An open letter to City Hill Church

PREAMBLE

A few weeks ago a number of City Hill leaders attended a combined leaders’ day with other churches in the city. One of the speakers, Steve Tibbert, said something that really got me excited because I don’t think churches in general pay too much attention to it. Steve leads a big church in London with multiple sites and he invests a lot of his time in helping eldership teams to build strong churches and to get their heads around church growth dynamics. Naturally I expected him to launch into all the usual rhetoric about how to attract visitors and so on, but the first thing he talked about was the importance of understanding the prophetic foundations of your church.

PROPHETIC WHAT?

Now in one sense, every (true) church is the same; we’re the body of Christ fulfilling the Great Commission on the earth to the glory of God. But when you start to think about the fact that each church exists at a particular time in history, in a particular location, amongst particular people groups, facing particular challenges within a particular context (national, political, socio-economic, religious etc), it’s not hard to understand that within God’s overall plan to “make his wisdom known through the church” (Eph 3:10), he has a specific mission for each church which must be executed in a specific way to have a particular impact. (That by the way, is one reason why it can be unhelpful to blindly copy things that seem to be working for other churches)

Now this specific ‘mission’ (within the overall mission to fulfil the Great Commission), is what I understand to be the prophetic foundations of a church – those things that God has specifically communicated to the church through the foundational gift of prophecy (and in line with his Word), that relate to his plans and intentions for that particular church. It’s not too dissimilar for the believer; we’re all called to be ‘witnesses’ (Acts 1:8) for Christ, but within that overall calling, we all have unique ‘good works created in advance for us to do’ (Eph. 2:10) These ‘good works’ – their form, shape and timing, are very often received and confirmed through prophecy.

A SIGN AND A WONDER

The next question then is, ‘what about City Hill, what are our prophetic foundations?’ Well, going back to the point I made earlier, I believe that any prophetic foundations that seem to ignore context are at best questionable. So what is our context? Well, South Africa has become a poster child for racial and ethnic division, for wealth distribution inequality and for poor leadership in just about every sphere of society (family, church, politics, to name just a few). I believe that in this context, which in reality includes all of Africa, City Hill is called to be a ‘sign and a wonder’ – a church that by the grace of God will demonstrate the power of the gospel in breaking down dividing walls and modelling Christ-like leadership.

I won’t blame anyone for thinking that the phrase ‘sign and wonder’ is somewhat grandiose, but perhaps you’ll allow me to paint a picture for you. Consider for a moment what it means in the South African context for white families (English and Afrikaans) to choose to be in a church led by a black man (and a predominantly black leadership team); or for black South Africans to choose to be in a church led by a team that at present is predominantly Zimbabwean; or (speaking of Zimbabweans) for Shona people to willingly follow the leadership of a Ndebele man; or for older men and women to submit to the leadership of a young man, and a team of mostly young men.

If you understand the depth of the divides represented here and you are completely honest with yourself, I think you’ll start to see that even though we’re still small and in many ways ‘insignificant,’ City Hill Church Johannesburg is already a sign and a wonder. We’re a ‘community of the Spirit,’ not primarily because we share spiritual gifts on Sunday, but because apart from the Spirit of God we would not be ‘a people.’ Our community cannot be explained in any other way but by the barrier breaking power of the gospel of Christ. If it were not for this power, we’d all be in churches that are more racially, socially and culturally comfortable; but we’re not – we’re here, we’re together. And we’re together not only because it is the will of God, but because week after week each of us makes the courageous decision to put aside the lure of ‘doing church’ with people who are exactly like us as we pursue this God given vision; a vision to see real gospel transformation in Africa.

A MILE WIDE AND AN INCH DEEP

I must talk also about another engine in our ‘dream machine’ – the desire to teach Africa the true gospel of Christ. Bat always says that Africa is ‘over-evangelised and under taught.’ Reinard Bonnke once said that the church in Africa is ‘a mile wide and an inch deep.’

When we started this church, all we had was a dream and literally two cents to rub together, but just this weekend we had Bat running Crossroads in Kabwe and Kitwe in Zambia, while at the same time Rob and Jenny were teaching Crossroads here at City Hill. We’ve also launched Crossroads in Khayelitsha, Cape Town and in Harare as well. (Crossroads is a systematic theology curriculum developed by and run in conjunction with the South Africa Theological Seminary – SATS). The vision already feels much bigger than we are, as though it has a life of its own – and this it most certainly does; it’s the life of the Spirit of God – who needs no permission from us to open door after door for the advance of the kingdom of God!

JUST ONE PIECE OF THE PUZZLE

I could go on and on, but I hope you’re starting to get the picture – we’re not a random group of people trying to run a church; we’re a people called out and called together by God for such a time as this. We’re a prophetic people, a community of the Spirit, a sign and a wonder to the greatness and majesty of God!

Now to think that City Hill is the church that Africa has been waiting for would be delusional, and we must never harbour such foolish arrogance. However, to be unaware or indifferent to the fact that God has a particular purpose in mind, a unique piece of his puzzle embedded in City Hill Church is to dishonour God and to devalue our mission.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, I would urge you my brothers and sisters, as fellow soldiers of Christ, to lay hold of these things and allow them to fuel in you a passion for the Church universal, but also for this church that God has planted you in. Take time to reflect on the great calling we have received, and the great harvest field that awaits, and ask yourself what part you have to play – and then do it wholeheartedly to the glory of God!

Much love

Sibs

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