First and Second Corinthians are in my view the most relevant books of the New Testament for church planting in San Francisco.
The Corinthian church was preoccupied with success and prestige. They wanted Paul to speak eloquently and powerfully, like other Roman celebrities. They were ashamed of Paul's constant suffering. They wanted to have the greatest spiritual gifts, and have them in the greatest number. They worried about wealth and status in their worship and communion celebrations. They bragged about their church, even while harboring openly incestuous relationships and suing one another in public court. None of this made them more popular with their pagan neighbors. In fact, Paul said they were becoming a joke.
If we're not careful, the church in San Francisco will fall prey to the same temptations. We'll feel pressure from San Francisco's highly-educated, highly-cultured populace to talk higher than we need to about topics that we needn't address. We'll be tempted to spend our money in the same way San Francisco spends its money. To wield power in the same way they wield power. We'll celebrate our neighborhood's gentrification instead of it's restoration. We'll buzz on buzz words. We'll resort to sales pitches over relationships. We'll fantasize about being the next big startup, "like Twitter, but with Jesus." And, to the residents of San Francisco, we'll become a joke, too.
Paul's Core Values
Whereas the Corinthians saw foolishness and weakness as a liability, Paul believed they were essential to effective gospel ministry.
“And I, when I came to you, brothers,did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1–5 ESV)
“He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9–10 ESV)
Foolishness and weakness. How would you like those to be your church's core values? "At First Baptist Church, we value foolishness and weakness. It's behind everything we do."
What Does This Look Like?
Paul would not bow to the Corinthian pressure to act like the world. After all, the world's wisdom hadn't proved all that successful. Paul's money was on Christ, the Savior who willingly died on a cross to save his people.
By anyone's standards, Christ was foolish and weak. Yet, it was his gospel that was the power of God for salvation to all who believe. Not the latest techniques or gadgets. Not a TED talk. Just "Jesus Christ and him crucified." And so Paul built it into the very fabric of his ministry. It wasn't just about what he preached. It was about how he lived and served. What tools did he avail himself of? Not lofty speech or plausible words, but tears and trembling and demonstrations of the Spirit and of power.
What does it look like in San Francisco to embrace foolishness and weakness for the sake of the gospel? To eschew worldly wisdom and power? How do we avoid the idolatries of cultural success while still striving to penetrate that same culture with the gospel?
Are we willing to intentionally choose foolishness and weakness, so that our faith would rest not in the wisdom of men but in the power of God?