Posted by: Moses | July 15, 2010

Rob of Bridesburg

For several weeks Molly and I have been on a quest for a good map of Philadelphia. Such a simple task, such an arduous journey. It’s not like you could wander up to a ubiquitous Subway information desk and get a map of the city. No. That would be far too simple. If people actually want to know something about Philadelphia they’d better work for it! We had heard rumors of a wondrous map, a SEPTA (South East Pennsylvania Transit Authority) map, but it eluded us at every sub stop until finally we reached the Market and 12th Regional Terminal. Finally the Holy Grail of maps, complete with most major neighborhood divisions! We shelled out 20.00 for two of them and were happily on our way.

Then we met Rob. I was struggling with flock envy last Sunday; now I was struggling with map envy. You see, as we walked into his office the first thing that caught my eye was a beautiful, wall-mounted laminated map of Philadelphia complete with a few neighborhoods, zip-codes and the surrounding metro-area. I tried not to drool at the pretty zoning colors (the SEPTA map is a pretty drab brown). The map wouldn’t really be that interesting, except that as I thought about it, I realized that each map reflected a different way of approaching the spread of the gospel in Philadelphia. You see each map had a different focus; SEPTA is a very “in the trenches” sort of map with sub stations, bus routes, and neighborhoods demarcated to help someone live and get around in the city. The regional map was designed with postal codes and zoning laws in mind for more of an aerial view from 30,000 feet. The one sees a region that needs the gospel and targets a region strategically like a general commanding from afar and orchestrating movements of the troops. That was Rob’s map. The other is the Lieutenant’s map, the one that shows the ground war and the battle lines between the neighborhoods. That was ours.

Rob was both. Having seen a glimpse of his way of life, I want to follow him and learn to be both a general and a soldier.

What his map lacked, God amply made evident in Rob’s heart for the city. Though his map dreamed big and his responsibilities within the A-29 network forced him to work on a more regional scale, his heart was still for the people of Bridesburg with their unique quirks and needs for the gospel. Rob was very generous with his time, and we were very thankful that he was. The Lord used him greatly to encourage my heart and to reassure me that some of my theology and polity was not so off the wall after all! I’m always wary if I feel like I’m the only person who holds a position; it’s possible that I might be right like Martin Luther or Athanasius, but more likely than not I’ve probably missed something and could stand to learn from my brothers in arms. The following is a bit of my processing and expansion of what we talked about with Rob.

The church is the people of God with a mission to spread the Gospel to every family on earth. To protect such a directed body God gives structures: eldership, deaconate, and certain methodologies like church discipline. The Bible gives us clear examples, and Biblically submissive churches utilize these structures as the backbone of their church’s efforts to carry out the Great Mission.

However, we often neglect the care of church leaders that we see in the NT. Eldership cares for eldership, apostles care for proteges, Barnabas for Paul, Paul for Timothy, Barnabas for John Mark, Peter for John Mark, John for Gaius and Polycarp, Paul for Titus and Luke. Apostles care for younger pastors. Analogously today, Presbyteries care for pastors, pastors care for other pastors, older leaders teach the younger. Leadership and humility are learned not granted. As such, Rob had a vision that resonated greatly with my own passions for intentionally incarnating Jesus to communities and for fostering unity among existing Communities of God. By focusing on planting through relationships and networks that God is establishing, church planters are identified as their community groups begin to grow and become self sustaining through evangelism in an area. As they become self-sustaining they lean on their current elders, appoint their own elders, and eventually are cared for by a counsel of elders drawn from the growing number of planted community groups. Simple enough right? But in some ways it’s radical. The “Sunday Service” becomes secondary. Church is not a building and church is not a service. Preaching, though very biblical, takes its appropriate position as a tool and not a god. Communities must be centered around the mission, receiving the Word and giving it out, not merely learning to be spectators to a show every Sunday. Genuine Christianity is full-contact. Fans sit in the stands, team-members hit the field running. You haven’t played until you have some stains to show for it.

That sort of intentional community is the church. The body of Christ must engage the world, rubbing shoulders with the unlovely and sinful, lifting up the shoulders of stumbling brothers, living out the life of Christ to everyone near us. If we have elders and no such community, do we really have a church? So often we focus on the structures that God has given to protect his church and we pretend that they define the church. Every healthy church has a plurality of elders just like every healthy body has a head. A head without a body is pretty gruesome. The church is not defined by a plurality of elders anymore than a living soul is defined by the presence of a head. If no one is following you are taking a walk. Similarly, if people are not living the mission, than eldership is a delusion.

Before I sound like I’m preaching to everyone but myself, I left my meeting with Rob convicted about having my head stuck in Philly too often and missing opportunities right next to me in Greenville. Looking forward, my desire to come to Philly and to commit to a long hard haul of planting has not wavered. However, I’m learning that the best way that I can prepare for that kind of long distance mission is to live out the mission where I am. If I cannot lead men to follow Christ in my nice suburban neighborhood, through the contacts God gives me in Greenville, why would I be able to in Philly? In repentance, I want to focus much of my work in Greenville on serving the church there by spreading the gospel where God has put me, even as I’m preparing to leave. The gospel is now, the need is everywhere, and having felt the prick of the Spirit, to do otherwise would be intentional rebellion against the very Mission I love.

I may still use the contact info from Rob to get a nice map like he had. Perhaps I’ll mount each on opposite walls of my office someday. Both are important. We passionately want to know the communities of Philadelphia. We want to learn, to study, to exegete a small community and then to speak the truth into that context and that trust of that relationship. Succinctly, when I was expressing a large miracle sized dream, Ian kindly exhorted me to make sure that “my heart was where my body was.” He and I both can often get lost in a vision of the greenest of pastures and let a sheep or two starve in the process. I greatly appreciated his kindness to me in caring for my soul in that way. I want to always have my feet dirty, in the trenches rubbing shoulders with sinners and saints, providing, protecting, and guiding as a servant of Christ. I am small and will have my hands full caring for anyone, but my God is big! I want to always have my eyes lifted to the hills, from whence comes my indomitable help to slay giants and subdue regions by the sovereign grace of Jesus. May the Lord guard my heart to serve in the mundane and day to day life of a faithful pastor, but to never forget that He parts seas, brings dead souls to life, and sometimes even brings entire cities to their knees in repentance.


  1. what you wrote has actually been on my mind for a bit now; this was really encouraging to read! thank you for this, and i’m praying and thinking of you guys! looking forward to seeing you in a week!

  2. Amen, Little Brother.

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