I wrestled to find a suitable title for my review of Darrin Patrick and Matt Carter’s new book, For The City. Obviously, I decided ultimately that their subtitle, “Proclaiming and Living Out the Gospel,” was the most appropriate description of this book. For The City is the story of two church planters who, by God’s grace, defied the odds and planted missional churches that are proclaiming and living out the gospel in their cities and beyond. This is a book that church planters, pastors, church leaders and laity should read if they are looking for examples of what a church that is “for” its city looks like.
Around the same time that Matt Carter and Chris Tomlin were planting The Austin Stone in Austin and Darrin Patrick was planting The Journey in St. Louis, I was planting The River in metro Atlanta. After about four years, our elders (read “me”), determined that The River was no longer viable as a church and we dissolved. According to a 2007 study by the Center for Missional Research, about a third of all church plants don’t survive their fourth year. Sadly, The River was one of those church plants that, due to the previously mentioned lack of leadership and other reasons, simply was not sustainable long-term. During that same period, Matt Chandler was “re-planting” The Village Church in the Dallas area, where my family is now serving as covenant members and home group coaches. Just as I have no explanation for the similarity of the names of these churches, I also have no real explanation for why God chooses to bless some churches with tremendous growth and not sustain others. You will not find For The City to be a how-to-grow-a-large-church book. Instead, you will find it to be true to it’s claim of being a book about proclaiming and living out the gospel in your context. It is our job as ministers of reconciliation to be faithful to plant and water. God is responsible for the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)
For The City exalts the God who gives the growth, not the planters and waterers. This is the story of how God used a worship leader named Chris Tomlin to encourage Matt to plant in Austin (when, as a Texas A&M graduate, he would have preferred to plant anywhere else in Texas) and an interview with Kurt Warner to encourage Darrin to plant in St. Louis. It is the story of how God, in his mercy, protected both men from misguided early attempts at contextualization. (Darrin thought a Jackass marathon would be a good idea, and Matt decided to completely ridicule the theory of evolution in a college city filled with intellectuals.) You will read about how the gospel has motivated a used-car salesman in St. Louis to talk about Jesus on his car lot and sustained a couple in Austin through a difficult Haitian adoption. For the City is the story of how “missional communities” are slowly beginning to transform both of these cities. Through Mission St. Louis (poverty), The Luminary Center for the Arts, and Karis House (counseling), The Journey is meeting real needs in their city. The Stone is doing the same in Austin through the For The City Network, bringing together organizations like Communities in Schools (literacy), the Capital Area Food Bank (hunger), the Caring Family Network (adoption), and Austin LifeGuard (teen pregnancy). Woven throughout is the constant gospel rhythm that this is God’s work, not the work of these men. Darrin and Matt are both very transparent about their own weaknesses and failures along the way.
In short, For The City is about the simple call of all believers to proclaim and live out the gospel where we are, while we are there. This call is for church planters and pastors, regardless of church size or growth rate. It is for small group leaders, members and lay ministers of all types. It is for those who live in large, medium-sized, and small cities, suburbs, towns and rural areas.
“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7)
[Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Zondervan as part of their book review blog tour program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”]