Last week, David Brooks wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times (June 30, 2015) titled, The Next Culture War. In his column, Brooks advocated for the kind of work that Christian leaders are quietly engaged with in cities all over America.
Brooks’ focus was on the decline in Christianity in the United States, the smaller share of Evangelicals in the U.S. electorate, and the recent Supreme Court decision supporting gay marriage. He took the opportunity to advocate a significant shift for social conservatives to make from the front lines of the current culture wars to offering collaborative service, social and spiritual capital in their cities and communities.
As Americans, Christians are often conflicted when deeply held moral and ethical positions are overridden by elections and/or court decisions. However, being an American and being a Christian represent two very different identities. Recent decisions on public policies should help Christians understand their cultural context and live counter-culturally.
Brooks wrote, “Consider putting aside, in the current climate, the culture war oriented around the sexual revolution.” The culture war makes people, who should be known for profound love and a commitment to equality and justice, appear to be neither loving nor just.
He writes, “Social conservatives could be the people who help reweave the sinews of society. They already subscribe to a faith built on selfless love. They can serve as examples of commmitment. They are equipped with a vocabulary to distinguish right from wrong, what dignifies and what demeans. They already, but in private, tithe to the poor and nurture the lonely.” He could substitute “Evangelical Christians” for his use of the term “social conservatives.” However, it’s good that he does not, because many of us find our place on the political spectrum to be somewhere between conservatives and liberals, who have become so polemic that sensible public policy seems to get lost in the rhetoric.
Here’s where Christian leaders’ work in cities and David Brooks’ viewpoint dovetail. It’s when he writes, “The defining face of social conservativism could be this: Those are the people who go into underprivileged areas and form organizations to help nurture stable families. Those are the people who build community institutions in places where they are sparse. Those are the people who can help us think about how economic joblessness and spritutal poverty reinforce each other. Those are the people who converse with us about the transcendent in everyday life.” I would add, Those are the people who seek the peace and prosperity of their city and offer hope.
When we take an approach that is innovative and collaborative that focuses on “what people care about” in cities and communities, Christians will enter the public square and find they become valued partners. I’ve written a short e-book about how this is already taking place in a number of cities and to offer a method that will give many thousands of people an opportunity to engage in helping every city to become a good city; to move toward city transformation in ways that help repair the fabric of our communities and, as David Brooks writes, “…to serve as messengers of love, dignity, commitment, communion and grace.”
Free eBook: Multiply Volunteers and Resources
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Today I leave to speak at the Gather Global Conference in London and to meet with national catalysts for city transformation movements from around the world. Before I go, I thought it would be good to share one more presentation from our recent South Central GoodCities Leadership Gathering. Below is a guest blog and video from Rebecca Walls, the Executive Director of Unite, which serves Greater Dallas. The 9 minute video below was recorded in one of our break out sessions.
Whole Church. Whole Gospel. Whole City. That’s a big scope! What role do events play in that?
To be honest, while convening key leaders is one of the main functions of Unite, I don’t generally like big events. Since my mind is constantly spinning with thoughts about on-going collaboration and impact, taking time out to plan a big event feels like a distraction. But I’ve learned that they can play a very strategic part in our work – especially when they have a few specific components.
We’ve done 3 big events in Unite’s history (www.unitethechurch.org):
- We launched Unite with a huge coordinated community service event called “Go & Be.” On May 1-2, 2010, 50+ churches across Greater Dallas mobilized almost 20,000 volunteers who collected food, painted houses, planted gardens, and more.
- In January, 2013, around 600 diverse Christians joined together for the launch of our city-wide prayer initiative called “A Prayed 4 City” (www.ap4c.org). This marked the beginning of a monthly prayer effort of 80+ churches and organizations who have adopted one day per month to pray through a common guide focused on the real needs of Greater Dallas.
- Then in January, 2014, Movement Day Greater Dallas(www.movementdaygreaterdallas.com) convened nearly 1,400 diverse Christian leaders to hear a common vision and to develop specific, measurable goals related to transformation in several areas of great need.
