Over the past few years my heart as a pastor has been driven by several things, one of which is a call for the church and Christians to love their city. God loves the city. In the book of Jonah, God three times refers to Nineveh as “that great city.” Nehemiah is commissioned to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city. Much of Paul’s missionary work was centered around cities. In Revelation 21, John describes heaven as a great city. I believe this also means coming alongside and supporting what is already happening in your city. This can be a large city, like Charlotte, or a small town. Size doesn’t really matter, what matters is loving and investing in the community God has placed you. Often times our churches’ outreach programs are based around events and activities the church produces and invites the city to come to. This can be very effective and in some communities may be the only thing going. The church is providing a valuable and needed service to its community. In so doing relationships are built, Jesus is introduced and disciples can be developed. Fantastic. However, the church should not limit itself to planning and producing insular events and activities. So often, cities and towns, even neighborhoods are producing and promoting community events that are healthy and vibrant. In these situations, the church has a great opportunity to come alongside, invest in and support what is already happening in their city. The goal should not be to “take over” or “christianize” these events, but to love our community, love our city and be a part of investing in our cities. From there, relationships are built, Jesus is introduced and disciples can be developed.
Over the last year, the church I pastor, Ephesus Church, has not produced any singular outreach events, but through something we call the 1:8 Initiative (Acts 1:8) we have come alongside several great community events. Our local neighborhood, Wilmore, put on Wilmore Day in the Spring. We had access to free inflatable games for the kids and a sound system that we set up and ran throughout the event to support what our neighborhood was doing. Throughout the spring and summer the other neighborhood we straddle, South End, held a monthly Gallery Crawl. We became a stop on the Gallery Crawl each month showing local artists work and having local musicians play live. Our goal was not to create a “safe” alternative to the Gallery Crawl, but to support and be a part of what South End was doing. By the end of the season we developed great support and relationships with the organizers as they realized our heart to be a part of what was already happening and not create something separate. This fall we’re loving the city of Charlotte by supporting the local NFL team the Carolina Panthers. Ephesus is only a few blocks south of Bank of America Stadium (the home of the Panthers). Last season was the first time Ephesus was its current space and the church saw the crowds and parking issues as a challenge to be overcome on home game days. This year, the church saw it as an opportunity to love the city. For the home opener, the church planned a tailgate party to celebrate the Panthers in lieu of church service that day. A young man in the church designed and produced a great looking magnet with the Panthers’ schedule on it, a bit about the church and an invitation to the tailgate party. These were passed all around the neighborhood and on opening day several folks from the neighborhood came out to eat hot dogs, play cornhole and watch the game or for some, walk a few blocks and go to the game. Throughout the season the church has continued to support the Panthers, watching the pre-game after service and watching the game together during the monthly potluck. It’s fun to watch football, but it’s also great to be a church that Loves the City! The local Fox news channel felt this was a pretty cool thing too, you can see the story they ran here.