Small Town Jesus in the Big City

Kloof St

I’m about to move my office out of a suburb of Cape Town into the city centre. It’s an exciting time. We’re launching a congregation of Jubilee Community Church in the heart of Cape Town and we’re ready to go!

There has been, in recent years, a much-needed focus on cities. Christians have been moving steadily away from the city centres and into the suburbs, often leaving the city without a strong witness.

Yet, we’re told, that the creative culture-making heartbeat (the heart that sends its influence to the rest of our culture) is right back in the place the believers left. If we reach the cities (so the argument goes) there will be a ‘trickle down’ effect that will effect the rest of society.

Donnie Griggs, Lead Pastor at One Harbor Church, Morehead City, NC
Donnie Griggs, Lead Pastor at One Harbor Church, Morehead City, NC

Small Town Jesus by Donnie Griggs is a robust response. Griggs, who pastors a large church in Morehead City, North Carolina (a town of about nine thousand) raises a banner for the myriad of small towns that may, therefore, seem less significant.

While not denying the importance of cities, he makes a plea for the importance of mission to smaller towns. He speaks from his own experience of being known and getting to know the folk in Morehead, while seeking to build a church that cares for its community and is engaged in a wider mission.

Now, why would I spend time reading a book devoted to mission in small towns when I am about to relocate my work space into the heart of the world’s most beautiful city (I could easily support that assertion with sources, but it’s just a fact).

And – I’ll go further – why am I recommending this book to you, whatever size town you’re in, but especially if you live in a city?

Cape Town City Hall
Cape Town City Hall

Being a Good Local
Simply for this reason: that I have realised, both as I’ve been traveling into the city regularly over the last year, and as I’ve read Donnie’s book, that, in my section of the city centre, I need to become a local.

That’s not something we tend to think of in our cities. We have the dubious luxury of being anonymous much of the time. We expect speed. We expect quality. If something’s not good we complain. And we complain properly. We’ll put a bad review online. We’re helping raise standards by complaining. Griggs has a technical term for this that’s worth remembering. It is called ‘being a jerk’. Hmm. Maybe it’s time to change.

Here are a few pointers Griggs gives for being a good local in a small town. I want to encourage you to take these on board in your locality especially if you’re in the city centre. And feel free to add your own thoughts and comments below. Let’s learn from each other.

Your reputation matters in a small town
Things are really close in a village or town. Yet, in the city, you can also develop a different kind of reputation by deliberately seeking to serve those around your work space. Be different from those who rush by. Do good in the city. Be honest. Build a good reputation by being consistently compassionate.

Learn to Enjoy Small Talk
In the city, people are often in a rush. But people are also incredibly lonely. Slow down and look around. You’ll see lots of people who are alone and who would benefit from your friendship. Cape Town is not a European city. It is an African city with a lot of Europe in it. People are very open to making connections. There’s a warmth that you sometimes don’t feel in a European city. Griggs writes, that ‘always acting like you have somewhere better to be will eventually lead to unnecessarily offending’ people. That’s good for your city too, even if the rush is tolerated.

Shop Local as much as possible
He writes, ‘I would encourage you to see shopping local as an opportunity to become a good local.’ Whether it’s caterers, lunchtime appointments in the city, printing, or just where you regularly purchase coffee or church refreshments, I want the businesses in my section of Cape Town to know we’re part of the neighbourhood. We’re buying local and eating local because we are local. Griggs talks a lot about loving local food and then there’s a whole section about soft-shell crabs. Normally you’d expect an editor’s intervention but these guys in Morehead City love their soft-shell crabs.

Donnie Griggs out on the boat
Donnie Griggs out on the boat

Don’t be a Jerk
(It’s worth mentioning again) He prefaces this section helpfully by noting, ‘I’m not saying that everyone who lives in a big city is a jerk.’ Followed by the word, ‘But…’ and then so helpfully corrects how, even we as Christians, can act in an unnecessarily discourteous way when dealing with folks in a city.

But, ‘in a small town, you should take every opportunity to be kind and courteous.’

There’s a danger in city life because we probably won’t see a person again, and can therefore treat them with less respect than they deserve, especially if they’re serving us poorly. In a small town our bad responses will get known very quickly. But that behaviour is no less acceptable in the city. And will also be known. You reap what you sow. As in the town and suburb, so in the city, a Christian’s rudeness can have a deadening effect on mission.

Be a Blessing
I am taking this on board for our city site: ‘When considering how you can engage the culture of your small town with the gospel, please don’t just settle for contextualized church programs and church facilities. Love where you live and serve where you live. Let everyone know that you really care about them, whether they come to your church or not.’

Donnie has written a highly readable book with a great and simple message: be a blessing to your town. Be deliberate and consistent.

I want to add that, if you’re in the city, see your section of the city, whether you work there each day, or whether you live there, as your own locality, your own small town within the city, and act accordingly.

