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The Secret to City-Wide Culture Making

The Secret to City-Wide Culture Making

The qualities that have made the Richmond Christian Leadership Institute flourish in five years are key to any leadership program, anywhere.

A few years ago, I found myself in a room with more diversity, intelligence, and energy than I've experienced almost anywhere else. It was a spring Saturday morning in a suburb just west of Richmond, Virginia, and gathered in a meeting room of a pleasant nondenominational church was a group of about 50 people, most of them young adults, all of them keenly engaged in a series of sessions about faith and cultural responsibility. These students, instructors, and mentors for the Richmond Christian Leadership Institute (RCLI) were nearing the end of their ten-month-long immersion in the opportunities and challenges of cultural leadership in the city. The next month, they would be meeting again, this time in an inner-city African-American church. RCLI is a moveable feast.

Only five years old and limited to about 30 students per year, RCLI is already having an outsize influence on the city of Richmond, and on the Christian community there. Its influence hinges on its innovative approach to civic education. Its participants come from every sector of culture—primarily business, nonprofit organizations, and local government—and from a vast array of neighborhoods, churches (53 different churches have been represented by RCLI's 151 participants to date), and ethnic and racial backgrounds. What they share is a serious commitment to Christian discipleship, some demonstrated capacity for leadership, and a love of their city. And after ten months together, they have something else in common: an in-depth education in Richmond's history, culture, neighborhoods, government, and economy. They also have friendships with fellow emerging leaders they would never have met any other way.

RCLI's approach to training the next generation of civic, business, and church leaders is a good measure of the health of the Christian community in Richmond, and Christians' commitment to the health of their city. I believe RCLI, both in the details of its programs and the philosophy that has shaped its work, comes as close to a secret of Christian civic renewal as you're ever going to find. At least if a tremendously challenging, multifaceted effort based on decades of investment, learning, reflection, trial, and error counts as a "secret." It has several qualities that could be borrowed for culture-making efforts almost anywhere:

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Displaying 1–5 of 6 comments

Nick Massmann

June 11, 2012  11:50am

This is a great article and it sounds like a great program. Much of this can be seen and readily understood by non-believers as good steps to placemaking and social sustainability, which is gaining popularity as we revitalize our urban cores. What is less obvious, though, is what others have mentioned about the specific Christian intent of the movement. As one who has studied architecture, urban planning, and sustainability with a Christian mindset, I can see real potential in this program to concentrate and strengthen Christians living intentionally in a region/neighborhood among non-believers, similar to what we see in Acts 2:42. Our cities have been influenced far too greatly by cheap and finite energy, and we need to come back to a sustainable urban organization, one developed by passionate Christians who love God, others, and themselves. What would that city look like?

Rick Dalbey

May 30, 2012  7:36pm

David, you are right. This is a mild form of Christian Reconstructionism or dominionism. Its practitioners are building a Christian society just as the Catholic Church built a Holy Roman Empire. It does not need evangelization as a justification, they are reforming the institutions of society and making them over into a Christian Utopia.

David Clark

May 30, 2012  6:14pm

It sounds good - but I was looking for a purpose - perhaps understanding the city better so we can win souls and make disciples?

Nate Clarke

May 30, 2012  5:40pm

Les - thanks for the comments. We've been asking similar questions about the stories of cities. In fact we made a short film about it. http://www.christianitytoday.com/thisisourcity/richmond/markingsingrace.htm l

Les Nordman

May 30, 2012  4:21pm

This article interests me a lot. Reading it foments many questions. Among the questions I have are: As we learn about the logistics ("transportation routes, tax rates, building codes and covenants" and the past of our city, do we also learn about the arts as part of the logistics? And what part do the arts play in the debasement of, or renewal of, our city? | Other questions also refer to art, specifically, storytelling. What stories do we tell ourselves and our children about how our city came to be the way it is, how the logistics became to be the way they are? For example, here in Dallas, Texas, how did the city allow "gentleman's clubs" to flourish, and real art to languish? How did it actually happen and what stories do we tell ourselves about the happening (if the two conflict)? What new stories do we tell ourselves to lead the way into renewing our city? | Thanks for the thought-provoking article. :-)

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