world.
“Look at the Jewish community in America,” he said, “they are maybe 1 or 2 percent of the country but excerpt a much larger influence in the culture than their small percentage would suggest because they intentionally impact the influential cities in the country. Where do you find large Jewish populations in America?
Cities that shape the world!
By contrast what cities do you think of when you think of Christian influence… the Christian “Meccas” in America?
Colorado Springs ?”
As I was sharing this story my friend who was translating my talk into Chinese for our Cantonese speakers quickly translated Washington DC, New York, and Los Angeles, but when I got to Wheaton, Tulsa, and Colorado Springs he paused and looked at me not quite sure how to translate.
My case in point. The translator was struggling in saying, as was the audience in understanding, the meaning behind the names of cities they had never heard of before. Christians in America have, by and large, clustered around cities that have little to no influence in the country and are scarcely recognizable in the world.
Lets face it, it’s easier to get established in places where everyone is already mostly on the Christian page to begin with. When Tammy and I were church planting in Boulder Colorado I’ll be the first to say it was hard. Many times we were tempted to give up and try planting a church “somewhere easier.” Often when someone while traveling would hear that I was a pastor in Colorado they would remark, “Oh, in Colorado Springs?”
“No, in Boulder.” I would reply.
Their face would change especially if they knew the culture of Boulder. “Boulder, that’s a pretty liberal town. It must be tough. You should go to Colorado Springs, it’s easier down there to start a church.”
Easier? Yep I suppose it would be. And I wonder where we all would have been if Paul had not been compelled to reach Rome and had instead decided to set up a little church in Galilee Springs?
One of the things that attracted Tammy and I back to Hong Kong was just how influential the city is. It has been called the “New York” of Asia and now that it is part of China again it carries a tremendous amount of influence into the largest populated country in the world. I consider sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ here a real privilege.
I realize not everyone is “wired” for living in a big city but there needs to be a shift in some quarters where Christian leaders are ready to embrace influential cities and occupy influential positions.
And now here is where I’m REALLY going to get into trouble!
I’d like to suggest that we probably need less Christian leaders getting Bachelor degrees in “Cross-cultural missions something something” (where do they get these degree names from?) from a Bible college no one has ever heard of and more Bachelors in Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government. We probably need less “Masters of Divinity” from some online seminary and more “Masters of Education” from the University of Michigan. In times past people who had these credentials and occupied these jobs were seen as the ones who “pay the church bills”. I believe more and more these are the people that will bring Christ Life into areas traditional pastors and missionaries would not be able to reach.
If we are going to partner with the Lord in seeing this world transformed for his glory, we will need to start thinking about developing the skills and tools necessary; skills and tools that transform lives and the environment around us . And it begins with an attitude of engagement and not retreat.
It might mean a little more London, New York, and Sydney…and maybe a little less Scarborough, Little Rock, and Alice Springs!
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