Take a Trip . . . to Your City

A couple nights ago, I shared with my Twitter friends about a strategy meeting where we are planning a mission trip to our city.  Yes, the city where most of our church members live.  Why, you might ask? Let me give you some reasons why I am compelled by this idea:

1. How many times have you heard of teams going to other cities to partake in service projects or community development where there is ministry to the poor and needy, urban revitalization, caring for children (especially orphans), and education to ethnic minorities?  If we can send teams to do missionary work in other cities to lend credibility to the church’s witness there, then why don’t we bless our own city in a similar way?

2. Our church’s strengths lay primarily in our “word” ministry (preaching, teaching, Bible studies, etc.).  While we minister in various ways in our “deed” ministry, it could use some strengthening.

3. 95% of our city is unchurched–over 150,000 people.  While the de-churched may be reached by an attractional witness, the majority of the people–the unchurched/non-Christian–are best engaged through relational efforts and deed ministry.  If we are going to connect the gospel message we are entrusted with, we are going to need to build some bridges to our community through a diversified deed ministry to provide greater access for the gospel to be proclaimed and demonstrated in authentic community.

4. Most of us live our lives with well-worn grooves in our city.  We travel from home to work to church to home, sometimes taking a detour to the gas station, shopping mall, or grocery store.  If we would be honest, we really don’t know our city.  Okay, so we we know 8% of our city and about 1% of the people.  But what about the roads, neighborhoods, and pockets of our city that few if any of our members have ever step foot upon?  Pioneering does not always have to be horizontal; it can also be vertical.  In other words, when we go into “all the world,” we are not just talking about breadth but also depth.  Far too often, our “worldliness” (taken positively) is way too superficial.

We don’t know the people in our city, and if we would be honest with ourselves, we live like we don’t care–at least not enough to break the cycle of our city rhythms and cultural traditions.  What would our church look like if we started ministering to and reaching people who are entirely not like us?  Taking a mission trip to our city will hopefully serve as shock treatment to our everyday monotony by opening our eyes and going down paths which, although not too far away, have not been traveled by God’s sojourners.

5. A trip to our city, I pray, would serve as a catalyst for long-term deed ministry in blessing the community and seeking the welfare of our city.  For those of you who have participated in short-term mission trips and enter back into the “real world,” have you not asked the question, “Why do I live and act like a missionary this past week and things go back to ‘normal’ when I come back home?” The thrill of being on mission quickly fades out and is eclipsed by a busy schedule and tyranny of the routine.  One week we are mission-conscious; the next week mission is substituted with maintaining life as usual.

If you take a mission trip to your city, you learn to live as a missionary in your own context.  As much as we would like to say we are missional, we are far less than what we profess.  Nevertheless, the gap between missional-as-a-buzzword and missional-as-a-way-of-life can be overcome, beginning with an initiative to train our people to live think and live as though God had planted them there (because he has) for a full week of serving our community.

If we can take a hundred people on a mission trip to our city, how would that affect our city?  How would that affect our church and the relationship our church has with our city? How would it affect the community groups scattered throughout SW Florida who each have their own neighborhoods who need to be penetrated by those passionate about the mission of God? Could it turn our members into missionaries overnight?  Probably not, but at least it can begin the process.  This is what I call the “so what?” factor and why I’m compelled to take a trip to my city.

I confess I do not know my city as I ought.  Even worse, I don’t love the people with the compassion of Christ which should propel me to give myself to the least of these for kingdom advance in word and deed.  But what little I know about my city is true, not that I am an expert cultural exegete, but that I take Jesus at His word when He says the harvest is plentiful.  The problem is the same: the laborers are few–few who have His heart for the lost, few who have His gospel on their lips, few who have compassion to love their neighbors through ministries of mercy.

If anyone has taken a mission “trip” to your own city, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Lord willing, we’ll be putting together this “trip” and praying for laborers as we seek God’s heart for the city He has placed us.

