The challenge is to establish churches and other ministries that effectively engage the realities of the cities of the world. – Tim Keller
As Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC notes in his recent book Center Church, “the majority of evangelical Protestants who presently control the United States mission apparatus are typically white and non-urban in background. They neither understand nor in most cases enjoy urban life. Furthermore, many of the prevailing ministry methods are forged outside of urban areas and then simply imported, with little thought given to the unnecessary barriers this practice erects between urban dwellers and the gospel.
Keller believes that churches that minister in ways that are indigenous and honoring to a city – whatever its size – exhibit these seven vital features:
Respect for Urban Sensibility – Christian leaders and ministers must genuinely belong to the culture so they begin to intuitively understand it. Center-city culture in particular is filled with well-informed, verbal, creative, and assertive people who do not respond well to authoritative pronouncements. They appreciate thoughtful presentations that are well argued and provide opportunities for feedback.
Unusual Sensitivity to Cultural Differences – Effective leaders in urban ministry are acutely aware of the different people groups within their area. Because cities are dense and diverse, they are always culturally complex. The ever-present challenge is to work to make urban ministry as broadly appealing as possible and as inclusive of different cultures as possible.
Commitment to Neighborhood and Justice – Urban neighborhoods are highly complex. Often, alongside the well-off residents in gentrified neighborhoods with their expensive apartments, private schools, and community associations, there is often a “shadow neighborhood” filled with many who live in poverty, attend struggling schools, and reside in government housing. Urban ministers learn how to exegete their neighborhoods to grasp their sociological complexity.
Integration of Faith and Work – Traditional evangelical churches tend to emphasize personal piety and rarely help believers understand how to maintain and apply their Christian beliefs and practice to the worlds of the arts, business, scholarship, and government. Urban Christians need a broader vision of how Christianity engages and influences culture. Cities are culture-forming incubators, and believers in such places have a significant need for guidance on how Christian faith should express itself in public life.
Bias for Complex Evangelism – Not only must an urban church be committed to evangelism; it must be committed to the complexity of urban evangelism. There is no “one-size-fits-all” method or message that can be used with all urban residents. Urban evangelism requires immersion in the various cultures’ greatest hopes, fears, views and objections to Christianity. It requires a creative host of different means and venues, and it takes great courage.
Preaching that Both Attracts and Challenges Urban People – Perhaps the greatest challenge for preachers in urban contexts is the fact that many secular and non-believing people ma be in the audience. The challenge is for the urban preacher to preach in a way that edifies believers and engages and evangelizes non-believers at the same time.
Commitment to Artistry and Creativity – Professional artists live disproportionately in major urban areas, and so the art are held in high regard in the city, while in non-urban areas little direct attention is given to them. Urban churches must be aware of this, and should have high standards for artistic skill in their worship and ministries. They must also think of the artists no simply as persons with skills to use, but connect to them as worshippers and hearers, communicating that they are valued for both their work and their presence in the community.
By his grace, Jesus lost the city-that-was, so we could become the citizens of the city-to-come, making us salt and light in the city-that-is. – Tim Keller
Reflections and excerpts from Tim Keller’s book Center Church.