Small Town Jesus is available on Amazon here

Jubilee Community Church’s City Congregation will begin meeting on Sundays from 25th September, 10.30am, 33 Kloof Street, Cape Town

For a 30-Day Prayer Guide to pray for the launch of the site click here

©2016 Lex Loizides / Church History Review

 

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William Booth’s Four Keys to Church Growth

William Booth in 1884
William Booth in 1884

In 1880 William Booth, Founder of the Salvation Army, was invited to speak at the Wesleyan Methodist Conference in the UK.

This was a generous invitation since it was well known that he had left Methodism to begin a more rigorous evangelistic ministry. Although he had been operating independently for several years, his organisation had only formally adopted the name The Salvation Army three years earlier.

During his message to the conference he explained the impulse that created his evangelism and church-planting movement and gave four keys to their continued success.

A Gospel emphasis that drew non-believers and leaders to the work
‘I was told that ninety-five in every hundred of the population of our larger towns and cities never crossed the threshold of any place of worship, and I thought, ‘Cannot something be done to reach these people with the Gospel?’

Fifteen years ago I thus fell in love with the great crowds of people who seemed to be out of the pale of all Christian Churches. It seemed to me that if we could get them to think about Hell they would be certain to want to turn from it. If we could get them to think about Heaven they would want to go there. If we could get them to think about Christ they would want to rush to His open arms.

I resolved to try, and ‘The Salvation Army’ is the outcome of that resolution. In August, 1877, we had 26 Stations. We have now, in 1880, 162. In 1877, we had 35 Evangelists. We have now 285 Evangelists, or, as we now call them, Officers, and in many instances they have the largest audiences in the towns where they are at work.

We have got all those Officers without any promise or guarantee of salary, and without any assurance that when they reach the railway station to which they book they will find anybody in the town to sympathise with them. The bulk would cheerfully and gladly go anywhere.’

Key #1 The Gospel to the needy
‘If asked to explain our methods, I would say: Firstly, we do not fish in other people’s waters, or try to set up a rival sect. Out of the gutters we pick up our converts, and if there be one man worse than another our Officers rejoice the most over the case of that man.

When a man gets saved, no matter how low he is, he rises immediately. His wife gets his coat from the pawn-shop, and if she cannot get him a shirt she buys him a paper front, and he gets his head up, and is soon unable to see the hole of the pit from which he has been digged, and would like to convert our rough [meeting place] into a chapel, and make things respectable. That is not our plan. We are moral scavengers, netting the very sewers. We want all we can get, but we want the lowest of the low.’

Key #2 Contextualisation and flexibility
‘Secondly. We get at these people by adapting our measures.
There is a most bitter prejudice, amongst the lower classes, against churches and chapels. I am sorry for this; I did not create it, but it is the fact. They will not go into a church or chapel; but they will go into a theatre or warehouse, and therefore we use these places.

In one of our villages we use the pawnshop, and they gave it the name of ‘The Salvation Pawnshop,’ and many souls were saved there.

Let me say that I am not the inventor of all the strange terms that are used in The Army. I did not invent the term ‘Hallelujah Lassies.’ When I first heard of it I was somewhat shocked; but telegram after telegram brought me word that no buildings would contain the people who came to hear the Hallelujah Lassies. Rough, uncouth fellows liked the term. One had a lassie at home, another went to hear them because he used to call his wife ‘Lassie’ before he was married. My end was gained, and I was satisfied.’

Key #3 Getting new believers involved immediately in evangelism
‘Thirdly. We set the converts to work.
As soon as a man gets saved we put him up to say so, and in this testimony lies much of the power of our work.

One of our lassies was holding a meeting in a large town the other day when a conceited fellow came up to her saying, ‘What does an ignorant girl like you know about religion? I know more than you do. I can say the Lord’s Prayer in Latin.’ ‘Oh, but,’ she replied, ‘I can say more than that. I can say the Lord has saved my soul in English.”
[This comment caused loud laughter and cheering in the meeting]

Key #4 Hard work
‘Lastly, we succeed by dint of hard work. I tell my people that hard work and holiness will succeed anywhere.’[i]

Booth as a multi-site church leader
If Booth’s Salvation Army ‘stations’ in London alone were considered congregations of a multi-site church we would be celebrating him as the pastor of the largest protestant church in the 19th century.

That, of course, wasn’t his goal. He was determined to see more stations planted and more of those outside the orbit of the church’s influence coming into a relationship with God and a transformed life.

Getting the gospel to those who need it; being flexible in our strategies; including new converts in evangelism; working hard to keep moving forward into the mission.

Of course, more than these four principles were necessary to form a church-planting movement. And more than these are necessary for growing a healthy church. But how are you applying these four in your setting?

More next time…
For the first part of the story of the Salvation Army click here
©2016 Lex Loizides / Church History Review

[i] George Railton, General Booth (London: Hodder and Stoughton 1912) p.76-78