All cities have infrastructure, amenities, and “soul”
I wrote this letter for The Hub Executive Committee, the men and women who give direction to our teen center in Jackson, Michigan.
I’m so proud of the investment you’re making in our city. I see your efforts, your hard work, your dedication, your commitment and passion and focus, and I feel proud to be associated with you. You are a bright star lighting up dark sky.
In my theological research I’ve come to realize that every city can be examined by its component parts: the infrastructure, the amenities, and the spirit. To be fair, this is hardly an academic approach to civic discourse, but it is a helpful grid to consider how we pastor the people in our city. Each of these three components affects our people differently. Each contributes to the overarching sense of possibility we either feel or wish we felt more powerfully. I doubt this information will revolutionize your relationships in the city, but I do think it will give you greater clarity and guidance as you move forward in ministry.
The infrastructure of a city includes government and law enforcement, roads and schools, by-laws and job placement. It’s the way the city works. Of course God has a stake in our infrastructure, since part of our calling is to bring wise rule to Creation. He wants us involved. He wants us to both offer and receive counsel. He wants us to put systems and structures in place that provide the maximum benefit for the world.
The amenities include everything there is to do, everything the city has to offer, like parks and movie theaters, restaurants and tourist attractions. Sometimes these offerings can be folksy and charming—like Schlenker’s hamburgers or Hinkley’s doughnuts—and sometimes these can be breathtaking and impressive—like Cascades Falls Park on the Fourth of July, but the point is that our amenities give us something to do that we love. If the infrastructure can be godly business, then the amenities can also, since much of our creative capital is both expended and replenished here. Our city’s offerings both display acts of creative goodness and help rejuvenate us for future imaginative work.
The spirit of a city is harder to quantify, but it’s essentially the cumulative effect of the way people feel. Washington DC feels enthusiastically ambitious, Seattle feels cynically innovative. It’s easy to see how God cares about the spirit of a city, but it’s also a little misplaced. God isn’t trying to change the city itself (as though it’s one homogenous “thing”), but to redeem and restore the people in it. The work of the city is achieved in the hearts of human beings, and the contest for Jackson, Michigan is being fought in the secret hopes of our young people.
Whenever you think about our city, you’re likely thinking about these three components—either together, blurring the lines between them (since those lines are largely artificial anyway), or separate, trying to figure out how to fix a particular problem, or about the relationship between them. My hope is that you never lose sight of the fact that the work you’re doing is godly—whether it’s bringing wise rule to bear over Creation, or fostering acts of creative goodness, or releasing the latent potential in our teens.
Never stop shining. Never forget your ability to shine comes from the Lord.