Monday, June 2, 2008
A City Church Thought Experiment
This is the sixth post in a chain blog started by Alan Knox on the city church. I have been very encouraged by the other links/posts in this chain, and I hope my post will add something to the discussion - even if it ends up only serving as an example of how not to proceed with the city church!
This topic is of great interest to me, and I have previously written about it here several times before:However, before I started this blog, I wrote and emailed a thought experiment on the city church to over two dozen friends, many of them pastors and elders, as merely one young man's brainstorming about one possible way to hypothetically facilitate the revival of the citywide church. That was nearly six years ago, but I have finally posted that thought experiment below, virtually unchanged.
For what it's worth, I was raised in a conservative Presbyterian (PCA) church in Monroe, LA (where my parents, who grew up Southern Baptist, "became Reformed" through a small, new PCA mission church shortly after college). When I went to college in Idaho - where I lived when I wrote the following thought experiment - I joined a Reformed Evangelical (CREC) church. When my wife & I moved back to Louisiana, we joined a conservative Episcopal parish/diocese. Eventually, we moved back to our home church, which incidentally recently went from PCA to CREC, bringing us full circle (and then some). My church background definitely influenced my thoughts below, but I would be remiss to omit the disclaimer that the views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of my past or present churches, or their local or denominational leadership. So, without further ado...
Date: 12 August 2002---------------------------------------------------
Subject: city church thought experiment
I would appreciate any input you have on the following thought experiment. Let me begin with a quote:
...[In] the overall scheme of things, the associations between local churches (whether Presbyterian, Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Orthodox, Methodist, Episcopal, etc) are more important than the association of the local Presbyterian church with its denomination's General Assembly. How this implication is to be worked out practically in the relationships between local churches is precisely the ecumenical difficulty and the possibility for ecumenical progress."Precisely the ecumenical difficulty and the possibility for ecumenical progress." That is well said, and it gives me hope, as well as a challenge. I find that church problems constantly motivate me to seek solutions. I have been brainstorming for a while now on the New Testament multi-congregation city churches and their implications for today, and I have come up with a few ideas, although it remains to be seen whether my ideas are any good or not. (For a succinct overview of the NT city church, see Mark Horne's "The Pastorate and the Presbytery.")
- Joel Garver, "Catholicity and Authority"
My most recent idea is of a parachurch ministry, or at least initially parachurch, called something like "The Church in Monroe, Louisiana [or whatever city] Ministries." This ministry could serve as a forum for conferences and seminars; could host meetings to discuss individual congregations' plans and difficult discipline cases; and perhaps most importantly, could help coordinate gatherings for prayer and worship, local charity, fellowship, festivals that make the local Mardi Gras parade look thin in comparison, etc, etc. As long as it remained a parachurch ministry, its doctrinal position would need to be fairly basic and ecumenical, e.g. affirming biblical infallibility and the historic creeds (Apostles', Nicene, etc) - simple affirmations that would nonetheless cause concern in some local heterodox churches.
This city church ministry would be different from the local ministers' association (though the two would cooperate) because it would have a director (and perhaps a board) whose whole vision and purpose would be to promote and build up the city church. This director would be the kind of man who, among other traits, could be trusted and respected by many local churches. He would probably have varied past experience in the different branches of the church and the different sectors of society. He would not be the senior pastor of one of the local congregations, but perhaps an associate pastor, chaplain, or teaching minister ("doctor of the church"), thus having more time to devote to the city church ministry and being less likely to promote the interests of one particular congregation. Long term, the ministry would be well served by a larger staff and facility - a facility that would ideally exhibit beauty, breadth, and strength. I have in mind something like the Biedenharn Museum & Gardens [image source], but I'm getting ahead of myself....
I'd like to think that, eventually, perhaps after a few generations, such a ministry would take on a life of its own as the local churches and leaders began working together. I can imagine its director or one of the local church leaders naturally earning a sort of primacy based on honor, age, wisdom, and caregiving among the churches (i.e. I would not be surprised or alarmed if the city church gradually, naturally developed and recognized episcopal leaders). With the Lord's blessing, such a ministry would organically grow into a city church (or presbytery or diocese) that would be closer to the biblical model than any of our current church polities. At that point, it would cease to be a parachurch ministry and would become an interchurch, transdenominational affirmation of the reality that, biblically speaking, exists as "the church in Monroe, Louisiana" (or, again, whatever city). It would become an ecumenical ekklesia - an assembly of the people of God who happen to inhabit the same vicinity - and these people of God would be assembled according to His terms, not ours.
Anyway, this is one of my visionary dreams. I do not pretend to have all the answers. In some ways, I'm hesitant about staking so much on a parachurch ministry; in other ways, I think it might be the most strategic route. Nonetheless, tongue-in-cheek, do bear in mind that my last name is Amos: "I'm not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, but a simple shepherd and gardener - and yet the Lord told me to prophesy" (7:14 paraphrase). Seriously, though, if the Lord wants this (or something like it) to happen, I trust that He will make it happen; and if so, I hope that He will use you and me, at least in part, toward that end.
Please let me know if you have any thoughts.
PS: By the way, I originally wrote most of the above as an email reply to my friend Rick Capezza, who blogs at capezza.org/beautifulfeet. Rick had recently linked Jim Jordan's related article, "The Dominion Church," which also suggests practical steps of the more immediately applicable variety for recovering the geographically-oriented church.
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City Church Chain
Link 1: "City Church - A Chain Blog" by Alan Knox
Link 2: "City Church: Meeting" by Charlie Wallace
Link 3: "Roadblocks on the Path to City Church" by David Rogers
Link 4: "The Major Roadblock to a City Church" by Steve Sensenig
Link 5: "The Resurrection of the City Church: Who Will Move the Stone?" by Paul Grabill
Link 6: "A City Church Thought Experiment" by Jon Amos
Link 7: "The Restoration of the City or Locality Church and Apostolic Leadership" by James Goetz
Link 8: "Unity and the Church in a City" by Alan Knox
Link 9: ?
jon :: link :: comment ::