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6 Comments on “Take a Trip . . . to Your City”

  1. G F McDowell Says:

    I’ve long thought that it is far more risky to discuss Jesus Christ with the people closest to you, your neighbors, coworkers, and unbelieving relatives, than to go to the other side of the world, or the other side of the country, and preach Jesus Christ to strangers. Dawson Trotman, founder of parachurch group The Navigators, interviewing a couple who desired to be missionaries in Formosa (today called Taiwan), upbraided them because they had not successfully led a single person to Christ in this country. He told them something to the effect of, “You want to go halfway around the world, where you don’t know the language or the people or the culture, and your sheer foreign-ness will stick out like a sore thumb, and successfully do what you’ve been unable to do here in the US without any of these obstacles?”

    That is one of the dirty little secrets of short term foreign missions; it is EASY to embarrass yourself in the name of Jesus in front of people you’ll never see again. It is HARD to actually be effective in such a context.

  2. Matthew James Says:

    Hey there,

    I like what you’re saying. It’s interesting that you use the terms “deed ministry” as I have been thinking a lot about that lately in the context of my own church. Thanks for your thoughts. It has spurred further reflection on my part. What I am trying to sort through a bit is the difference between how much “deed ministry” is actually to be the responsibility of the church gathered/corporate, and how much is the responsibility of the individual, or church scattered– with the role of the church-gathered/corporate to encourage and equip them for that more informal ministry.

    I think you are spot-on in your assessment that people go on these mission trips to other cities and then come back to their own city and fail to make the missional connection there. However, I guess I would take that logic one step further and say that if their missional activity is a result of corporately organized mission trips, to a foreign city or their OWN city, a great deal of their motivation still lies in the externally organized special “outreach” and it is still a degree less personal than it ultimately should be.

    Does that mean we should not do short term missions? No. Does that mean you shouldn’t take mission trips to your city? No. But I would propose, that it means that a church’s “deed ministry” should primarily be exercised and have its home base in the hearts and lives of the individual christians who make up the church. So, as long as the church corporate sees her mission trip to her city as a training, modeling, and equipping opportunity to encourage her people to do the brunt of that labor in their personal lives, as families, and as informal groups of families and individuals, then I think the church will stay focused on its main responsibilities, and the people on theirs, and either the long-term growth will happen, or it won’t, and if not, it will be obvious instead of being masked by a plethora of church organized “deed programs” that never make their way into the everyday lives of the people.

    I clearly don’t think that is your intent and I wrote this more to clarify my own thoughts than anything else. Thanks for letting me be a part of the conversation.

    • Matthew,

      I agree with everything you have stated. As a pastor, when I evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of our church, I am looking at the body in a corporate sense–one that is made up of many members with varying gifts, passions, etc.

      Church planters who can from the beginning building into the DNA of the church a kind of orthopraxy that celebrates deed ministry in “missional communities” will likely look at the idea of mission trip to your own city as rather elementary or ecclesiologically cheesy. But I’m coming from working in an established, more traditional church where missional living is somewhat new. So my starting point is different from say church planters because we are working with different “materials” if you know what I mean.

      Regarding personal ownership, that’s exactly where I hope something like this leads. You can teach living on mission and the importance of deed ministry, but the fact is that it needs to be caught more than taught. If our people see it, experience it, and own it in a corporate sense, then more and more will, prayerfully, own this vision of Christian living and will perpetuate itself in the practices of missional communities throughout our city and beyond. I see this idea as a catalytic, not a finished product, the beginning of a journey into our city, not the destination.

      That journey will not, however, lead to a “program” but hopefully a culture. Programs are constructed to sustain a vision that is artificially imposed; cultures are cultivated by a vision that is spiritually birthed and organically multiplied.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I found them encouraging and helpful to the discussion!

  3. James Kinnard Says:

    Love this blog post, man. Appreciate your point as well on the difference between programs and culture. Spot on and very helpful.

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