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.

About E. Goodman

Ernest Goodman is a missiologist, writer, teacher, and communications strategist.