Why do cities matter to God? We looked earlier at the nature of cities: this included the aim of God’s redemptive scope—starting in a garden in Genesis and ending in a city in Revelation, the ways our work serves the city and the ways cities serve as a refuge, and the notion of cities as centers of worship.
In their book Why Cities Matter, Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard do a wonderful job of stating in clear, biblical terms that cities are “places full of neighbors.”
Um and Buzzard note that “by 2050 the world will be 68.7 percent urban. In more developed regions, the number is likely to reach 86.2 percent.” They cite urban economics expert Edward Glaesers, who simply said, “cities are people.”
So, what can we do to best love God and our neighbor through our cities? Um and Buzzard offer some very helpful guidance.
Know Your City’s Story
Just as getting to know someone’s story helps develop relational capital and trust to care for them well and to share the gospel in a sensitive and holistic manner, so does getting to know your city.
Every city has its history, values, dreams, fears, and ethos.
Being a casual student of these and taking opportunities to show interest in your city’s background and culture provides a foundation for helpful engagement with residents who are constantly affected and shaped by their city.
My wife and I have started to explore parts of Los Angeles and ask a lot of questions. Lunch at Grand Central Market, a tour of Union Rescue Mission, periodic visits to the Arts District, and lunch meetings with friends that work on Bunker Hill in the finance district have all been eye-opening to what LA is like today. It has a fascinating and complex history.
Challenge Your City’s Story
At the heart of every city exist some forms of idolatry that have displaced God at the center of its worship. We must respectfully expose how this idolatry fuels the destructive forces in our cities.
Quoting Glaeser again, Um and Buzzard note the impact of our idols on the city: “Our cities’ gleaming spires point to the greatness that mankind can achieve, but also to our hubris….Urban innovation can destroy value as well as create it.”
The ongoing lack of happiness and satisfaction among the most successful as well as widespread impoverishment among the poor in our cities remind us that identity and fulfillment can never find their source in our city’s promise of work, power, fame, or pleasure.
Los Angeles has one of the most diverse sets of economic, geographic, and ethnic makeup in the world. Within that diversity, the longings and idols of the overly image-conscious, influence-driven, empire-seeking, and comfort-absorbed are all found here in LA. Each story needs to be heard, district by district and person by person, and then unraveled in terms that ultimately expose the hurt and destruction caused by these unfulfilled desires.
Retell Your City’s Story
There is a better story and happier ending to our cities than is currently being told. God plans through his city to renew all things. He will someday become the center and object of worship and end the unrest, decay, and injustice.
We must re-envision our cities as places for thousands of caring and thoughtful Christians to worship God by working toward institutional health, real community, flourishing businesses, just administration and governance, and abundant charity and compassion.
We do this not to triumphantly announce Christendom or the church’s superiority over others. Rather we humbly desire to serve as grateful recipients of God’s grace and as people who are ready to sacrifice our often broken lives, our modest resources, and our life’s work to reflect Christ’s great love working in and through us.
We see glimpses of this all over Los Angeles, such as in historic-building restorations and useful repurposing, expanding inner-city ministry work to care for the homeless, and the thoughtful reflection of believers engaged in renewal of their work and experiencing God’s presence in their places of employment.
Take time to prayerfully reflect on your city’s story, its idols, and God’s better vision of hope and renewal in Christ. I pray you will join me on my journey from a love-hate relationship with the city toward an “all-in” gospel-centered love for urban centers ripe for God’s redeeming grace.
Editor’s note: This article is republished with permission from the Center for Faith and Work Los Angeles.
Learn more about how we can participate in “God’s good work of restoring and reconciling the world to himself” in All Things New: Rediscovering the Four-Chapter Gospel.
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