What do those 3 very different events have in common? They were catalytic. Why? Here are 15 key ways these events benefit gospel movements:
- They bring the “whole Church” together – – all denominations, races, sizes, socio-economic levels, professions are a clear expression of Christian unity.
- They tell the “whole Church, whole Gospel, whole city” story.
- They create new levels of relationships
- They expose the masses to the real needs of the city and connect those needs to our Christian faith.
- They coordinate the work of the body of Christ.
- They build a collaborative spirit that can lead to collective impact.
- They create a shared vision for the city and give everyone a common language.
- They uncover additional resources that you might not have otherwise known about.
- They encourage diligent servants; they let them know that there are others who care…that they’re not the only ones.
- They spark relationships between diverse people who care about the same things leading to shared best practices, coordination, and/or collaboration.
- They can be used to equip people with best practices, training, or other resources.
- They can be used to develop shared measurements for impact by finding out what everyone’s already doing, collecting stories, etc.
- They raise awareness of what you’re doing and your organizations values.
- They make an almost incomprehensibly big vision and mission very tangible.
- And because of those 2 things, they can increase funding.
Each type of event can provide it’s own unique benefit. For example, community service events provide low-level engagement opportunities that will hopefully lead to long-term, relational, empowering service. On the flip side, prayer events provide a way for intercessors to engage the city transformation work in a way that matches their passions while also providing the supernatural power for the transformation itself.
But the most important benefit of big events is that they can bring glory to God. With that comes great responsibility to represent His heart well, but if you’re doing that, I encourage you not to be ashamed to make the most of every PR opportunity.
My prayer for every city is that the Church will become known for praying for, serving, and loving our neighbors and communities in their areas of greatest need: poverty, hunger, education, injustice, or whatever that might be for your city. I’m so grateful to be living in a time in history when He’s bringing His Church together to do just that and am excited to be walking alongside you!
In our recent GoodCities Leadership Gathering in Phoenix, Eric Swanson
introduced a creative approach when he gave a 20 minute presentation titled “City Transformation as a Platform” (his full presentation is available at the end of this post). His belief is that the real power of a decentralized network in a city is found in the many ways that people live out their callings and yet, unify under a city transformation
Swanson notes that people will find their place within a common vision if it serves their own self interest. He distinguishes between self interest and selfish interests by stating that self interest is a belief from those involved that they will get more out of being involved with the movement than through non-involvement. Selfish interest is a viewpoint that only engages because of a self-promoting ulterior motive (i.e. a sales rep who gets involved in a volunteer organization to make sales instead of to accomplish the goals of the volunteer organization.)
He compares this new approach to Web 2.0 which has radically changed our online experiences. Web 1.0 offered a way for people and organizations to share information about themselves with others. Web 2.0 offers an interactive experience where internet users pursue their interests and engage information and organizations to get what they are looking for. In Web 2.0 Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple are four big platforms where internet users find what they need.
Swanson asks, “How can we be more like…
- YouTube not ABC?
- Wikipedia not Encyclopedia Britannica?
- Airbnb not Marriott Hotels?
- Twitter not Associated Press?
- A playground not Little League?
City movements become much more powerful when they lift a transformational vision that engages people and organizations in their self interest. Swanson listed the kinds of self interests that various parties within city movements hold deeply to give examples of why they may become involved. These self interests include:
When city transformation becomes a platform rather than only residing in an organization, the work of a city movement will experience new levels of effectiveness.
Download Slides From Eric Swanson’s City Transformation as a Platform
The full presentation below was recorded at our GoodCities Leadership Gathering. The video of Eric was pretty shaky, although the audio was very good, so this presentation shows a few stills of Eric interspersed throughout the presentation of his slide deck.
At our recent GoodCities Leadership Gathering in Phoenix, Pastor David Drum shared about the importance of developing a culture of honor among pastors in Tucson. This important aspect of church unity has its roots among leaders of primarily African American and Hispanic churches. In the 2:48 minute video below, Dave talks about what he’s learned and how this can be helpful in other cities as well as we pursue city transformation.
