Today, we are excited to share about a new book entitled “CityFaith: Following Jesus in Expensive, Transient, Secular Places” written by Jared Kirk, pastor of Renewal Church in the Back Bay. In it, Pastor Jared shares his wisdom on topics such as living generously when housing is expensive, building healthy life-long relationships, and navigating singleness so that the city can be a place of spiritual growth and renewal. Jared is also an Eagle Scout with a degree in Biomedical Engineering, and you can find him around the city sailing, teaching, writing, drinking coffee, and searching endlessly for decent Mexican food. Below is the excerpt from the book about the fruit that emerged as the Rabens family committed to a church community from the get-go: a powerful story to combat the transience that is so common in cities. If you like what you read, you can purchase the book here!
Book Excerpt from City Faith Chapter 4, Decide to Make a Difference
The city isn’t just for young people looking to advance in their careers nor is it mostly single-again people living near the action. Cities pick up everyone, and one of our most interesting families was the Rabens family.
Clay was an active-duty doctor for the Army. He found himself in the city because the military was sending him to Harvard School of Public Health. If you weren’t aware that the Army sent people to Harvard, then welcome to the club.
When Clay walked in the door of our church, he came with his two amazing teenage daughters, Madison and Jocelyn. Those two girls were godly, mature, and hard workers. They grew our youth ministry from zero to two. If you’re good at math you know that is infinity percent growth. By percentage, in my opinion, we were the fastest growing youth ministry in the universe.
Even more impressive than his daughters was his wife, Brittany. She was a force of nature who could organize and improve the second coming of Jesus. Her passion for Jesus was off the charts, and when you met her, you instantly liked her. Within a day, you knew she was probably a better leader than you. She was that good.
When you are a Harvard educated army doctor who is the fourth most impressive person in your family, that’s really saying something.
What we learned from the Rabens family is the impact you can have when you decide to make a difference from day one. Because they were military, they already knew what so many in the city take too long to learn: if you’ve only got a year or two, then you need to invest from day one, otherwise you will miss out on the meaningful relationships or the impact you would have had.
The second week they came, the Rabens joined our church as members. A month later, Brittany was leading the outreach ministry to Mary Ellen McCormack, the largest, low-income housing development in the city. Within a few months, she was leading a small group with a mix of church attenders and housing development residents. By the end of the year, one of our friends from Mary Ellen McCormack was baptized in a repurposed horse trough in a one hundred-year-old high school because of Brittany’s influence in her life.
It would have been so easy for the Rabens to coast for the one year they lived in Boston. There were good reasons to just wait and join a church when they moved away to Ohio, or they could have visited six other city churches before they made a decision on where to worship. Our church wasn’t a great fit for them demographically. I mean, we didn’t even have one other teenager. Yet Clay and Brittany learned something from the Army that can benefit every person who ever moves to a city: when time is limited “good enough” is good enough. Find a place where you can make an impact and throw yourself into it because you might change someone’s eternity, like the Rabens did.
You have the same choice to make. You can wait for the “perfect” church, you can coast until you move somewhere more permanent, or you can decide to invest right now, right where you are, and make a difference. I’m not talking about going to a church that teaches heresy or not caring about doctrine. I’m talking about dialing down the “picky-meter” for the sake of making an impact.
BARRIERS TO SERVICE
Three of the most common barriers to serving in the city are the overwhelming need outside of the church, narcissism inside the church, and good old-fashioned scheduling.
One reason people don’t jump in and make a difference at their church is because there is an overwhelming need for people to serve outside the church. Socially conscious companies have volunteer programs, boys and girls clubs need mentors, the Red Cross needs workers, and the city sponsors trash cleanup day. Those things are good, and we do all those things, but they are no substitute for loving God’s people.
Another reason people don’t serve in the city is a little embarrassing, but it’s true. Narcissism is rampant in the city. Image matters, and people strive to be seen on social media as serving, but when it gets hard, people leave off from helping. We once had a person stop serving because they were asked to stop taking selfies while they were greeting guests. They were so offended they quit!
Narcissism used to be called vanity, which is excessive pride in one’s appearance or accomplishments. You’ve never run into anyone like that in the city, have you? The real danger of vanity is that you are so busy looking in the mirror that you can’t see yourself clearly. Jeremiah 4:30 (NIV) talks about the dynamics of narcissism:
“Why dress yourself in scarlet and put on jewels of gold? Why highlight your eyes with makeup? You adorn yourself in vain. Your lovers despise you.”
The way narcissism works is that you spend all your money to look nice on the outside, to cover your insecurities on the inside, and to impress people that don’t even like you.
However, the number one reason people don’t get in the game right away and start making an impact is that they are overscheduled. In the suburbs, this tends to manifest through kids’ sports, but in the city, it shows up in overscheduled social commitments, non-stop recreational activities, or an unhealthy rhythm of work and rest. Maybe you are overscheduling yourself because you don’t know how to be alone with Jesus or with yourself. Maybe you can’t stop working because your achievements are your life; they are how you justify your existence.
The beautiful thing about following Jesus is that He sets you free from all of this. Trusting in His wise leadership of the world lets you place your desperate needs at His feet. Trusting in His love for you can heal the wound that causes vanity to spring forth. Jesus justifies you with His blood so that you don’t have to try to justify yourself with your accomplishments. Jesus once said, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30 NIV) and He meant it. When you follow Him, you can relax and slow down enough to care for and serve the people in your life. You can make a difference because of the difference Jesus has made in you.