I am not a church planter. I am not an elder of a church. I believe this should be said at the outset, lest anyone give my opinion more credit than it deserves. However, I do have a teaching ministry at my church, and the joy and heartache of shepherding a small group of people. All of that to say: I was really excited to read this book and see how I could grow or change to further impact the people I am currently leading.
Darrin Patrick and Matt Carter wrote For the City which reads like an introduction to missional ecclesiology. They drive the point home over and over that they are calling for pastors and church planters to be a church that is for their city. They define this as being a church that
speaks the truth of the gospel and is not afraid to uphold a biblical worldview and moral standard. Such a church proclaims the truths of Scripture with passion, clarity, and boldness. At the same time, though, this is a church that commits itself to seeking the shalom, the flourishing of the city. This means seeking the shalom of the people they live in community with, living sacrificially and using their gifts, time, and money to seek the peace and prosperity of their neighbors. (26)
Their passion for the masses found in cities is understandable, laudable, and frankly should be on our hearts more and more, but to actually be in a city is not necessary to appropriate and grow from what they have written in this book (as they acknowledge, cf., 26). Anyone, in any church context can be challenged by what this.
These pastors are pleading for Christians to stop seeing their church as a “holy huddle” and instead to be entranced with the God-given mission of reaching the lost and seeing God's peace and grace overflow to those around them. We are called to do the same job that the prophets and the apostles did, call people to repent and live their lives under the rule of their king. If you are swept away by this vision, this will not be the only book you read. It was not meant to be. But if you believe there must be something more than a stale, inward focus for your church, then I think there are few places that would be as good as a place to start.
The chapter I appreciated most was written by Darrin Patrick on communities. As a small group leader, I know how easy it is to make the bible study the end-all and be-all of your small group event. But most leaders who develop small groups would say there is more to it than that. We all know that a small group is made to be an opportunity for people to practice the “one anothers” actually with one another. Patrick challenges us to see these groups as possible church plants that are radically oriented towards the radical proclamation of the gospel to a lost world. He argues that it is precisely when we stop focusing on ourselves and begin to focus on helping a lost and hurting world that we will actually begin to do the one anothers that we've been trying to do. It is only when we as Christians are brought to the “end” of ourselves that we begin relying on God and he most powerfully works through us.
The one thing I wish they would have spent more time on is how they see the role of partnerships with groups that do not believe the gospel. I'm not against that completely, but to see how the gospel is the one unifying factor in this whole book (as it should be) and to understand what it means to go from dead to alive in Christ, to know that everything else pales by comparison, how are we to understand partnering with groups that do not hold the gospel? The chapter on Equipping touches on this and other “sticky” spots as they seek the well-being of their cities. What is clear is that those partnerships were not taken lightly and without much thought, but I was still left unsure how I would make those same decisions.
This book will challenge you to question your interaction with your city and how you view the role of your church. You might not be left without questions, but you will certainly be blessed by how God has revealed his heart to bring people to himself as seen in these two churches.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.