Christians should seek to live in the city, not to use the city to build great churches, but to use the church’s resources to seek a great, flourishing city. –Tim Keller
In Center Church, Tim Keller offers challenging insights and provocative questions based on over twenty years of ministry in New York City. Center Church outlines a theological vision for ministry – applying classic doctrines to our time and place – organized around three core commitments:
- Gospel-centered: The gospel of grace in Jesus Christ changes everything, from our hearts to our community to the world. It completely reshapes the content, tone and strategy of all that we do.
- City-centered: Cities increasingly influence our global culture and affect the way we do ministry. With a positive approach toward our culture, we learn to affirm that cities are wonderful, strategic and underserved places for gospel ministry.
- Movement-centered: Instead of building our own tribe, we seek the prosperity and peace of our community as we are led by the Holy Spirit.
In the section on “City Vision,” Keller answers the question raised in the title of this post with the following thoughts:
- Christians should develop appreciative attitudes toward the city – In obedience to God, Job went to the city of Nineveh, but he didn’t love it. In the same way, Christians may come to the city out of a sense of duty to God while being filled with great disdain for the density and diversity of the city. But for ministry in cities to be effective, it is critical that Christians appreciate cities. They should love city life and find it energizing.
- Christians should become a dynamic counterculture where they live – It will not be enough for Christians to simply live as individuals in the city. They must live as a particular kind of community. Christians are called to be an alternate city within every earthy city, an alternate human culture within every human culture – to show how sex, money, and power can be used in nondestructive ways; to show how classes and races that cannot get along outside of Christ can get along in him; and to show how it is possible to cultivate by using the tools of art, education, government, and business to bring hope to people rather than despair or cynicism.
- Christians should be a community radially committed to the good of their city as a whole – It is not enough for Christians to form a culture that merely “counters” the values of the city. We must also commit, with all the resource of our faith and life to serve sacrificially the good of the whole city, and especially the poor. Christians in cities must become a counterculture for the common good. They must be radically committed to its benefit. They must minister to the city out of their distinctive Christian beliefs and identity.
If Christians seek power and influence, they will arouse fear and hostility. If instead they pursue love and seek to serve, they will be granted a great deal of influence by their neighbors, a free gift given to trusted and trustworthy people.
Reflections and excerpts from Tim Keller’s book Center Church.