In church, as in all things relationship trumps geography or in this case, the city church concept. This could be a small business success white paper or this could be a marriage and dating advice column the answer would still be the same. Relationship will always trump geography. Everyday people drive past many restaurants to get to the one where the waitress treats them right. Likewise, when a Navy wife is in love and her husband goes out to sea she can be surrounded by hundreds of other men and she will not see them. So it is with the church the Lord is building: love, not geography is the glue that is bringing it together.
Relationships and The City Church Concept
For years I pressed for the existence of the City Church and City elders only to see the Lord bring it crumbling down time after time like a house of cards. We thought like men and said let’s bring together the pastors of the large congregations. Surely, they must be the fathers of the city. What we found was the larger the congregation, the least participatory and real the pastor of the church was toward citywide unity.
The problem was that we didn’t really love each other. We were too busy posturing ourselves and playing to the crowds so we could be seen as fathers of the city. We prayed. We did citywide events** until the cows came home, but we were not one in Him relationally. Sure, we quoted Bible verses about unity and brought in citywide unity experts to teach how to do it, but nothing would work and nothing would last.
Isa 26:18 We have been with child, we have been in pain; We have, as it were, brought forth wind; We have not accomplished any deliverance in the earth, Nor have the inhabitants of the world fallen. NKJV
Could it be we are trying to build something that God is not building? Can it be that our problem is we are trying to focus on our mutual geography as the reason why we should work together? Think about this: together geographically is not united relationally. The first disciples didn’t wait ten days in the upper room on a haphazard and whimsical God to arbitrarily send the Holy Spirit. Could it be that something had to happen IN and among them before anything could be imparted ON them?
History of Community
Community must exist before we can take cities and regions in His Name. In the first century, community was generally limited to as far as you could walk. This was followed by circuit riders or men on horseback. Then with the advent of the steam engine railroad trains and ships became the carriers of the Lord’s sent ones. They were the first to connect the US and England with places like India and Africa and community grew as a result. In the last decades we have seen the value of the airplane and jet flight related to the expansion of the Gospel. This mode of transportation made room for relatively unknown men and women in their home towns to build huge works overseas. Again, community had to be redefined.
Now, in the 21st century, with the expansion of the internet and technology, community has to once again be redefined. Since love, not “right doctrine” is what unites His Body, relationships are now being formed regardless of distance or geography through the use of these modern technologies. Community in the 21st century must be redefined to provide for the possibility that we now have the means to create a platform which provides for the biblical existence of ONE global family (His Body). Are we changing the gospel? No! Not anymore than when the Guttenberg press was invented in 1452 which put a Bible in the hands of all believers. We are simply taking advantage of the tools the Lord is providing.
Doesn’t God care about cities? Isn’t most of the New Testament written to cities? Yes, but God cares for people not arbitrary (and contended) human created lines of division.
The Jurisdictional Nightmare
A popular word in this mess is the word jurisdiction. The dictionary defines jurisdiction as “the official power to make legal decisions and judgments.” The other part of the coin in this geographical confusion is that those that have the jurisdiction have to have a position as legal representative. Who decides who will represent a people? What gives them the right to that position? Their title? Their location? The size of their congregation? We have as many bishops and apostles in my city as we have real disciples. That is what I call a jurisdictional joke!
As the body of Christ matures, positional authority (flashing your title like a policeman flashes his badge) is on the decline. The Body of Christ has been abused and burned by many charlatans and Jesus peddlers. His people are beginning to properly discern between worldly measurements of success and the true weight in the Spirit of a godly servant.
Any leader who is truly mature in the Kingdom, understands that the only time we really can have an effect on the Lord’s sheep is when we love them the way He does. The Father sent the Son and although as God He could have demanded positional respect and rights from His creation, He chose to humble Himself and serve mankind relationally. Should His people and especially His leaders do anything less?
Phil 2:5 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. 6 He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. 7 Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! 8 Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death Message Bible
21st Century Relationships
In the last few years with the help of internet technologies I have been blessed to participate in some beautiful, God-ordained relationships. I have come to love some people who I may never see face to face. Thanks to Skype and Facebook we have not only kept in touch but we have mourned our lows and celebrated our highs together. They know my heart and I know theirs. I would trust them with my life and I know the feeling is mutual. I have come relationally closer to them than to some brothers I see every day. Are they part of my community? Are they part of my church family? I feel a resounding yes in my spirit. Relationships are what you make of them. To those that know the value of real relationships in the Kingdom, there are no limits and no boundaries that can keep us away from each other. Distance simply does not matter. I am not saying I don’t long to hug them in the Lord. God knows I do!
Why make all this big deal with relationships you ask? Because we who have built on the sands of the religious system have chosen to not waste one more second of time or one more cent of the Lord’s resources. When the power of relationships is allowed to surface, theological debates and pet doctrines leave the table and division literally has no place to exist. That which has been dividing, weakening and conquering the Lord’s people for millennia is flushed appropriately and love abounds to build His Church.
