Ever since the concept of “city church” was explored as a major theme at the 2008 NZ Christian Network Congress, I have become even more convinced about its importance for New Zealand. Jesus’ prayer for unity “that the world will know …” has a clear application among churches in a city (or town or nation) as well as within the individual churches themselves.
But I am equally convinced about the importance of pastors, ministers, and other Christian leaders (e.g. local government, business, and education), discerning how God might work this out in their particular town or city, rather than trying to apply any one prescription or formula.
We have put a lot of emphasis to date on city-wide prayer summits and regional roundtables. These are still important and we look forward to many more in months and years to come.
But God can always be doing different things with different groups, so it is useful to consider alternatives.
Two alternatives which emerged in forums at the end of 2008 are strategic planning and conversations. Some groups are “primed for action”. This doesn’t mean they don’t pray or converse together. It may be that they feel they already do these in other settings. Or maybe they are wired to sense or outwork the presence of God in different ways. Whatever the reason, they are groups ready to think through issues of strategic planning, and move to action.
Other groups may need to grow relationships through conversation. This is a highly focused activity where significant topics are addressed (personal, church, or theology), usually with the help of a facilitator, in a way which builds trust and intimacy within a group.
The common focus in all these is growing relationships rather than a fixed idea of what the group might do. NZ Christian Network is able to point groups to a number of gifted people who can assist in any of these areas. Of course, groups of ministers in a town or city do not exist in isolation. Most ministers are part of a denominational or network structure and bring something of this tradition into their local grouping.
There are also parallel groups of Christian leaders called by God to specialise in particular areas such as disabilities, sport, prayer, marketplace, or politics (to name just a few). God is at work in these activities as well as in the “city church”, so it is good for all these groups to look for ways to be connected with each other (cf. “the hand cannot say to the eye ‘I don’t need you’”).
I believe there is also a need for practitioners and theologians to be working closely together. Theology not grounded in real lives and experience can fall prey to abstractness and irrelevance. But activity not grounded in good theology can also fall well short of the mark.
Let us pray that God will continue to guide all those involved in leadership in this area, “so that the world will know …”