Ramblings on Being in the City to Stay

Article by

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

I heard tonight (Sunday) that one of our sister Conference churches in another city is planning to move from downtown to the suburbs. It is not for us to judge the strategic value of such a move in another place. It may be God’s wisdom for them. But I praise God for the willingness—even eagerness—of our people to worship and minister in the city.

I can remember almost eight years ago after a contact from the pulpit committee how I took out a map of the Twin Cities to find where Bethlehem was. I opened it up, and there in the middle, at the juncture of Interstates 35W and 94, just blocks from downtown Minneapolis, sat Bethlehem Baptist Church.

My heart, with much trepidation, said, Lord, that’s the kind of place I want to be. I want to live in the city and work in the city. The Sunday when I candidated in early 1980 there were maybe 350 people in the one morning service. I can remember looking out over “a sea of grey hair”! Grey heads which I have come to regard as the most supportive, faithful, hard-working corps of people I’ve ever known.

When the church extended the call, Noël and I began to cruise the neighborhood, looking for a home. Why? To say loud and clear, I am a city pastor of a city church, and we are staying in the city. I had no desire to be a commuter pastor, and little desire to serve a suburban church.

Of all the things that have changed at the church this has not. We are in the city to stay. I believe with all my heart that God has a great work for Bethlehem to do in this city. I believe God is going to intervene in the years to come to supply the parking we will need for a new sanctuary. There will be some unexpected birth by a barren Sarah, and a ramp will rise right across seventh street with a skyway to the sanctuary.

Downtown Minneapolis is not overstocked with vital evangelical churches. And it is almost certain that they will become fewer. How could we not believe that God wants a dynamic, clear, biblical witness to his truth in this place! And if so, how can we not believe that he will provide?

Right now the church building is unsightly: the paint is peeling, the stucco is falling, the trim is rotting, the shrubs are wild, the retaining wall is crumbling, the roof is patched, and the color is faded to a cross between Pepto-Bismol and peanut butter. Frankly it’s a disgrace. If your neighbor kept his house this way you would be upset.

I hope that seven years of living with you have proved that I am committed to a wartime simplicity, not peacetime luxury. But I do take showers with soap. And I had my 1983 Mercury undercoated. And I am writing this on a $3,000 computer. And when we had our fourth child we moved to a house with three bedrooms and a study. It cost $65,000 and we put another $13,000 to make it a duplex.

I believe it is time to spend some money on the house of the Lord! Why should most of us house ourselves better than we house the worship of the King? I believe our noble hesitancy to waste God’s money is on the brink of becoming an inconsistent carelessness and cowardice. May it not be! Is anything too hard for God?


Pastor John