I was recently asked, “What do you think are the top 3 concerns of business, church, and civic leaders in city movements across the nation?” What I offered in response was not based on a survey, but rather on my observations with the city leadership teams I coach and work with at the conferences GoodCities holds throughout the year. Here’s what I wrote:
Not many city movements have all three of these leadership groups working together. I believe this is happening in a big way in Akron & Modesto, two cities of modest size. In Portland and Minneapolis, all three groups are engaged in targeted efforts around schools and jobs. However, in each of these cases, while there may be Christians from government involved, they will rarely be involved with a regularly convened covenant group of church, business and nonprofit Christian leaders. For that matter, in most cities, pastors meet with pastors. Business leaders meet with one another and with nonprofit leaders where they are volunteering or serving on a board of directors. Nonprofit leaders meet with one another when their purposes are best fulfilled through collective impact, but generally don’t meet together otherwise.
In each of these sectors, private, public, and social, there are leaders who are bridge builders and conveners. These folks have a larger vision for God’s kingdom influence in their city. In the public and private sector, these leaders operate discretely. In the church and nonprofit social sector the anchor churches and nonprofit organizations operate with as much publicity as they can muster because they are always looking to expand their constituencies. Individually, each leader carries within them first a concern for his or her home and family’s well-being, next a concern for the success and well-being of the entity in which he or she serves, and third a concern for the peace and prosperity of his or her city or community. These are the three main callings that each of us live into throughout our lives.
With this in mind, what are the top 3 most common shared concerns of Christians involved in collaborative leadership for the good of their city? Here is my list as I understand this (in no particular order).
1. The peace/shalom of the city or community (This includes issues of justice, mercy, and safety).
2. A prosperous economy (The economic well-being of the people).
3. The spiritual, intellectual, and emotional well-being of the people (This includes access to a good education, healthy families, aesthetic beauty, and an opportunity to learn of God’s reconciling love through a contextualized Christian witness.)
What are your thoughts? Do you have a list of the top three concerns as you have talked with many of these leaders?
Chuck Proudfit and the Origins of At Work on Purpose in Cincinnati
This five minute overview was recorded at our recent City Advance Conference in New York City. There is much we can learn from the stages of development of At Work On Purpose of Cincinnati. What Chuck talks about is central to the development of any healthy citywide movement that has city transformation in view.
The City Advance in NYC is one of three conferences that we offer through GoodCities for leaders of Christian unity movements in cities. Our next conference, “ONE,” will take place in Phoenix, AZ on January 27-29 and will engage leaders of John 17 movements working to make cities more redemptive places to live and work. We’ll have stories of unlikely partnerships between Catholics and Evangelicals, between people of different ethnic, cultural and socio-economic classes.
A Place Where Collaboration is Born
Catalyst is a monthly gathering of leaders and influencers in the Modesto area who believe they can make the biggest difference in their community by collaborating and working together! This Christian faith-based group is an outgrowth of the City Ministry Network (CMN) and meets monthly with about a hundred leaders at CrossPoint Church.
Marvin Jacobo, the CMN Executive Director says “We welcome anyone to come and contribute. Our primary audiences are leaders, team members and volunteers in Nonprofits and Churches. There is also a focus on leaders in Education, Business, Media, Government, Neighborhoods & the Arts (many of whom are active in nonprofits and churches).” These collaborations often result in collective impact in key areas of city life.
I recently visited Modesto to evaluate the impact of the 2011 GoodCities Engagement/Exploration Process known as the Community Leadership Survey. I interviewed twenty leaders who were either interviewed or were interviewers in this process. Most reported that following this work, the Christian Ministry Network was strengthened as a leadership organization that gives birth to collaborative work in Modesto around critical issues. Catalyst Modesto has become one of their primary monthly meetings where Christian Collaborations are birthed or accelerated. Below is a list of some of the organizations/movements that have taken hold.
- Love Modesto
- Love Your Neighborhood
- Pray Modesto
- Recovery Modesto
- The Jobs Cohort
CMN has become known as a leadership group that is in touch with the people and issues of Modesto. The regular meetings of Catalyst let people know that they are commited to facilitating collaborations that will further the peace and prosperity of people in the city (Jer. 29:7) while pursuing a John 17 vision for Christian unity. This can happen in your city, too! Download our Top Ten Books List on City Transformation and to learn more about the movement. Contact Glenn@goodcities.net for more information about how GoodCities can help you take the next steps on this journey.
