A New Kind of Urban Ministry
From Charity to Comprehensive Flourishing
This kind of vision will require new kinds of civic engagement. For generations Christians have been providing charity for those who suffer most from the idolatries and injustices that cities concentrate. The "rescue mission" model of Christian charity has restored dignity to countless people who otherwise might have been lost or forgotten.
The community-development model, however, looked beyond individual cases of acute need to ask what it would take to restore whole neighborhoods. In communities where this model has been pursued wholeheartedly, it has borne amazing fruit. At Christianity Today, we've had the privilege of covering this patient, courageous cultural transformation many times, and will continue to do so.
But precisely because the community-development movement has focused on neighborhoods that have lost access to the institutions that sustain comprehensive flourishing, it sometimes has left other parts of the city unaddressed. It is not just tough urban neighborhoods that need shalom. What would bring comprehensive flourishing to those who commute in and out of the city every day? What would bring it to neighborhoods where high housing prices create a monoculture of affluence? What would bring it to law firms, hospitals, and universities?
These, too, are part of the city, and to neglect Christian presence there to focus on the most obviously broken parts of society may mean missing the much greater vision of Expectation. As Katelyn Beaty reports in our feature on Portland (page 26), addressing a problem like commercial sexual exploitation requires not just charity and direct service, not just attention to a few blighted neighborhoods, but creative leadership throughout law, business, and education. It requires Christians to take up their calling as bearers of shalom in every neighborhood and every one of the city's structures.
All this prompts the multiyear project we are calling This Is Our City. We want to explore this new urban landscape, and the stories of Christians who are seeking comprehensive flourishing within it. The six cities we are profiling in print and online differ dramatically from one another in size, economic climate, and ethnic and racial composition, and in their history of Christian presence, leadership or abdication, at crucial moments. But they all have stories worth telling. Wherever we live, we can learn something from these cities about faithfulness to our own place.
We hope that as you read these articles, watch these films, and create your own responses—at ThisIsOurCity.org—you'll have in mind the seventh city covered by This Is Our City: your own. Jesus, who wept over Jerusalem, died for Jerusalem, rose from a tomb in Jerusalem, and ascended from a hill outside Jerusalem, now commissions us to live that same crucified-and-risen life in our neighborhoods, towns, and cities. For it is in these confusing and exhilarating places, where image-bearing and idol-making intermingle, that we can most wholeheartedly join the prayer of those first expectant followers: Come, Lord Jesus.
Andy Crouch, a CT editor at large, is executive producer of the This Is Our City project and author of Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (InterVarsity).
For documentary videos, interviews, and photo essays about Christian renewal in U.S. cities, visit ThisIsOurCity.org.
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