We invited Pastor Brandon Cook of Long Beach Christian Fellowship to share some of his thoughts on "Church of the City". We love to highlight our local pastors and really loved what he had to share.
Pastoring a church is a crazy adventure. It causes you to learn things you otherwise might never have considered. At least, that’s been my experience. One of the things I saw clearly in my first year pastoring is that, in terms of the church of a city, we live in a radically different context than the early church did. Back then, the Apostle Paul spoke about “the church at Ephesus, the church at Galatia, the church at Rome.” In other words, he wrote to the church of a city. Now we have the many churches of Long Beach, and we’re a long way from the unity of the early church. We have a zillion denominations, doctrines, and we move in a thousand different directions.
Yet there’s this conversation I keep hearing from individuals and church leaders across the city, and one I find burns in my heart, as well: that we would find ways to be The Church in the city. That our many expressions of church (little c) would translate to an experience of Church (big C).
Within our “little c” at Long Beach Christian Fellowship, we have begun wondering what this sort of unity looks like. What would it look like to collaborate with other bodies, as one body? How powerful would it be to celebrate our strengths even as we acknowledge our differences? What would it look like to be okay with LBCF not being all things to the city but being rather the unique gift that God has made us to be? Wouldn’t there be an incredible freedom in knowing that our community is far from complete and that we need to learn from other communities and support them in their ministry and vice versa?
We recognize that this isn’t a new conversation, and that we’re walking a path already worn down for us by others who have held such a dream. Yet we are captured by this conversation, and as a community, we have started identifying practical steps we could take towards such a reality. One practical decision our church has made is to pray for a different church or ministry in the city in every Sunday service. As we receive our offering, we take time to lift up the needs of these communities. The goal is to support other communities in their ministry (starting with prayer) and to pray for unity among us all. We’ve found that making this commitment has been a blessing back to us on so many levels. Number one, it’s connected us to other communities in small and maybe intangible, but important, ways. It’s expanded our notion of why we’re in this city together, and what God might be up to in our midst. It has helped us get our eyes off of ourselves. And it’s whetted our appetite for a Church of the city.
A short time after beginning this regular time of prayer, we looked at our financial numbers and noted that our giving was woefully short. We were teaching about living simply and generously, but our financial reports didn’t reflect that as a reality. One of our elders suggested giving a portion of our offering to another church or ministry in the city as a way of both getting serious about our commitment to be generous and to practice supporting other communities in their specific gifts and strengths. We made this a regular practice: on the 2nd and final Sunday of the month, we give a portion of our offering to the church or ministry that we pray for on that Sunday. Again, it’s hard to put into words what a blessing this has been to our community. We have experienced some of the fullness of that Biblical truth that “it’s more blessed to give than to receive.” The thank you notes we have gotten back are incredibly humbling. Each ones reminds us what a joy it is to be about our Father’s business, pursuing unity in his church and partnering with others in the recreation of the city.
When Jeanette asked me to write a blurb about LBCF’s decision to get intentional about sowing into other ministries, I was reluctant. These small steps we have taken seem so…well, small…especially given the huge banners we see other churches carrying and the sacrifices they are making. But for us, they have been significant steps towards a beautiful and compelling vision of churches collaborating in unprecedented ways. That sounds like an idealistic dream, but it also a compelling vision. Imagine that someone could rightly write a letter to “The Church in Long Beach,” and we knew that he or she was talking to us…all of us.