Where Do We Start?
Where should we begin in seeking to reach the city? Um and Buzzard don’t lay out a grandiose scheme for cultural transformation. Their advice is simple and attainable. It’s important to understand your city’s history, values, dreams and fears. In other words, discover the baseline narrative of your city, affirm the parts of that story that are good, challenge the city’s idols and retell your city’s story in line with the gospel. In doing so, we are following in the footsteps of those who have gone before us:
“What happened between AD 33 and AD 310 is remarkable. Christians changed the world because of their faithful presence in cities. This is part of our Christian history. We have inherited the legacy of Christians who made their mark in the great cities of antiquity. Our knowledge of the gospel is a result of their faithful stewardship and ministry in cities.”
I enjoyed Why Cities Matter. It’s easy to read. It makes a good case for urban ministry. And it maintains a good balance between theory and practice.
An Unresolved Tension
There is, however, an underlying tension in this book that, for me at least, was left unresolved. The authors say that cities matter because people matter. We go where the people are. But it seems like, when it comes to strategy, the culture-shaping aspect of urban ministry runs up against and sometimes overwhelms the people-focus.
For example, if you find there are twice the number of people in an inner-city neighborhood than in the white-collar, culture-shaping skyscraper downtown, which one do you focus your ministry on? If you go with their first answer (“cities matter because people matter”), then you go where the most people are. But if you go with their second answer (“cities matter because culture matters”), then you go where the influencers are.
This is the tension that runs through this book. It feels like the authors are calling for a specific type of urban ministry—one that appeals to the urban elites who shape the culture and less to the inner-city poverty where the population may be more dense.
I would love to see further exploration of this subject. If cities matter, we need churches in Manhattan and Brooklyn, even though Manhattan is clearly more culture-shaping than Brooklyn.
Do cities matter primarily because of people or primarily because of culture? The book says “people,” but the strategy seems to be around “culture.”
Why Cities Matter is an important book that deserves your time. Read it, consider it and then pray about how to be part of God’s work in the great cities of our world.