KINGDOM ASSETS FOR OUR CITIES
by John Quam
KINGDOM ASSETS FOR OUR CITIES
Mission America Cities & Communities
Prayer Transformation Ministries
Building a City for God
What makes a city great? What contributes to the "quality of life" that really fulfills both human and divine expectations? On the secular level, people reference the presence of the arts, good education, safety and economic stability among other factors. But what would not only please men but bring honor to God? This question has caused us to reflect on what "Kingdom Assets," when present in a city would help represent the fulfillment of Jesus' prayers when he said, "They Kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
Most of us live in and relate to cities as a basic geographic unit that provides corporate resources for work, education, recreation, worship, etc. Even those who do not live in cities, relate to a key city for important services. Larger cities represent a number of smaller communities but also have an identification with the total metropolitan complex from which common media, economic, political and communications vehicles inform and service their common needs.
Just as we find corporate good in cities, we find also corporate evil. Abuse of power, concentrations of poverty, educational inequities, violence and many other negative factors can make cities unattractive places to live. People seek opportunities to flee the city and thus create a negative trend that makes matters grow worse. The good things in the city become outweighed by the bad. Many of us, if not most, have experienced this first hand or have watched it happen to the cities where our family or friends live.
Restoring the balance is what this study is all about. How can sufficient assets be built into a city that might counteract the negative trends and bring restoration and hope, leading to city transformation and most of all people who love and want to serve God? We are convinced that a careful, thoughtful approach will result in appropriate and effective initiatives that will bring glory to God and blessing to many cities across our nation.
Creating Assets for our Cities
Definition: Summarizing the dictionary, an asset is something that has exchange value, that is desirable that represents a resource and is usable to pay debts. On a personal financial level, when our assets are less than our liabilities, we are in debt and our options are extremely limited and ultimately if our situation does not change we become dependent on others. In other words, we lose our financial freedom.
The Search Institute, a secular consulting organization, applied this concept to healthy individuals, especially young people. They determined that there are 40 assets that contribute to a young person's well being. Through careful research they discovered a direct correlation between the lack of some of these assets and the propensity for negative and destructive behavior. They encourage different forces in our culture to work for building these positive assets into their young people in order to create a stronger resistance to negative behavior as well as resources for positive behavior.
We have taken this concept of positive assets and applied it to cities. In addition, we have applied a clearly Christian framework for this study. We believe that the ultimate power for city transformation comes from God and the ultimate assessment of how transformed a city is reflects how he is glorified in that city. We believe that foundational assets of Christian influence have the fundamental roles of both building longevity into a positive community and also direction for worship and honor to the one who truly makes it all possible.
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free."
These words from the New Testament reflect back to us the truth about assets and liabilities. We were clearly created for freedom but our sins (liabilities) enslaved us in destructive behaviors that hurt us and others. The overwhelming significance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is that when applied to our liabilities (sins,) our debt is canceled. It is more than enough. However, just as we have been set free through the sacrifice of Christ, so we are to live in freedom by applying the ongoing assets of his life. This ongoing living dependence on his assets brings personal liberty and freedom. It isn't just about having choices but being able to make good choices that bring quality of life.
Corporately we face the same problem. Bad decisions in community create liabilities and good decisions create assets. God's salvation work was not only for personal sin but corporate sin. God clearly meant us to live in community and summed up the law as loving him and then loving others. In fact, the church is supposed to represent God's idea of a redemptive community. It is not supposed to be walled off from and isolated from society in general but rather a transforming force, a "light set on a hill".
When the church fully engages the community, the Bible says that "the gates of hell will not prevail against it." The problem of the church is that it has had too narrow a role in society. It has not engaged all aspects of life and it has shied away from citywide thinking. Our independent congregational thinking has prevented us from making a corporate impact. Today God is asking the church to re-connect, to begin to think how together we can be a positive influence for his kingdom. By defining and presenting these Kingdom Assets for our cities, we hope to offer a positive approach for Christians to actively engage their cities and bring about healthy change that honors God, expands his kingdom and gives hope to all. Believers and nonbeliever alike would both say, "this is a great city to live in; there's such a sense of freedom here."