Steve Capper (pictured below and featured in a 2:40 minute video below) is a GoodCities Community Leadership Coach and serves as the Executive Director of For Houston’s Kids. He will be a contributing blogger for our blog site. This article introduces the missional thrust of how this unique collaboration between people of faith and people of good will works together for the good of Houston’s children. For Houston’s Kids goes beyond church and public school partnerships by forming unlikely partnerships to accomplish their goals.
In 2004, a healing of many in the Church of Houston who were blind began. Like the story told in Mark 8, the restoration of sight was both partially immediate and largely progressive. This miracle followed a simple question, a group conversation, and a massive investigation in search of an accurate picture of our city’s condition.
Dave Peterson, then the Senior Pastor of Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church, had attended a one-day conference featuring a stirring story of one man’s efforts to replace isolation and hopelessness among Baltimore’s inner city youth with caring mentors and a path to a hopeful future. On the way home, Dave found himself pondering a suddenly appearing thought: “What would it take for Houston to be as world famous for every neighborhood and school producing whole and healthy children as we are for NASA, the oil and gas industry, and the world’s largest medical center?” Whatever the answer, Dave realized, it would take the Church … and not just the Church. Weeks later, Dave shared his experience with a group of 25 pastors and ministry leaders. The room went noticeably silent and still, as if God had shown up and Himself asked us the question. When words were again spoken, the sentiment was unanimous: this would not only be a goal worth giving our best efforts and resources to, but would both bring tangible blessing to our neighbors and city for years to come and it would expand the Kingdom of God. As with the blind man whom Jesus touched, we were beginning to see, but the shapes were not yet clearly defined.
It just so happened that Mission Houston had months prior launched a citywide research effort to establish a baseline, the Houston Profile Project. Utilizing the expertise of Baylor University’s Center for Community Research & Development, conducting interviews with leaders in 45 clusters of communities, and deploying volunteers in three- or four-to-a-car “windshield survey” teams to make notes of their neighborhoods, our primary initial interest was in determining both the objectively verifiable places of societal brokenness in our metropolitan area and the most widespread “felt needs” of our neighbors so that the Church of Houston would know without guessing where our serving would have the highest impact.
One finding confirmed what we had not yet seen: the single most pervasive needs found in all 45 areas of the city, and reported by both people of faith and those of no active faith, centered on concerns for the present and future of kids. Further, one characteristic of the rapidly changing demographic face of the city was this: the number of at-risk kids in our city was multiplying far faster than the number of human, financial, educational, and health resources being allocated to them. In spite of great efforts within and beyond the faith community, more and more kids faced an unhealthy present and a predictably grim future. One prominent sociologist in the city even declared that Houston was on the verge of becoming a third world city, whose employers had to import their workforce because the kids of Houston were not adequately prepared. And now, as with the blind man in Mark 8, the plight of kids right before our eyes came into increasingly clear focus. We would never again be able to not see what was now crystal clear.
Fast forward almost ten years. The terms “collective impact” and “movement” are more common than their reality, but they provide language for the quest we remain focused on – to adequately address the needs of kids here in Houst
on so they have a likelihood of a future with a hope. After five years of multiplying mentors in the public schools, and after over two years of one-on-one conversations with leaders of hundreds of organizations working with or for children and youth, Mission Houston joined the YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Catholic Charities, and others to birth in October 2013 a new initiative that seeks to add 250,000 new volunteers to maximize the efforts of service providers who are committed to addressing together the physical, emotional, educational, and spiritual needs of those age 0-19. Called simply “For Houston’s Kids,” this fledgling undertaking is not faith-based, but it is faith community friendly.
