Living in the city is hard.
There are more inconveniences and risks. It’s a fact. (Why else would living in a suburb be a part of the American Dream?) And because of the inherent difficulty of urban dwelling we see exponentially more Christians driving into the nearest city for service projects or signing up for week-long mission trips than we see believers moving into the city for incarnational, missional living.
As a person who has greatly benefited from mission teams serving our church plant I can attest that their week-long presence does multiply our ability to canvass a neighborhood or throw a block party, but in reality, their combined drop-in service pales in comparison to what one full-time, resident believer could do.
More than anything else the city needs Christians—human containers of the Holy Spirit—to come and dwell in its midst. People need the incarnational presence of Jesus in their lives, ultimately in the form of the Holy Spirit, but first in the form of you and me. People who are ambassadors commissioned to the world, individuals blessed to be a blessing, and flavor to the city with the salt of our lives.
The problem of sin has universal context, yes, but it also has specific context. Our distance (at best) creates a barrier and (at worst) sends a message. Nearness, on the other hand, levels a plane, creates instant commonality.
The city needs people willing to draw near — nearer than the suburbs. Skeptics need to rub shoulders with believers. Muslims need to consistently run into Christians at the park. Atheists need to see the out-workings of faith in their neighbor’s daily life. Struggling neighborhoods and schools need people who can see redemption from afar and will pay taxes in an area desperate for funds.
If we, with hearts after God and personal experiences of His presence, can daily forget his love and nearness how can we expect those far from God to draw continually nearer to Him through our occasional service and words of truth?
My neighbors need to see the mystery of our Gospel falling like manna every morning. They need a daily, physical reminder of the God we speak of. “What is this grace?” “How can they, how do they live with such forgiveness … faith?” They need to see it in my smile and greeting when they’ve once again parked entirely too close to my car and it takes me backing up and pulling forward 16 times to drive away. They need to see me correct my naughty kids with patience and love. They need to see the faithfulness and tenderness of my husband. Everyday. They need to chew on the mystery of the Gospel on the subway, in the laundromat, at Chipotle.
Extending a hand to the most strategic places for Kingdom advancement shouldn’t require such a reach or have to cover so many miles or take such strain for a common connection. It needs to occur organically in the mess and rhythm of everyday life.
Look at our Jesus, who laid aside his rights and comfort to dwell with the needy. He took on flesh, he walked in crowds, went to festivals, dined in sinful homes, he bridged the barrier, he understood.
I certainly don’t mean to discourage you from taking domestic mission trips. Please continue to do so. But perhaps make one goal of the trip to be equipping yourself or your child or your mentee for life in a city. Build long-term relationships with the indigenous congregation so that your church knows they have an extended family on the ground, ready to welcome them in if they do decide to move. You could plan opportunities to send college students in your church to serve throughout their summer, blessing the plant and creating city literacy for the student. You could begin to imagine what it might look like to relocate at retirement.
Because, women, for too long we have been the hold-outs. For too long we have been too scared or clung too closely to comfort. We, who are the more natural nurturers of relationships. We, who in general are more involved in the community. We, who have the built-in bridge builders of children. We have been the ones to stake flags in the suburbs where people are more like us and where sin is less open and flagrant.
It’s time to stop nursing fears and valuing self-protection over truly effective ministry. If God lays it on your heart to reach a city or a people group evaluate what that would truly take and consider the One who is calling you. He’s worthy of your discomfort. His plans and provision are trustworthy.
It’s time to be incarnational. It’s time to be brave. It’s time to go all the way in instead of dipping our toes. Women can. Women should.
Published May 31, 2016