Cities are Complicated
As Christian leaders we often analyze things from the framework of our training, usually limited to institutions led by full time Christian administrators and instructors. We often lack significant exposure to the systems and services that make up the cities where we will seek to have an impact for the kingdom of God. In addition, we usually experience no training in maximizing our resources as a citywide church or developing a mentality for our whole city. In essence we are trained with a small group mentality, with expectations limited to the health and well being of our small group, our congregation.
In contrast, our cities struggle with adequate ways to collect garbage, distribute water, plan parks, provide safety, pave roads, educate children, care for the elderly, provide medical services and many other issues that grow more complex as the city grows. Immigration brings new cultures and languages, natural disasters stretch resources, major employers decide to shut down plants, demonstrators disrupt the peace and there seems to be a constant assault against what would seem to be good sense and good morals.
How can the church really make a difference? Was Jesus really right when he said the gate of hell would not prevail against it, or was his application only individual and not collective? For our part, we cannot accept that God was not just as interested in demonstrating redeemed society as he was in demonstrating redeemed individuals. Our fatal mistake is to think that we can be the answer to Jesus prayer concerning God's kingdom being present here on earth just as it is in heaven without living out the answer to his other prayer in John 17, that we should be one, just as he and the Father are one. Without unity we cannot impact our cities for Christ, but together there is much we can do.
The Church has many gifts.
The church is much more than the events that take place in a certain location. Our view of the church, and I am speaking especially of pastors and Christian leaders, is often limited to our program worked out at the local congregation. The church, however, is the talents and gifts of all those who have placed their trust in Christ, and some of these are quite substantial. They are found in people managing companies, serving medical roles, running for and winning public office, directing the finances of a bank, and on and on. Educators, lawyers, and union leaders are the stuff of the church and it is God's intention to transform society by their Holy Spirit directed service for his kingdom. When Christian people of various walks of life begin to come together on behalf of their city, major changes can take place and the blessings will be felt by all.
This calls for a new mentality for pastors and Christians leaders. It is not the task of the fulltime Christian worker to do the work of the ministry, but to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. And just as important is releasing them to do what God is equipping them to do. More importantly for citywide impact, pastors and Christian leaders have to release people to a citywide church. Their gifts are not just to make a congregation bigger or better, but to serve the whole Body of Christ for the larger victories of his kingdom.
Citywide impact takes citywide thinking.
Many are calling for a new type of thinking for today's church leaders. We need to begin to ask questions that we have not asked before. What are the systems and institutions of our city and society that surround us? What are our collective Christian resources, not just inside the church but out there in the secular context? What can we do better together than we can separately? How can we think and act like a citywide church? How can our differences and distinctives help us rather than hinder us and divide us? It is only when we begin to address the collectivity of our city and the collectivity of the church that we can really make the difference God desires.
City planners are a good source of information for the church. How many pastors have considered gathering and meeting with city planners, not just to find out where they might plant churches, but to learn about the complexities of city management. What are the best ways to exhibit Christian values in zoning and planning? How does public safety and the work of the gospel intersect? What will be the medical needs of our community in the next 5-10 years? What are the trends? We raise these questions to help force us to think in a broader pattern that embraces our city and sees the various assets that when added together make a positive impact on our collective and individual lives.
In addition it is important to see the various churches in our community in the same light. Most pastors assess the various gifts and talents of their congregation and determine that these various gifting represent the various needs of the Body of Christ and thus are positive and helpful. However, few pastors apply the same type of thinking to the many congregations that make up the Christian community (the Body of Christ, of their city.) Could it be the different styles of worship, prayer, preaching, organization, etc. are all part of God's unique gifting to each the whole city? If we think so in theory, how can we begin to apply that theory to our ministries?
Relationships from the foundation of a citywide church
While pastors and fulltime Christian leaders are not the source of all ministry of the church in a city, it is up to them to point the way to partnership and cooperation. This calls for relationship building that goes far beyond the occasional gathering of a ministerial association. Understanding the issues that are close to each leader's heart, the family struggles, the insecurities and personal challenges, help to build a bridge of identification between pastors.
Prayer is often the starting point for this relationship building. Many cities are experiencing the practice of pastors praying together on a regular basis. Some have weekly prayer and some have monthly prayer. Some do both with small weekly gatherings and large monthly gatherings. In addition, many cities have hosted 3 or 4 day prayer retreats for pastors and Christian leaders. Without exception these pastors attribute these prayer activities for giving them a greater sense of the citywide church. In addition, many personal victories are won, keeping pastors in the ministry, saving marriages, defeating addictive sins, etc. Of all the signs of change in the American church today, this is by far the most visible and the most significant.
