Phillip has a way of running the full-time paid ministry elective that is probably as unique as Phillip himself. We go around the room and say our name, which church we attend and what we are studying. The occasional light-hearted joke is made at the expense of a few people, there's a little bit of back and forth with Phillip about do you know such and such. After introductions the group is asked to list the questions we have come with, which are then listed on the board. After 5 minutes or so scribing questions and grouping them together, Phillip sits back down and talks. And talks. And talks. Without reference to the questions Phillip talks until 5 minutes before the allocated time has expired. The final minutes are used going through the questions a second time, on this occasion crossing off everything that Phillip covered in his monologue. Inevitably he's answered the majority of questions with only a few remaining, including "Ministry in the country", to which the answer is simple;
God cares for people more than sheep. So we need to send gospel workers where there's more people than sheep.Alright then. Guess I won't be leaving the city. And New Zealand is definitely out of the question. On further explanation I understood Phillip's point. He was just using the line as an introduction to his reflections on strategic thinking. He went on to inform us if we drew an imaginary triangle between three Western Sydney suburbs (I forget which ones), there's more people contained within than in the entire state of South Australia - so we theoretically need at least as many workers in that triangle as in South Australia. Phillip wasn't against country ministry, but highlighted the increased importance of regional centres rather than establishing a formal church in every tiny community.
In hindsight the entire situation isn't as comical as when my cousin went to an elective a few years earlier specifically on ministry in country areas. The guy running the elective never showed up, so at the last minute Phillip ran it instead and spent the entire "Country ministry" elective telling the group they shouldn't go into country ministry. Cities are where the action is.
Maybe it's because I'm the benefactor of faithful ministry in a country town that I'm especially touchy when it comes to people perhaps overplaying the metropolitan card. Consequently I'm not overly taken by the song made famous by Chris Tomlin and spreading through Sydney churches; God of this City.
Due to the personal nature of music, it is notoriously difficult to criticise. When it comes to congregational church music the general difficulty of criticism remains. Long time readers of the blog will know however this hasn't stopped me in the past.
Now from what I've heard, the song God of this City doesn't necessarily come from a city- centric view of ministry, but I've no doubt that this is the new life the song has taken on by many of the people singing it. In fact Tomlin chose it for its relevance to the tour of world cities through the Passion conferences.
Apart from the general vagueness of what God is about to do in the City (capitalised for some reason), I just don't like the general vibe of "this is the place that God is bringing it". Whatever it is, of course. I'm trying to be vague as well. Perhaps 'it' could be fixing the public transport or maybe something to do with the desalination plant, but assuming the 'it' that God is doing in the City has something to do with proclaiming the gospel of forgiveness of sin through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, why is he going to be at work particularly here? What if it's a word of judgment that he's bringing on this city.
You're the God of this city/You're the King of these people/You're the Lord of this nation/You are
You're the Light in this darkness/You're the Hope to the hopeless/You're the Peace to the restless/You are
There is no one like our God/There is no one like our God
For greater things have yet to come/And greater things are still to be done in this City
(Repeat ad nauseum)It reminds me of the classic line "God bless America... and no place else" or the Christian conference site Merroo which has a big painting of Australia in the dining area with the banner "The Great South Land of the Holy Spirit" - another veiled dig at New Zealand, perhaps? The potential for self-centredness looms large.
I love country ministry. It's rare to hear a country person if prompted say "I can't think of any non-Christian friends." It's a place where people talk to each other and you know your neighbours, and people share their lives. When I first moved to Sydney I was the guy who all the spruikers and pamphleters got to take their stuff because I actually made eye contact with people rather than staring blankly straight ahead. God does great work through his people in the country.
Perhaps we could have a non-city version of the song;
You're the God of the farmers/You're the King of the country*/The place you go on vacation/ You are*With apologies to John Williamson