In preparation for a conversation with a group on men this coming Friday, my thoughts seem to be gathering around Nehemiah. In fact, this book has been a pivotal narrative in my life as the Lord has often used it to move me toward full participation in municipal leadership.
His prayer after the report on Jerusalem reveals my own heart for cities:
1:3 “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.”
4 When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. 5 Then I said,
“O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, 6 listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! 7 We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.
8 “Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. 9 But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.’
10 “The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants. 11 O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me.[b] Put it into his heart to be kind to me.” NLT
After leaving my professional career as an educator to help with the build out of a large church in my hometown, I soon realized that in the thrill of growth, we as church leaders had lost focus of our mission. We had begun to focus more on the tool than the mission, the tool being our churches, the mission being discipleship of cities.
The Body of Christ, The Church versus churches, is a singular entity of many called out individuals, each endowed with the same spirit as Christ. With that spirit comes also the gift of discernment, used to determine when one is off mission. In the early church, when division occurred, brothers and sisters in Christ would come together to determine what seemed “good to them and to the Holy Ghost” and thus move forward. Even if divided, their objective was still to move the gospel to cities, places of assembly being a necessity only after conversion of cities.
My guess is that somewhere over the centuries it became more convenient to simply move forward in competitive disagreement rather than exercise true spiritual conflict resolution. I guess this worked better than burning those unwilling to agree? Something seems to have been lost over time, with organizational growth and competitive marketing taking precedent over sacrificial service to cities.
We now have numerous sects within Christianity, multiple facilities, minimal resources and a broken trust among the Body of Christ.
Our churches, though pastors occasionally pray together, seldom come together with the full intent to mend this great divide. Yet, if in fact we were of the spirit to lay down our own needs for the sake of our true mission, the segregated groups that now sit weekly in their pews might then become that formidable army of love that our cities await. With hearts one and resources strategically directed, we could better meet many of the needs now relegated to politicians and funded by tax dollars alone. The latter seldom leads to sustainable change and the Body of Christ has little opportunity to see the Great God of Heaven manifested beyond what individual churches or denominations can accomplish through their occasional benevolence in some foreign land. Meanwhile the social and spiritual infrastructure in our own land perishes while our pulpits lash out at politicians, both participating in the forfeiture of our constitutional rights and our calling to cities.
God bring us back on mission…again, like the mighty army once worthy of the name of Christ!