Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Church Gate

In our city (Toronto), we have been praying for city transformation. Earlier I listed the Key Indicators of a Transformed City. We are attempting to establish these indicators for our city. Part of the process is to identify "gates" of the city. As an organization (PrayGTA) we are attempting to outline some of those gates in our regular updates. We decided to focus on one gate every month and wanted to begin with the gate that is (or should be) the gatekeeper for the rest of the gates ...

The Church Gate

As we continue to look at the gates of the city, at the beginning of the year we want to focus on one of the most significant gate in the city – the Church gate. In Matthew 16 Jesus says that he will build his church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. If (as we said before) these gates are spiritual a couple of things become clear. There are gates of evil (the gates of Hades – places where the influence of hell is peddled) as well as gates of good or of heaven (where the influence of God is manifest). Because the gates of Hades are not able to overcome the Church, the Church gate is foundational to understanding the spiritual makeup of the city and foundational to the advancement of wisdom and righteousness (the Kingdom of God) in our city.

We have become accustomed to view the Church as either the local church (a single church congregation) or as the Church universal (the worldwide body of Christ) or sometimes as the church in a nation or region (the Greek Orthodox church or the church in America). In this last century, and going back to at least the Reformation, the church has been viewed more denominationally and local churches have gained some of their identity from their associated theological distinctives. National and international associations of like-minded groups (like the National Association of Evangelicals, or even the World Council of Churches) gather to address certain issues and try to make some national and regional impact, but is this effective or efficient in helping to transform communities?

Although the local church is vital for effective evangelism and discipleship, and has a level of Kingdom impact in its own neighbourhood, it cannot meet the complex needs of the city by itself. Today as Western, postmodern culture begins to disengage from (and become more hostile towards) its Christian foundations, and as denominationalism becomes increasingly irrelevant, a new pattern for bonding together as Christians must emerge.

Instead of co-operating at the denominational, national or global level, we need to begin to see the church becoming effective at the city-wide level. This is where transformation can be ignited. It is in the city Church that people can begin to see the unified body of Christ effecting measurable change in a geographic area. The vision of one “Church of the city” that meets in many congregations, is becoming a necessity. The key elements that need to be set in place for the city Church (or the Church Gate) to become a reality are many but they must include: a functional unity of believers, a relational bond between pastors and leaders, the emergence of a city eldership (comprised of humble, servant leaders), the articulation of a clear vision for the city, a commitment to passionate, unified prayer and measurable outcomes.

There are problems that arise in trying to envision and accomplish such a task. Cities can be large and diverse. Communication, language, administration and even transportation through the city are all challenges to be faced. Churches and Christians have a track record of competing for resources instead of sharing them. Unity among the many streams of the Church faces significant theological challenges. Establishing a cohesive vision for the whole church in a particular city is a daunting task. There are still strong vestiges of denominationalism and theological idiosyncrasies (resulting in isolationalism) that need to be overcome. And the time pressures faced by busy pastors leave little energy for a citywide focus. Our culture also resists the movement towards a revitalized Christianity and there is a spiritual darkness (the gates of Hades) blinding the minds of people and a demonic oppression attempting to maintain strongholds that exert influence over many aspects of city life.

The hope of city transformation is invigorating, but how do we measure city transformation? Part of the task is recognizing what a well-run city looks like. We all want to live in neighbourhoods that are safe and free of discrimination. We want our schools to be places where real learning takes place. We want our justice system to serve everyone fairly. We want economic opportunity to be available to citizens of every class, kind and condition. We want people to be set free from the binding and blinding oppression of destructive habits, substances and ideologies. We want our leaders to act in wisdom to make righteous decisions. And most of all we want people to hear and respond to a call to radical discipleship - one that fills our city with transformed people who truly follow, and are filled with the life and love of Jesus. Is it possible? Can a community or a whole city be transformed? We certainly believe it is possible - but to get there requires the ongoing transformation of individuals, of congregations and of the Church of the city.

Part of our task at PrayGTA is to encourage the Church in the city to fulfill its role as spiritual gatekeepers. We do that through facilitating strategic intercession seeking to understand God’s redemptive purposes for our city, equipping intercessors and co-ordinating regional prayer gatherings. Hopefully we can also provide timely updates on upcoming events and link to resources and research to help the Church pray more effectively.

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