by Fred Lynch
“In any real city, you walk. You know? You brush past people. People bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.” – Detective Graham Waters (Don Cheadle), “Crash”
The 2004 movie “Crash” is a good tool to inspire dialogue about diversity, the realities within urban America and the struggles of its residents. Its description of Los Angeles has become the American norm. Our cities’ residents are touch-
resistant and desperately alone.
Urban church leaders experience the irony of being alone in an overcrowded existence. We navigate in a civilization short on civility — multitudes of human beings not connecting with each other. Serving in such a high-risk atmosphere takes its toll on ministers as they learn how to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
The danger lies within the synapse, before thoughts translate into action. The power of the Holy Spirit is constantly needed to understand pain yet initiate wellness, identify a threat yet promote harmony, recognize the hustle yet walk in peace. I don’t know any leader called to the city who doesn’t instinctively want to escape the madness. At the same time, each leader compulsively seeks to discover the divine image of what God wants that city to become.
This duality — this love-hate relationship — with the cities we serve reminds me of Paul’s confession in which he wishes he were “cursed and cut off from Christ” if it could help save his own people (Romans 9:3–4).
I have often found myself putting my family and me in harm’s way to save my people. Risks have included moving into the hood, sending my children to public schools and doing life with people I’ve pledged to reach. This isn’t a social experiment. This is my life, and I only get one chance at it.
God has shown Himself in wonderful ways. I could share story after story of His providence and presence, but I sometimes experience challenges that seem like cracks in His plan. These difficulties cause me to wonder: Is it worth it?
There is a reason that so many have left the urban wastelands for what they consider greener pastures. Not a day goes by that I don’t dream of greener pastures, but my dreams include the green spreading into the city and overtaking the worst areas.
Last winter, I found myself driving on a snowy day through one of the roughest parts of South Dallas. As I looked around, I was astonished at how beautiful the city appeared. The snow covered the dirty streets and the unkempt yards, and it gave me a view of what the city could look like.
I thought of the statement in 1 Peter 4:8 that “love covers over a multitude of sins.” It hit me that God gives us brief glimpses of glorious possibilities if we lovingly commit to look into areas that need His love the most.
If all of this that started in a garden (Genesis 2:8) will one day end up in a city (Revelation 21:10), then how do we recapture God’s definition of the city?
In one of my favorite passages (Ezekiel 3:12–27), Ezekiel seemingly is sent against his will into a community of refugees, and God saves Israel by doing a transformational work in Ezekiel as well as through him.
Into the City
If you really want to see God move, get where He’s needed the most. We must become incarnate in our mission or face the alternative: becoming irrelevant holders of religious artifacts.
Ezekiel was lifted and taken somewhere he was dead set against going. The deciding factor was God’s hand on him (v.14). Like Ezekiel, I may not like where I am, but if God is with me, then I can make it!
Let’s not forget that the One who called us is with us. His hand gets heavier the closer we get to where He’s taking us.
In the Moment
Before Ezekiel could speak to the refugees, God made him temporarily “silent and unable to rebuke them” (v.26).
Your presence —- being in the moment with those you serve —- will far outshine your greatest sermon. In fact, your presence is the greatest sermon you’ll ever preach.
Made a Watchman
The job of the church isn’t to police culture but to be a witness of God’s truth about culture. When God elevates us to the point where we watch over the souls of the people He loves, we don’t have to battle to be heard because His sheep will hear His voice in our voices.
Pastor Fred Lynch is the director of urban mission for the River Conference and a Christian hip-hop pioneer who founded the group P.I.D. (Preachers in Disguise) in 1987.
After time in the presence of the people, Ezekiel was granted the office of a watchman on a wall (v.16). When you become lifted up with insight among the people to whom you are called, God gives you the ability to see things from heaven’s perspective. This curious dynamic kicks in like a special vision that enables you to see when others are blind.
Watchmen don’t just watch. They also communicate. Share what you see with those who are blinded to God’s view.
Why can’t I win the lottery and be done with this daily bread? If I won the lottery, I wouldn’t be as able to connect with the people to whom God is sending me because they’ve never won the lottery (although statistics show they finance it). The city is filled with few winners and far too many losers.
As an urban church planter, I am well acquainted with loss. At times, I’ve even questioned if I’ve lost my mind for taking up such a risky venture. I am also aware of the greatest gifts of God’s strong hand (v.14) and whispers of what He’s going to do in the city.
God wants you to experience a real city where you walk and brush past people, people bump into you and you touch each other. You might even experience a crash and feel something.0