Posted by: Moses | August 30, 2010

Jonathan of the Neighborhood

Jonathan is sovereignly equipped for his particular ministry with racial anonymity. Most of us are immediately pegged with various stereo-types by the prevalence of melanin in our skin or the bone structures of our faces. Though this blight of unjust assumptions is unfortunate, it plagues us nonetheless. Where I am white, and you might be black, hispanic, or any other family group of the world. Jonathan is just a person. You look at him and you don’t know whether he’s mexican, light-skinned black, Indian, or Southern European. In a border area of Philadelphia between major racial divides, such physiological gifting is an amazing blessing, and by God’s grace, Jonathan uses it to the full. Of all the pastors we visited, I never saw this heart for the marginalized in general more clearly than in the few hours I spent with Jonathan. As the McConnels and Bolognones kindly cared for the souls of their young children, so Jonathan boldly cares for the soul of all the plethora of people who wander through his church on a given afternoon. Old, young, black, white, rich, poor, or ?, Jonathan knows and cares for them all.

In comparison to a few works that we had recently visited, Jonathan’s heart to contextualize (become like in order to reach with the gospel) for his community was such a breath of fresh air! Under his leadership more than seventy souls had relocated to the upper area of a rougher section of Philadelphia in order to love on a community in tangible ways and share the spiritual love of Jesus with them. Jonathan kindly grilled me a bit on my motives or coming to Philadelphia as we talked about the work there for much of an afternoon, kids wandering in and out, “disrupting” our conversation as Jonathan paused to share the gospel with them and encourage them to come back on Sunday. Cookies were also generously distributed. Obstacles that were not the gospel were intentionally removed in order to highlight its importance.

Jonathan exhorted me repeatedly that church planting is not sexy. In absolute honesty, I had never put those adjectives together nor do I think I ever would have. However, I know now what he is saying. Church planting is not easy, it’s not glorious, and it’s not always fun like my more optimistic day-dreams might assume. There is a suave and bold aspect to church-planting that can be deceptively wooing, and my heart is not immune to such prideful motivations. However, knowing the back end of serving with a young urban church plant God kindly tempers that optimism and fights against my pride. God has kindly given us a taste of some of the difficult aspects of having no money, not knowing whether anyone will come, whether the church will grow, whether members will actually be faithful to their Lord to proclaim him, whether I will have the boldness to lead them and preach the gospel myself, whether God is with us at a location and for a particular purpose or whether we should look elsewhere. Hard struggles are fought against such doubts and fears. Hard labor goes into stripping away cultural barriers, adapting to new cultural norms, studying your neighbors in order to intelligently love them, and equipping brothers and sisters to do the same.

Church-planting is not sexy like a lamp-post lilly, not like a one night stand of false glory and conquest. However I think that perhaps Church-planting is sexy like a romance in a marriage. Life is not always easy with Molly, but I always love her. I always think she is my prize, my gift from God, the most beautiful of women-folk, even in the midst of a struggle with her. Sometimes neither one of us deserve the love or respect of the other; sometimes both of us are the marginalized and overlooked that the other should be caring for rather than sinning against. Sometimes both of us are selfish like little children and in need of a reminder of the gospel from the other that “All things should be done without grumbling” or that God “Just says so” like the little children of Philadelphia. The struggle, the covenant, and the pushing through to bring our struggles to the gospel make a Christian marriage more beautiful and rewarding than any sham substitute that the Devil might concoct. Marriage is hard, and yet there is nothing sexier and nothing more rewarding in the long run. So is church planting in its own sphere. We must love the church, Christ’s bride, and care for her as a family. But just like a marriage the covenant and commitment are an essential ingredient for the success of the relationship and honor before God.

Jonathan’s other main theme was prayer; I have never left a meeting with anyone with such a feeling of the need for prayer. Why do unbelievers wander into Jonathan’s church? Why does he have the respect of the neighborhood? Why doe the gospel advance there where statistically it shouldn’t? Because God delights to give his children good gifts. God delights to answer Jonathan’s prayers and the prayers of his flock that has moved with him. Pray to the Lord that he would send out laborers. Pray whether you might be one of them. Pray for us as we plan, that our hearts would be steadfast in their dependence on Him. Pray that our hearts would be widened in their concern for all, not just those that seem important or strategic. May we follow our savior in serving those that none but their creator and his servants would ever care for. Give us a heart for sheep, a heart to shepherd rather than to merely avoid annoyances of social ills.

Though it will mess up my neat little nomenclature; Jonathan seems to have gone to great lengths to keep his church anonymous and so I will not torpedo that with the twelve people who read my blog! Plus, in all honesty, I think that God has given Jonathan a heart that no matter where he were placed, he would become “Jonathan of that Neighborhood.”

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Responses

  1. You should remember me from BJA and BJU, but anyways . . .

    I just stumbled on your blog from a link on facebook. Such a look on life is so necessary if we are to become true disciples of Christ. Thanks for the admonishment through your blog.

    Also, please pray for me. I have something coming up that I need much prayer for. Thanks!


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