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Jay Pathak: Learning to Love Our Cities (Part Three)

Justin Juntunen

Justin Juntunen

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Jeff Heidkamp

I am beginning to believe more and more that the report card for the church is the city itself.”

This is an interview in three parts. Read Part One or Part Two.

JH: What about the pastor who is already full? Many church leaders don’t have the time to add an extra city council meeting.

JP: I think we all spend our time in a couple different ways as pastors. One is where we feel most affirmed. Say, if I’m at the class that’s being held at the church, I’m affirmed for that. If I’m not, people might be disappointed. But if you live like that, it’s creating an ingrown culture.

Then we also respond to what we actually think it means to “win.” What is the win? What are my dreams? How are those dreams going to be accomplished? Ultimately, I hope pastors start having dreams for their city – not just their church. And if you can dream about your city, then it changes what it means to win with your church.

We have all these metrics and report cards and measurements for churches – how many people came? How much did they give? How many volunteers did we have for different things? I am beginning to believe more and more that the report card for the church is the city itself.

JH: How would you measure that?

JP: There are a bunch of ways. What’s strange is that the people who measure these things are typically the government people. We don’t measure quite that way – spiritual groups have a different report card, so to speak – but I think the city government’s report card might be a little more like the one we should be moving toward.

JH: That’s an interesting statement.

JP: I’m not saying it’s the complete report card. We still have our report card on how people come to Christ; I still do believe in personal regeneration, etc. And that does have a net effect over a city. I believe that. But I think it’s a realization that areas around healthy churches should change. Schools should be different nearest to where healthy churches exist. Period. That’s not even debatable. The way that addictions are managed in a city should change because of the people of God in that city.

Marriages should be changed. I mean, there are massive federal programs right now trying to change marriage in America. Massive. Hundreds of millions of dollars that by and large the church has just become unaware of. We’re making up our own little marriage program in this little space, yet there are huge marriage projects that are federally funded that advertise throughout your city. All it takes is simply hooking your wagon to some of that and building on the back of that.

So we’ve been hosting something called the Marriage Project, which talks about healthy communication, recognizing patterns of abuse, seeing your family history, your background. They do it all for free; they show up for the whole thing in our space and we do a little five minute announcement at the end. We’ll say that we also have ongoing marriage projects within our church and things that we can continue to do. If you are able to get married we have processes in place to help with that. And we have tons of people that go “Wow, cool. I’ll check that out.”

We funnel our church through those things, and then those organizations just love us – they’re thankful. They’ll say, “Thank you so much. We’re banging down doors trying to get somebody to host one of these.” We give facility space to Volunteers of America, which has to do with state and federal funding for elderly shut-ins, one of the big issues in almost every city. And we do a meal program. They come in and do karaoke and dancing and have a meal.

And for many of the elderly people, it’s their only time out of their home. And all we’ve done is to host, set up, break down and tell the organization leaders they should know we’ll be praying for them. We say, “We feel that this is something that really counts for Jesus and His Kingdom and I think he cares about this. That’s why we’re doing it.”

JH: Let’s assume that we’ve got some people sold at this point. They want to do this. What have you learned in the most practical terms about making this shift?

JP: There are some very practical things to do. First would be to think like Nehemiah. Get the landscape. It could be something as simple as finding out why your city is named what it’s named. What is the spiritual, economic, healthcare history of your city? Why is that hospital Catholic? What is the history of that building you pass every day? What made your city what it is?

Because I believe that God is working within cities and you see parts of that living on through the present day. God blesses and curses entire cities. He speaks to whole cities. He speaks to the whole church in a city. What is God up to? What are the marks of what the Lord has done and what the enemy has tried to do? What is the heritage that He has built into this? Some of it is positive and some of it’s negative.

The largest KKK rally in American history happened in our city. That means something. Not necessarily just in the large-scale spiritual warfare kind of way – I mean the sociological dynamic of people living here. People came to Denver to mine for gold and ended up figuring out that there wasn’t much. We’re marked by geographic barriers. People weren’t sure they could get over the mountains so they waited here and then ended up staying here. It was placed by these rivers for commerce, for certain kinds of reasons. Those are the basics. But there is a governmental history, an educational history, things we can contribute to the larger society and things that we’re really behind on as a result of certain phenomena.

Just notice it. Why did people move here? Who settled it? What brought them here? What was the good and the bad and the ugly of all that? That’s really, really helpful.

And try to bring that narrative all the way up to the present. Where did the churches in your city come from, for example? Was there ever a vibrant move of God in your city? What was that like? What brought that about? This is classically what I just call executing a city.

Then, once you get those domains, the history, then try to get those all the way up to date. Can you meet with the mayor or city council member? Your city planner? And just put yourself on the radar. You can have a church of 50 people and do this and mean something to them. They’re just like pastors in that they feel overworked and underappreciated.

You can say, “I just want you to know I’m trying to figure out how I can be part of what is already happening in this city. What are the greatest needs you see in this city? Who should I know? Who should I be participating with and blessing?” And usually officials know right away. “This person is doing after-school programs that are really effective.” Etc.

If you join in with what’s already happening, first you have to know what those things are and those take a series of very small meetings. And then to even ask those government people what’s the most important things throughout the rhythm of a year that the city puts its energy and time into. Those are really helpful rooms just to show you’re a part of what this city will become.

That’s a very good start. Usually if you do that you get overwhelmed. There’s so much after that. You don’t have to do much homework after that.

Jay Pathak is the pastor of Mile High Vineyard in Arvada, Colorado. His book, The Art of Neighboring, will be released in the fall of 2012.

Visit The Art of Neighboring online.

Return to Part One of “Learning to Love Our Cities.”

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