I live in a great city. God is on the move in Philadelphia and He is working in many different contexts. In Revelation 3, God speaking through the Apostle John writes the following to the church of Philadelphia,
“I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”
As it was then it is now in the city of brotherly love that I call home. When people think of God moving in America, it is easy to think about places like Colorado Springs, Grand Rapids, Orlando or Southern California where there are significant clusters of evangelical organizations and mega churches. This was not always the case. Many years ago, the hubs of evangelical activity and vitality were places like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. Interestingly, God is once again doing a new work in these urban areas and it is exciting.
This week, we hosted a Clergy Appreciation Breakfast and had a record turnout. The hunger for a new move of God and the experience of His manifest presence was palpable. While the attendees were from many different denominations and churches with widely varying theological perspectives, they were all able to agree on one thing. God’s tangible presence and power are the only things that are going to make real, lasting change take place in our city. People are tired of gimmicks, trendy tactics and attention getting stunts. The problems of the city are so gigantic and intractable that it is easy to get discouraged and to see the challenges as simply insurmountable. Despite this, the atmosphere at this breakfast was one of expectation and hope and it greatly encouraged my heart.
The face of the church in Philadelphia is multifaceted. There are store-front churches and mega churches, traditional and contemporary and everything in between. Each month, a select group of clergy meets in a gathering called Partners in Harvest. On Friday, I had the privilege of joining them for lunch and listening to what God is doing in their midst. Some of these churches have been doing ministry for decades and draw hundreds of people each week, others are relatively new and only draw a few dozen on any given Sunday. As I listened to their robust discussion, it quickly became apparent that they all had one thing in common – a commitment to the life changing power of the gospel as the only solution to all the problems facing any urban congregation. In a world where churches are more known for the celebrity status of their pastor or the quality of their worship team, this was refreshing.
In the midst of all the things going on with churches in our city, one of the most exciting is the work of Epiphany Fellowship, their pastor Eric Mason and his annual Thriving Conference. The conference has grown so big that it moved out of the church and onto the Temple University campus this week. To be clear, this is not the urban version of the Catalyst conference and it did not have thousands of attendees. Instead, several hundred urban ministry practitioners from around the country gathered together to learn from each other and to share stories of how God is moving in their cities. As always, it was capped off by powerful teaching from Pastor Eric Mason himself and his exhortation to focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ.
CLC has provided the conference book store for the last couple of years and this event is something that I always look forward to attending. The enthusiasm of seeing the next generation of urban church planters buying books and seeking to develop their spiritual reading habits is incredibly motivating. We were given a suggested list of books to bring and they were not light reading. Despite this, people flocked around the tables and spent a great deal of time making book choices. Reading is certainly not dead in this younger generation and even more encouraging, they are choosing to read books that will stretch them and their ministries.
As I think about the future, I am reminded of the past. All great moves of God have been preceded by times of prayer and repentance. It is no surprise that the College of Prayer is launching a site in Philadelphia this fall. Our ministry will be the host site for this catalytic event in November and we look forward to seeing who God will bring to this first weekend. Fred Hartley, who is the President of the College of Prayer and a CLC author, will be the keynote speaker. May this be the start of a revival in the city where America was founded.