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Grand Rapids, MI

Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

City to City part 1

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I spent this past week in Miami a meeting with a number of Church Planting Networks and planters too look at the possibility of beginning a North American Network for city movements.  This gathering was catalyzed by the folks at Redeemer City to City and brought together people from  Renew South Florida, Acts29, the RCA, many from the PCA, the SBC, the GCM Collective, and others.  It was an awesome time to meet other folks who are passionate about reaching North America, particular through cities.  It was great to hear the unique challenges and opportunities that cities bring and present to the church.  The outcome of this gathering was that a group will be formed, likely to be called the City to City Collective for shared resourcing, networking, encouragement, and more.  It'll be great to see what unfolds. Tim Keller of Redeemer in New York was the keynote speaker, and I want to share just a few things.  In the first session, The Challenge of North American Cities, Keller said that the expense of cities, the complexity of cities, and the mobility of cities makes a church plant there very hard.  Knowing that, it's important to see larger trends, and in that vein he spoke about the decline of cities from 1970-1990 in which cities were hollowed out at the core, with suburban flight the order of the day.  This left an urban desolation in many cases, with increased crime rates, devalued properties, and a cultural malaise.  The rich would commute from the suburbs and leave the urban poor in the central city.  From the 1990's to today, there was been an upsurge in cities, a renewal of the urban core.  In many ways this was due to gentrification (young professionals re-locating to urban environments).  Crime went down, cultural productivity increased, and the core of cities have thus seen a resurgence.  However, the poor are also often displaced as property values increase and the city finds cultural and economic renewal.  Each era presents a different kind of opportunity, different needs, and different responses by the church.    The follow up question is, then, what is the future of the city?

Keller, then, offered his analysis of what the future holds for American cities.  First, he spoke of the following positive trends:

  • North American churches are globalizing.  This is a positive trend because strong international connections create stability and prestige.  Because the era of America as an economic self-sufficient engine is over, globalization is important.
  • North American churches are urbanizing.  By urbanizing, Keller was particularly speaking to the trend in cities towards smart growth, urban planning of  the New Urbanism kind.  He referenced the return to a walkable, mixed-use human settlement in cities, including places to work, live, shop, play, and learn within 10 minutes as opposed to the suburbanizing affect in which everything is about commuting and doing life with people that are not the same people you live with.  There are lots of great books on this, and I think he's right on about not only emerging urban planning, but also that this is a positive trend not only for cities and human beings in general who live there, but also for the church because it creates a possible parish that is not merely made up of people commuting to their favorite church or speaker.

Secondly, he spoke of negative trends:

  • The rise of great need:  Here, Keller focused on the recent recession and global financial meltdown, particularly in American cities.
  • However, though this is a negative trend in some ways in terms of urban development, Keller rewinded to remind us that through our history lessons we learn that God has often used urban dysfunction to win the hearts of people.  When we are in times of great need, there is also great opportunity for the church to respond.

So, for Keller, the future of urban ministry looks good because of globalization, new urbanism, and increased need.

Lastly, in terms of cities, Keller mentioned the following future trends to expect:

  1. Increasing hostility in the culture wars.  He was particularly on target when he said that we are fighting a Two Front War:  Secularists think Christians are too moralistic.  Muslims and Hindus think we are too permissive.  There will, then, be increasing hostility from secularists and increasing hostility from fundamentalists (of all sorts, including Christians).
  2. More opportunities for justice and mercy.  This is true particularly because of the increasing needs in the global financial meltdown and the increasing gap between the rich and the poort.
  3. Culture-making will be increasingly important, particularly with respect to the integration of faith and work.  People in the city will desire more and more the integration between multifarious worlds.
  4. A new kind of apologetics.  This part was particularly poignant for me.  Back in 2000, I started a class called "Beyond Apologetics" because I was realizing that because of the shifts we are experiencing in late modernity or post-modernity, that a new kind of apologetics is needed.  This doesn't mean that the classic apologetics are wrong or bad, but merely that we need a new apologetic for a new emerging culture.  In Keller's words, "We need to answer questions people are actually asking" or in one of the bylines of my former church in Ann Arbor, "Ask questions worth answering; seek answers worth believing."  Here are some of the points and reasons for a new apologetic:
  • The world essentially says to Christians, “You are not good neighbors.”
  • We need more cogent and powerful answers to questions that people are actually asking.
  • The basic objection alongside of evil & suffering, etc. is that Christians are bad citizens of pluralistic cities because as we grow and if we grow, we will take away people’s rights and freedoms.
  • We are completely outflanked in the public arena.
  • We have to care for the whole parish, including our secular neighbors.
  • The public narrative is that Christians are intolerant, and that is very powerful and makes it extremely hard to enter public discourse.

Keller also spoke about the stages of development of the catachuminate which we need to revisit, and how the church is failing in its response to homosexuality.  That's a long conversation for another time.

I'll blog a bit more on this in the future if I can find the time, including some of his other sessions.


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