Love Your Filthy, Disgusting, Sinful City

I meet lots of pastors, church planters, and Christian leaders in my travels. Usually, “Where are you from?” comes only after, “What’s your name?” If you’re planting a church in inner-city Pittsburgh or rural Oklahoma, I’m going to assume that it’s because you feel called to that location. I’m not here to judge, but what other reason could you possibly have to live in Needles (which probably shouldn’t count as “California”) or Kentucky (which probably shouldn’t count as the “United States”)?

How you talk about your city says a lot about how you see it (and how you see yourself in relation to it).

“We have the largest homosexual population after San Francisco.”

“Most violent city in America.”

“Worst traffic in the country.”

“Most unchurched.” “Least evangelized.”

“Highest percentage of (_insert sin/vice/malady here_).”

If God called you to live in and love your city, why can’t you tell me anything good about it? Why not tell me about how creative the people are? Or how active? I’d like to hear about how friendly people in your town can be, or generous, or hospitable. I’d know you loved your city if you lead by bragging about its commitment to literacy, its efforts toward public health, or its fascination with high school sports. Tell me about the great food, the well-kept parks, or the quaint downtown. You say you love your city. Don’t you want me to love your city too?

My perception of many cities was colored by your description long before I even visited them. Houston and Amarillo smell bad. L.A. has gangs and traffic. Everybody in Tennessee is a narrow-minded bigot. Detroit is falling apart. Seattle is lazy (I just made that one up), and the gays are taking over Minneapolis. You don’t get extra points for living in a place you hate. The value of your presence isn’t determined by the lostness of your city.

Your focus on the negatives says a lot about how you engage the people of your city. Are you for them, or against them? Do you see them as guilty sinners (they are), or as powerless slaves? (They are.) Do you see the creative spark that God put in every human being? Do you see value in their existence? If you do, I can’t tell, because all you’ve talked about are the challenges and obstacles.

How do you talk to the other people who live in your city about your city? Say you’re watching your kids at the playground, talking to some of the other parents. Do you sound like someone who wants to be there? In line at the bank, do you come across as someone who loves your city, or someone who’s afraid of it?

Next time we talk, I’m going to ask you about your city. If you don’t have anything good to say, I’ll encourage you to move.

7 thoughts on “Love Your Filthy, Disgusting, Sinful City

  1. I love what you have to say on this. Good challenge to us all. For four years I struggled with anything good to say about my particular city and when I did, I felt as though I was lying to myself, because all I saw was the negative side. One day though God took me aside and cleaned out the gunk in my eyes. Bam! Overnight he changed my heart and started showing me the positives. Now I can sincerely speak with love and find the positive aspects of living here. And not only do others see it in the way I speak, but I am having a lot more fun living here. I heart my city!

  2. Ernest –

    Absolutely love this post. I always felt a little weird at not being able to identify the most egregious sin that characterized our area. After 16 years there better be something about our city we can say that is hopeful and helpful. Otherwise the better question may be. “What on earth have you been doing there?”

    Peace.
    Todd

  3. You’re right, absolutely, but I think we talk about it because (at least for me) it’s the first thing I’m asked when support raising. Too many times I got, “Why would you go there? I didn’t know that [mission field] had problems.” Perhaps because mission has been wrapped up with social service in Third World areas, the fact that I serve in a First World European nation gives people reason to think that there’s no need here. There is, but even if social issues were eliminated, the people here still need a relationship with God.

    “I’m going to assume that it’s because you feel called to that location.” Yeah, I also got, “How could you leave sunny California to live in such a cold country?” Again, it’s calling, not choice. I don’t expect others to understand it, but they’re usually projecting their preferences onto the situation.

  4. so glad to see this put into words. i’ve known for a long time that my city is not where my heart is, but to hear someone say that it’s okay to find a city that i do live is a nice change. a lot of people LOVE my city. i should leave it to them :) and in the meantime be praying that the Lord will open my eyes to see what He sees as He looks out over my city with compassion and His eyes fill with tears.

  5. Great thoughts. We do have a tendency to focus on what is wrong instead of the beauty that can be found and seen in humanity–the people God created and gifted with talent, skills, and abilities.

    Your comments also reminded me of something I heard a former missionary to Hong Kong say, “When talking about the country in which you serve, speak as if the president of that country was in the audience.”

    Thanks for sharing. – jack

  6. I love what you have to say on this. Good challenge to us all. For four years I struggled with anything good to say about my particular city and when I did, I felt as though I was lying to myself, because all I saw was the negative side. One day though God took me aside and cleaned out the gunk in my eyes. Bam! Overnight he changed my heart and started showing me the positives. Now I can sincerely speak with love and find the positive aspects of living here. And not only do others see it in the way I speak, but I am having a lot more fun living here. I heart my city!

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