Pastors need more than a context for prayer, however, if they are truly going to cooperate together for God's kingdom in their city. Assessing the city, determining needs, weighing assets and determining appropriate actions cannot be done in a vacuum. Creating a context for such discussion is far more difficult. No one has received any seminary training on how to do this. None of the values they were taught included success factors for this kind of interaction. Their time is at a premium, their churches don't understand, (they didn't hire him or her to serve the city,) and immediate church growth results are hard to determine. While long term impact and transformation of a city benefits everyone, it is hard to get those long-term results without some short term sacrifices.
Christian kingdom structures are now emerging
In a few cities we are already seeing the emergence of new structures that have as their purpose to serve local pastor and Christian leaders in mobilizing prayer, covering leaders for citywide thinking, encouraging needed initiatives and assessing needs and progress. They have different names and different slants but seem to be addressing similar issues in the cities they serve. Financing these structure and those who serve them is pushing out the envelope for local Christians and congregations. They want and need these services but they are not sure if they want them enough to pay for them. There is still a feeling that somehow this should be done in a volunteer fashion, however, it has become more and more obvious, in larger cities at least, that it cannot. Again, this is forcing us to think outside our congregational and denominational lines. While not abandoning our roots and those historical distinctives that have helped form us, we must also look courageously to the future. New alliances will be needed to serve the emerging citywide church.
Determining Kingdom Assets and Liabilities in a city
We now come in our thinking to the process that allows us to corporately employ needed resources in a true city building fashion. Many at this juncture would point us to the problems of our city in order to find the remedies. Our approach is different. We would like to begin on the positive side. What are the assets in a city that make it a positive place to live and worship? What positive forces help to drive forward the Kingdom of God? After seeing these in a clear light, we can look at the forces that inhibit this Kingdom growth, our liabilities, in the light of the lack of these Kingdom Assets. That task then is to build up the assets rather than attack the liabilities.
This approach is the approach of Jesus. In the scriptures he constantly challenged the religious approach of the day. The Pharisees had many laws and regulations but they were not able to produce righteousness. Jesus always went for the motives of the heart. Why did Jesus challenge the Pharisees' interpretation on divorce, why does the scripture tell us to honor our parents, why do we give money or pray or pay taxes? Jesus taught us that love summarizes the law and provides the only adequate way to relate to God and to others. So how do we build up love in our hearts and in the Christian community? Ultimately, how is love reflected in our society at large? As we began to look at this question in depth, the answer began to take a very practical turn. In our cities, we see love expressed in our institutions and initiatives, our communication, our education, our distribution of wealth, our creativity, and our leadership structures. Love has a very practical face. As we consider how to express love in this way we begin to see how our Christian intentions intersect with the many influences in our city and culture. Building up our cities is a true act of love.
Block by Block
The Book of Nehemiah is a powerful example of building up a city. Jerusalem lay in ruins and people's lives were in disarray. Building up the wall of the city was connected to reordering and establishing Godly rule over Jerusalem. The process involved the cooperation of all the people. Priests, authorities, commercial leaders, families and clans all worked behind their home and on the gates. They developed a mutual communications and defense system. They demanded fair practice and rooted out abuse. Block by block they built up the city. They established the reading of the law and the presence of worship. They worked hard but they also celebrated. Together they made a difference.
In the same way our cities can be built up block by block. In our conversations with pastors and Christian city leaders around the US we discovered God at work in many ways building up cities. We have identified 55 building blocks that together would contribute to building a "City for God." We would like to share them with you. Our process is quite simple and is captured in the following four steps:
1. Identify the Kingdom Assets for building a "City for God."
2. Define each Kingdom Asset and provide a tool for measuring the presence of that asset in the city.
3. Identify ways to resource each Kingdom Asset.
4. Initiate thinking and action to meet the need.
On the next page we have provided a list of the 55 Kingdom Assets. They are grouped in 6 categories. In the following chapters we will look at each of these categories and assets and seek to provide enough information for the reader to enter into a process of evaluation and have some connection with available resources. Ultimately, however, these resources cannot be seen in a vacuum. God is constantly resourcing his people for the building up of his Kingdom. In the end, we must always look around to see how God is at work and seek to join him there.