And it has no guaranteed success. There are significant obstacles … challenges … that loom large. In the non-profit and government sector, and sadly even in the world of the Church, we have too little experience of or appetite for shared efforts and joint credit. In the Church, there are still many who believe that if an organization is not specifically faith-based and names Jesus as our reason for being then the work undertaken does not contain “the gospel.” But those of us engaged inside the Church and the wider community building relationships and casting the vision believe the work of sowing the seeds of Church unity (people of good faith) working in intentional partnership with anyone who cares about the well-being of our kids (people of good will) is worthy of our best efforts. You see, it’s not for or about us, or the organization. It’s “for Houston’s kids!”
We request your prayers. We ask you to connect us with anyone in the city you know who yearns to see kids well-educated and healthy in every way. And we’ll keep you posted on progress towards the God-sized goal, whether that includes fruit through our organization or not.
On April 30 and May 1, I was a speaker at the Gather Global Conference in London at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity founded by John Stott. My presentation was on the expansion of Christian city movements internationally. What interested me, however, was what I was hearing in the many presentations from gospel movement leaders involved with purposeful church unity movements in cities and communities throughout England.
The opening report came from Roger Sutton (in photo at the right), the leader of Gather UK, who hails from Manchester and works with the Evangelical Alliance. He told of the growth of Christian unity movements in England to the point where there are over 100 such movements today including over 20 in London.
There has been keen interest in these movements since the economic crash of 2008 and the British government’s decision to institute austerity measures rather than expand their currency as we have done in the U.S. The austerity plan meant that the British welfare system would be cut back substantially. For instance, the city government of Manchester has announced a second straight year of £80 million cuts.
At the same time, local church leaders have boldly stepped forward after years of developing a sense of church unity in pastors’ prayer groups to offer the volunteers of their church to serve their communities. Roger said that as they offered to serve the poor in cities, their focused collaboration was helped along by local governments that asked for one phone number to call when they have a need.
The church is inherently decentralized and, in many cases, this has made it hard for congregations to serve together. However, in England, once the government and pastors confronted the new reality, they recognized that decentralized missional congregations were a strength offering many points of service in neighborhoods throughout cities and communities.
The government went two steps further to assist in the transition. First, they began to offer congregations micro-grants of £500-£1,500 through intermediary groups like the Cinnamon Network. This network offers motivational videos and concrete plans for churches to initate and strengthen volunteer mobilization to serve people in their city or community. (Pictured left: Musician Andy Flannagan led worship at the Gather Global Conference.)
Second, local governments have been transferring assets to community organizations at greatly reduced prices. The Localism Act of 2011 recognized that local “…councils are facing intense financial pressure, resulting in the need to maximise the use of publicly-owned land and buildings, or dispose of them and their associated costs, wherever possible.” This has opened the door to community groups such as church coalitions being able to purchase or in some cases being given community centers, libraries, and other community assets provided that they will engage volunteers or staff to provide enhanced services to the community.
This combination of the willingness of missional churches to engage their members in service and the ownership of facilities to serve their communities more effectively is contributing to a revival of faith in churches across England. The stories are numerous and many can be accessed through articles and videos on the www.wegather.co.uk web site.
I was greatly encouraged by the stories I heard in London. In the next several blogs, I’ll share more stories and videos from my trip to England. Also, some of you will be happy to know that we are working to bring some these leaders to our City Advance Meetings in New York City October 21-22 including Andy Flannagan to lead worship. I hope to see you there!
(Pictured below: the sign outside the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity where the Gather Global Conference was held.)
Christian unity for the purpose of serving among the poor and city transformation is reviving the church and awakening people to the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ around the world. Personal transformation is at the heart of shaping good cities and it is the good news of Jesus Christ that transforms the hearts of persons. God’s calling is central to gospel movements and church leadership.
Earlier this month, I was in London for the Gather Global Conference. Graham Hutchinson and I met in preparation for an interview he would be be conducting with me on stage. Graham is the founder and leader of One Voice York, a weekly pastors’ prayer gathering that has been meeting for the past 15 years in York. He also serves as the pastor of Elim Pentecostal Church. However, before he engaged in either of these leadership roles, Graham was a successful chef who one day had a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ and from that moment forward, he hasbeen living life with vision, hope, faith, and purpose. Most of all, I found Graham to be a man who exudes the love and light of Jesus Christ. Here’s a six minute video in which he shares his story.