I can state with all assurance that the Lord is building His church by love. I am not talking about the Sunday morning watered down local version. I am talking about relationships formed and shaped in the fires of life together. I am talking about relationships that can withstand a society on the move: changing jobs, accepting transfers, changing homes and addresses, changing phones and emails, changing partners and spouses. Surely the Lord’s church is not chained to human geographical lines nor has all this change caught our Lord by surprise. Let’s face it, the 21st century is about change and only true relationships will ultimately be able to withstand that change.
Are we throwing out the idea of local congregations? No! We are warning the Body that the influence of the local church and human ideas of membership are a thing of the past. We are also advising His Body that the Kingdom of God is not political or American, It is totally other. We are stating that the Lord’s Church today is being built beyond first century concepts of community. Do we have all the answers? No! We are likewise on a journey and are just voicing what we believe the Spirit is saying to His Church at this time.
Here are 12 thoughts to ponder concerning Relationship vs Geography:
1. The scriptures specifically speak nothing about a unity of ecclesial organization, order, and government defined by city jurisdictions. It is an inference drawn from letters addressed to churches located in cities and an inference on how we expect John 17 to be realized. Inferences are just that—inferences.
2. It is also an assumption that the unity John 17 speaks of requires a visible organized entity. The kingdom of God is not visible to the human eye.
3. It is likely that in the times scripture were written people (especially lower classes) never traveled further than 5 miles from where they lived on a routine basis . . . in their entire lifetime! Because, obviously, they walked everywhere! This made their cities their relational sphere of existence.
4. Are the scriptures that mention cities prescriptive for all time, or descriptive of what was? Is the church to be defined by first century limitations?
5. How do we define church? Is it relationally or geographically and governmentally defined? That the Greeks used ekklesia to denote the called out assembly that governed a city is not denied. The problem is, the word ekklesia was used to denote many things, not just the called out governing elders
6. How do we define city? Where does the metropolis begin and stop? Who gets to define it, based on what and why? What biblical legitimacy? Do we develop a theology of one church-one city for the greater metropolitan area of a given city including the suburbs and ignore the smaller townships?
7. Scripture associates people ethnically, and that is offensive to us. “People groups,” the ethnos. It is quite a hermeneutical jump to now translate that to invisible, modern man-made boundaries of latitude and longitude.
8. If there’s only one church in one city, am I a “transgressor of mandatory biblical protocol and mandate” if I “cross jurisdictional lines” if I cross a street from my side of the line to the other, or by driving from one suburb to another to fellowship with people I have been bonded to by the Spirit?
9. If there is only one church in one city (city church concept) under one ecclesiastical government, it begs the question how these churches then relate. Do we now need to create city, state, national and world bishops? You can see where this would take us.
10. The concept of “citywide elders” is fundamentally an intoxicating proposition. Elders IN a city, yes, of course! Elders OF the city, NO! The scriptures NEVER use the term in the latter sense in relation to cities.
11. What about the Lord’s “divided” church in temporal expression? Division and sectarianism are, indeed, shameful blights on His testimony. Are we to add to this mess division based on geography?
12. Assuming geographic jurisdictions are a biblical mandate, what do we do if the man-made geographical jurisdictions change due to human political actions, natural disasters, or losing a war? What happens to the relationships you have built while your jurisdiction existed? Do they now stop because a person is no longer in your geography? If the answer is yes, that is madness. If the answer is no, the case is made that relationship triumphs over geography!
The above points are my shortened excerpts of a masterful teaching by my brother Stephen Crosby and you may read the full text by clicking HERE.
So what does this all mean in the 21st century? I believe that love-created relationships have always been the foundation of the Lord’s Church, not geography, mutual causes, or sameness of doctrine. So like a rocket that blasts off from Cape Kennedy and spends so much fuel to leave the earth’s orbit, once we understand this, we will be truly free. I can hear the Lord say “you are now free to move about” and “can go where no one has gone before” directed and led by the Holy Spirit.
By Jose Bosque, with Stephen Crosby
Jose has ministered in Jacksonville since 1987 and served the city since 1992 as a citywide servant leader. Jose is considered a resource and a spiritual father to many leaders in the city and in the 59 nations where the Lord has sent him to serve. Originally born in Cuba, Jose has resided in Jacksonville since 1966.
**Events I either helped organize or led in my city
Untold hundreds of Pastoral & Apostolic City Prayer & Worship events
Concerts of Prayer
March for Jesus every year we had it with ours being the largest March in the US in 1998
Billy Graham Crusade, I was honored to open in prayer
Two Promise Keepers Stadium events
International House of Prayer I started here, it was as the second house behind Kansas City and Mike Bickle himself came to kick it off in 1998.
National Day of Prayer
Cry Out America, –
I even wrote the 16 page Spiritual Mapping of the City of Jacksonville, Florida USA
I got out after this event since by then the light was dawning and we have had enough
These are the new ones that have followed
Global Day of Prayer
Jesus Belongs in our City
I am sure someone will come up with another one and STILL today there is little or no change in the city for good . . .
Its been said “Its much easier to pray for Revival than it is to love our brothers” How can we pray to God for Him to act when everything has already been given to us to transform our world? It is time to act and quit playing like we are really united for the sake of a large showing.
That person you call your Christian brother, Do you know what is in their refrigerator? and do they know what is in yours?
It is time to raise the standard back to the original level of the book of Acts where no one called anything their own?
Transformation begins with you and your circle of Community!