The Dark Side of Planting in Cities

It was half past midnight and I was sitting outside on my apartment's terrace by myself, lighting up a cigar after a long, stressful and unresolved discussion I had had with my wife Beth. As I overlooked downtown Dadeland's scarce skyline, a beautiful 'cuarto-menguante' shone down only to be soon eclipsed by an immense dark cloud. For those who know me, I am not usually sensitive to this kind of stuff but at that moment I felt smothered by darkness and audibly heard a voice that told me to leave. It felt too creepy, so I knew it wasn't God's voice I was hearing. This was one of the many experiences we have had since we moved to Miami. On another occasion our older daughter woke up crying uncontrollably for 2 hours at 3:00 A.M, just a few hours before I was supposed to preach a sermon on the spiritually oppressed hunchback lady. 

I came out of this "roof-top" experience reminded of three important things. 

That cities are dark places. Those who've been here know that Miami is a very bright and colorful city, quite an ironic contrast to the spiritual darkness that envelops the place. You can sense its weight when you arrive. I still feel it every time I return from a trip. If you can't sense it, it's because you've been in the hot tub for too long and do not understand why those who touch the water with their toes complain and turn away. The evidences are all over the place. Miami is the second least church-attended city in the U.S. (only behind Seattle, I think) with most of its churches struggling to barely keep their heads above the water. Like most global cities, people in Miami are well into their careers and, probably more than most global cities, people here live very superficial lifestyles and are very sexually active. When living among the people of your city it's almost inevitable that you will be constantly tempted to bow down to their idols and live as they live. 

That church planting is a dark ministry phase. Miami is our third church planting experience, and I had forgotten how scary and lonely church planting feels can be, especially in the first two or three years. Most just-out-of-seminary prospects do not realize this because church planting is often presented to them as a flashy opportunity to idealistically conquer the world and to do whatever the heck they want. It doesn't help when your role models are hip young pastors with six figures salaries and large congregations. The truth of the matter is that the Devil knows that church planting is the most effective way to establish the kingdom of God among the cities of men. It would be naive to think that he wouldn't have a strong strategy of retaliation. It would also be naive to think that his targets are usually your fellow citizens and the people in your congregation, not you, your marriage and your family. We (planters) seem to think that he always sucks in the people of our city and churches into the culture's idolatrous lifestyle but not us. 

That I need to be strengthened continually/constantly in the Gospel and to fire back in prayer. I was reminded how inconsistent and ineffective it is to preach the Gospel on Sundays and then neglect to apply it personally on a daily basis. I need the Gospel every day to bring by inward darkness under its light. I need the Gospel to expose me to my fragility, to my arrogance, to my unbelief, and to my limitations as a pastor. And only when I am exposed do I rediscover its truth that "he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear," that "where sin increased, grace increased all the more," and that "the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." These reminders from scripture fortify my confidence to approach God in a bold way through prayer so that the enemy's strongholds are destroyed as the church of Jesus establishes itself as a city on a hill within the cities of men.