City Vision

Wow. Wow! WOW! Tim Keller has done it again for me. Reading his article “Ministry in the New Global Culture of Major City-Centers” back in 2005 literally rocked my world. God used it to give me and our church our vision for being a ‘City-Center’ church.

But after several years fatigue sets in and you can begin to doubt whether the vision is right or realistic.

I’ve been reading slowly through Keller’s new magnum opus, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Zondervan, 2012). I just finished Part 4: City Vision. It is much of the stuff I had read and heard from him before, but more fully developed and honed. Reading this section has re-convinced me that this is indeed God’s calling on my life and our church and re-invigorated me to rally people around this vision.

Listen to this conclusion to chapter 13 – “The Call to the City” (p. 162):

We can be confident that the cities of the world will continue to grow in significance and power. Because of this, they remain just as strategic – if not more so – than they were in the days of Paul and the early church when Christian mission was predominantly urban. I would argue that there is nothing more critical for the evangelical church today than to emphasize and support urban ministry.

The need is great, as is the cost – ministry in city centers is considerably more expensive on a per capita basis than it is away from the urban core. But the church can no longer ignore the profound and irreversible changes occurring in the world today. If Christians want to reach the unreached, we must go to the cities. To reach the rising generations, we must go to the cities. To have any impact for Christ on the creation of culture, we must go to the cities. To serve the poor, we must go to the cities.

Many people who are not naturally comfortable in the city will have to follow the example of Abraham. Abraham was called to leave his familiar culture and become a pilgrim, seeking the city of God (Gen. 12:1 – 4; Heb 11:8-10). And while Christians should not deliberately seek difficulty for its own sake, can we not follow the example of the incarnate Christ, who did not live in places where he was comfortable but went where he was useful (Matt 8:20; John 4:34; Rom 15:3)? Can we not face difficulty for his sake (cf. Heb 11:26), embracing both the difficulties and the riches of city living?

While difficulties exist, there are many riches to cities and urban life, as Keller and my own experience show.

Later, Keller clarifies (p. 166):

I am not saying that all Christians should pack up and go live and minister in urban areas. What I am saying is that the cities of the world are grievously underserved by the church because, in general, the people of the world are moving into cities faster than churches are. And I am seeking to use all the biblical, sociological, missiological, ecclesial, and rhetorical resources at my disposal to help the church (particularly in the United States) reorient itself to address this deficit.

This he does masterfully.

Yet I am a Midwestern farm boy at root. Through unmistakable and unexpected Providence I find myself pastoring a church in the ‘City-Center’ of Chicago. But I feel pulled. Many times have I read Wendell Berry and his tales of Port William with a mixed sense of longing and nostalgia as he writes about rural/small town life. Many times have I wondered what this means for me living away from my roots and in an urban setting. Could the best of small town life be replicated in the city. And could our church be part of realizing that?

I literally cried when I read these words in Center Church (p. 170; emphasis mine):

Even those (like Wendell Berry) who lift up the virtues of rural living outline a form of human community just as achievable in cities as in small towns…. [Berry speaks of the ‘agrarian mind’ as] holding a commitment to a particular place for a lifetime and to conducting one’s work, recreation, family life in the same place and within a web of thick, long-term, local personal relationships…. What this means, I believe, is that a person with an ‘agrarian’ mind can live in a city very well. It is illuminating to compare the seminal work of Jane Jacobs (The Death and Life of the Great American Cities) with Berry’s work. Jacobs was as committed as Berry to the importance of neighborhood – of local economies in which members of the neighborhood knew each other, had regular dealings with each other, and identified their own interests with the interests of their neighbors.

On the next page Keller quotes political theorist Mark Mitchell as saying (p. 171):

Ultimately, healthy communities will only be realized when individuals commit to a particular place and to particular neighbors in the long-term work of making a place, of recognizing and enjoying the responsibilities and pleasures of membership in a local community. These good things are not the unique provenance of agrarian or rural settings. They can and have been achieved in urban and town settings.

Wow. Wow! WOW! This section is a must read. And I must learn to communicate it better to those in our church who won’t read it. I desire so passionately that this would be achieved in the UIC Area, for the glory of God and the good of us.


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