Discuss: Christians in public

Much of the innovation and energy in American Christianity today comes from folks like Jimmy Lin. Church leaders, how are you responding?

“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.