Prayer Assets - A City Talks to God
1. Churches become "Houses of Prayer"
2. Community and City Prayer Gatherings
3. Pastors Prayer Groups and Prayer Retreats
4. Intercessors Pray for their City
5. Business Leaders Meet for Prayer
6. Families Pray Together
7. Youth Prayer Groups
8. Children Learn to Pray
9. City Leaders and Officials are Prayed For
10. Corporate Prayer in Song and Movement
Christian Leadership Assets
1. Presence of Pastors with Citywide Vision
2. Presence of a Theology for the City
3. Presence of Pastors with Long Positive History
4. Structure for Pastors & Leaders to Pray, and Plan
5. Presence of an Administrative Structure
6. Presence of a Research and Assessment Vehicle
7. Pastors of Larger Churches Pray and Partner
8. Business Leaders Lend Expertise to Projects
Christian Communications Assets
1. Presence of Christian Radio
2. Presence of Christian Television
3. Presence of Christian Newspaper
4. Leadership Newsletter
5. Email Networks
6. City Web sites
7. Strategy to use Secular Media
8. Denominational and Parachurch Publications
Christian Partnership and Cooperation Assets
1. Partnership Training Initiatives
2. Effective, Cooperative Evangelistic Efforts
3. Effective Urban - Suburban Partnerships
4. Presence of an Ethnic Ministry Network
5. Cooperative Urban Recovery Efforts
6. Denominational Cooperation
7. Cooperative Mission Outreaches
8. Broad Based Bible Study Training
9. Broad Based Evangelism Training
10. Cooperative Church Planting Efforts
11. Children's Ministry Network
12. Youth Ministry Network
13. Women's Ministry Network
14. Men's Ministry Network
15. Effective Marriage and Family Ministries
16. Effective Reconciliation Efforts
17. Partnerships for the Disabled.
Christian Institutional assets
1. Christian Seminaries
2. Christian Bible Schools and Colleges
3. Christian Schools for Children and Youth
4. Headquarters for Denominations
5. Headquarters for Christian Ministries
6. Presence of Christian Foundations
City and Community Assets
1. Friendly Economic Environment
2. Fair Judicial and Law Enforcement Systems
3. Positive Political Environment
4. Friendly and Fair Educational Structure
5. Secular Foundations open to Religious Efforts
6. Fair Housing Policies
7. Church Sensitive Zoning Policies
8. Friendly Secular Media
9. Fair and Wide Spread Medical Services
The Pittsburgh Prayer Offensive
In Dr. pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh launched a unique vision for his city. He declared that he wanted to make Pittsburgh, "more famous for God than for steel." Many churches and individuals entered into a commitment to pray for their city, something that is still going on today. In the scriptures we are encouraged to pray for our leaders and civil authorities. The people of Israel who were carried into captivity were also instructed to seek the peace of the cities where they were to reside.
A number of cities have made this a central activity for their churches and committed believers. In the city of Fresno, our friend Gordon Donoho has helped give leadership to the "No Name Fellowship." These pastors and Christian leaders have been meeting for several years in various city locations, praying for the police, educational leaders, city officials, medical centers, etc. They didn't want to take on a name that called attention to themselves so they became known as the "No Name Fellowship." Many positive results have come from these strategic prayer meetings, and a higher trust level has been established between the church and the city leaders.
Of course, prayer can take on many shapes and forms in our cities. Individuals, families, congregations, special gatherings, and many other contexts can fuel a citywide prayer movement. Prayer can be expressed through radio, TV, the Internet, publications and even billboards. Groups can gather at work, in schools, and in public venues a well as in church buildings. Prayers can cover officials, current events, inner city problems, economic issues, and many other items of public life along with the ongoing working of the church in that community. We have discovered 10 key ways prayer assets can be built into a city. While this list is not meant to be exhaustive, we do believe that these 10 prayer assets will significantly impact a city and enhance the chances of that city becoming a "City for God."
We will give one page to each of these assets. After a brief description we will look at ways to assess the presence of that asset in your city and then present some basic information on resources that can increase the vitality o this asset in your city.
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