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August 15, 2012

Discuss: Christians in public

“We wanted to ask, ‘What does it mean for Christians to be fully involved in the life of thriving cities?’”

That’s Andy Crouch from his interview with Faith & Leadership this week, talking about his project with Christianity Today, “This is Our City.” Through great storytelling, Andy and a crew of savvy creatives are looking at how Christians are re-engaging with cities during the current and rapid re-urbanization of American cities -- a social phenomenon that stands in contrast to the culture of metropolitan centers 20 to 30 years earlier.

Here’s what they’re discovering: Christians are more public (not to be confused with more political, an important distinction, I think).

Although churches and church ministries continue to do remarkable work in urban neighborhoods, “we were looking for something different, and that was models of Christian public participation that are connected to other institutions, [emphasis added]” Andy said. These are stories of Christians doing work in a variety of social sectors. “They work in a secular context, but they bring their faith into their work in a very explicit way, and they’re partnering with churches in that work.”

Faith & Leadership’s feature story this week is just such an example. Jimmy Lin, a Christian and a geneticist, founded the Rare Genomics Institute (runner up in the Praxis social entrepreneurship fellowship this year at Q), which creates a network of genetic research and uses crowdfunding to help families of children with rare diseases. Super cool, I know.

Jimmy is a renaissance man of sorts: part scientist, part social entrepreneur, part lay theologian. He’s doing seminary course work, not to train to be a church professional, but as an avenue to continue what Andy suggests many lay Christians are doing: bringing faith to his work in very explicit ways.

With the recent uptick in social entrepreneurship, the Jimmy Lins of Christianity -- Catholic, Mainline and Evangelical -- are everywhere, as “This is Our City” demonstrates well enough.

The question for leaders of Christian institutions is how to act as supporters, partners, networkers and resources for them. Much of the innovation and energy in American Christianity today comes from folks like Jimmy. How are you responding?

Church and denominational leaders would do well to lick their finger, stick it in the air and discover which way the winds of the Spirit are blowing -- not in, but outside their church doors. And then maybe, just maybe, have the wherewithal to open those doors and let it whip through the sanctuary.


Benjamin McNutt is the editor of Call & Response. You can follow him on Twitter @benjaminmcnutt.


Thanks, Ben, for this post. I

Thanks, Ben, for this post. I think you are onto something very important. I wonder what if a congregation would ever use their mission funds to do what Praxis does? That is, help incubate and fund a vareity of projects like Mr. Lin's--but on a scale for and appropirate to their community. See. www.praxislab.org That would be so cool.


I was a social entrepreneur (an echoing green fellow) before becoming a pastor. I agree with what I take to be your essential premise: that social entrepreneurs are the agents of kingdom-building today. The dilemma for churches is that most of them aren't churched and aren't interested. So... Do we try to co-opt them? Copy them? Or realize that God is working well outside of the church? Or all of the above?

Good thought, Melissa. I

Good thought, Melissa. I wonder what other resources besides funding churches have to offer. Seems within the mainline the greatest resource churches have is physical space, often in historic metropolitan neighborhoods that are enjoying they're own renaissance at the moment. One of the tensions in the re-urbanization vs. gentrification debate is the hiking of real estate prices in these neighborhoods once they suddenly become hip. This pushes lower income families out of houses and nonprofits/startups/community organizations out of the store fronts. Seems the old tall steeple mainline churches have an opportunity to stand right in the middle of that tension and be a public presence. I know of churches who open up their buildings to startups and what not as office space. Much like the rise in these shared workspace operations, churches might become conveners of startups, social entrepreneurs and community builders, artists, etc., that all in their own way create cultural goods -- a kind of adaptation on the early days of America when churches also served as the town hall. Just a thought. Seems to be a better and more Christian use of the historic facilities than a half empty sanctuary on Sunday morning. -- Ben

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