I am not only a product of Christian education myself but I have served at two urban Christian schools in Minneapolis. First as a teacher at Minnehaha Academy, and then in senior leadership at Hope Academy, a classical, Christ-centered school for disadvantaged youth, where today I serve on the board of directors.
I want to address the question of why engaging the city is essential for the future of Christian schooling.
There are three key reasons—cultural, missiological, and visceral. All three are drawn from a wonderful address given by Dr. Tim Keller to the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization back in 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa.
First, culturally. We live in a more urbanized world than at any time in history, and if we have the goal of having our shared life shaped by the gospel and the kingdom, we must focus on cities. More than ever before, the economic and cultural forces that shape our world are being shaped not by nation-states, but by cities.
Second, missiologically. Cities are strategic to God’s mission because there are four kinds of people who disproportionately live in the city: young adults, unreached peoples, cultural elites, and the poor. All of them have children who will need to be educated.
- Young Adults – The younger generation all around the world, and increasingly in America, disproportionately want to live in cities.
- Unreached peoples – Unreached people around the world are much more reachable in cities. Keller notes that when people “immigrate from rural areas or from other countries, they break their kinship ties, and are in a more pluralistic environment…they are far more open to the gospel than they would have been in their previous habitat.”
- Cultural elites – Cities are where cultures are shaped. Keller stresses that “people who tend to make the films, write the books, do the business deals” live in cities.
- The poor – Here Keller cites the fact that one third of people moving into cities around the world live in shanty towns or (in developed nations) economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. God’s people have always shared God’s particular burden for the poor.
Third, viscerally. Keller here cites God’s encounter with Jonah over his reluctance to go to Ninevah. When Jonah grieves over the small plant that was giving him shade that then dies—God chastizes Jonah. God, Keller argues, loves people more than plants, and cities are where people are. In cities, he says, “you have more image of God per square inch than anywhere else in the world”.
The city is central to God’s mission culturally, missiologically, and viscerally. Christian schools and leaders that we aim to serve with the Spreading Hope Network all share Dr. Keller’s conviction that if we want human life and culture to be shaped at all by Jesus Christ, we simply must have excellent Christian schools that serve the youth of our cities.
I was reminded of the urgency of a new generation of leadership for K-12 urban Christian education as I read a recent clarion call to evangelicals to reignite the life of the mind from Owen Strachan at The Gospel Coalition. His piece concluded with words that make me realize that the rising generation of youth are a battleground for our city’s futures—and the leadership of the church and society. Using a baseball metaphor, Strachan writes:
“whatever we do, our neighbors will not be bunting. They will be swinging for the fences. They know, even if we don’t, that the empires of the future are empires of the mind. They are structuring their schools and our society accordingly. They are competing, scheming, hoping, questing, and building. Are we?”
What is happening in K-12 Christ-centered schooling in your city? Is there a rising generation of leaders starting schools serving under resourced youth in your city? If so, praise God.
If not, perhaps God is calling you to be an instrument of educational hope for the next generation in your city. Are you willing to step out in faith?