Andy Crouch (or his headline writer) coined the catchy term “metro-evangelicals” to describe the growing urban resurgence within American evangelicalism. In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Crouch explains that pastors like Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll see cities as the beachhead of a new evangelization. Crouch’s magazine, Christianity Today, has launched an extensive series on this work of God (This is Our City).

My first two reactions are profound rejoicing at the sending of workers into the harvest and profound prayer that these efforts may bear much fruit. To all who are called there (like my two siblings in Manhattan) the great opportunity and great difficulty should always occasion our concern and support.

A panorama of Lower Manhattan as viewed from t...

A panorama of Lower Manhattan as viewed from the Staten Island Ferry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yet there is a timbre amidst all of this city-centrism that troubles me.

Maybe this is because the metro-evangelicals are not counter-cultural, but rather a baptized version of New Urbanism. In a culture that idolizes living in a loft in a gentrifying art district, a church planter is not exactly bearing a cross in deciding to “rough it” under such conditions.

Maybe it is that some of its advocates tell a story that previous generations fearfully abdicated the dirty, sinful cities. Thus, all this new “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” generation needs do is show up and things will get better. It’s worth noting that this mythical Evangelical abandonment never really happened and we should be more careful at imputing impure motives to previous generations of believers.

Or maybe the metro-evangelicals’ claims of self-importance are so hyperbolic that they insult the gospel work being done in less densely populated zipcodes. For example, some urbanist church planters claim that cultural transformation emanates exclusively from cities, as Mark Driscoll writes:

[C]ities are of greater strategic importance because they are upstream where culture is made and changed, yet most Christians today are downstream and subsequently are incapable of effecting cultural transformation. (Vintage Church, p. 298)

Incapable. Incapable? I do not think that word means what you think it means. /Inigo_Montoya_voice

I did my time in the Big Apple, but now reside in a thriving metropolis of 8,305. Yet I live alongside a whole lot of faithful Christians who sacrificially love their neighbors, share the gospel, build civil society and raise their families in the fear and admonition of the Lord. It may take some time, but I would wager that these folks will have some kind of transformative impact on the culture when all is said and done.

Remember the story of Abraham and Lot. When they parted ways over business squabbles, Lot chose to pitch his tent near the affluent big city while Abraham sojourned in wilderness isolation. Yet which of them ended up displaying a greater capacity for cultural transformation?

Metro-Evangelicals have developed a kind of “theology of the city” that roots city-centric strategy in biblical proof-texts. Keller’s message, as quoted by Couch, is typical:

“You go to the city to reach the culture,” Mr. Keller tells his congregation. This, he explains, is as old as religion itself, and points to what New Testament scholar Wayne Meeks called “the first urban Christians”—the first-century churches founded in provincial cities all over the Roman world, and very quickly in Rome itself.

Generalizing from Paul’s missionary strategies as recorded in the Book of Acts—hopping from one major city to the next throughout the Roman empire; planting churches all along the way—Metro-Evangelicals argue that our evangelistic strategy must also prioritize cities. Keller has explained that we should do so because “urbanites are much more open to radically new ideas—like the gospel!” Once ideas catch in the urban center, say the metro-evangelicals, they inevitably filter our to the surrounding region.

Of course, God blessed Paul’s urban strategy to build the church, but I’m not sure metro-evangelicals are gathering the right lesson from this history. It is true that Paul avoided the countryside for the most part, but not because he expected to find more open-minded folks in the cities. ‘Cause that isn’t what he found. In Ephesus, for example, some of these purportedly-open-to-new-things types tried to kill him.

One alternative explanation for why Paul chose cities is the locus of diaspora Jews gathered in synagogue worship there. Luke records that Paul always started his ministries in the synagogues where the Gospel message made the most sense. After all, the Jews and pious Gentiles gathered there were already familiar with the one true God and understood Biblical categories like sin and Messiah. Only after reasoning with the Jews, would Paul proceed to preach out in the marketplace as well.

So, if we are to draw missiological lessons from Paul, we could just as well say today’s Christians should first preach the gospel in the heart of the religious subculture before they move out into the mainstream. By analogy, the way we could follow Paul’s model would be to first go into the culturally Evangelical south and the culturally Catholic Hispanic communities before proceeding on to the comparatively unprepared big cities.

All of this may seem to be a pretty counter-intuitive marketing strategy, but we serve a God who has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.

Posted by Keith Miller

Keith Miller is an Assistant Solicitor General in the Federalism Unit of the Arizona Attorney General's Office. He is married and has four children. You can follow him on Twitter.

  • chrisblackstone


    One of my concerns with “metro-evangelicals” is the fact that some of the most commonly-sited leaders (Driscoll, Keller) are uncommonly gifted preachers and teachers. Is there a danger in promoting a model and system that just isn’t possible for the typical pastor/church? David Fitch has written about the fact that what Mars Hill and Redeemer have done are only really possible at this particualr point in time in those particular cities by those particular men. I can’t find the article but it did get me thinking.

  • “By analogy, the way we could follow Paul’s model would be to first go into the culturally Evangelical south and the culturally Catholic Hispanic communities before proceeding on to the comparatively unprepared big cities.” This is counter-intuitive, I think, because we consider the south to be “reached,” but when you begin peeling back the layers, you discover a significant percentage of people who are Christian “by association” only—there has been no true Gospel transformation. Yet, the ground is perhaps a bit more fertile and ripe for sowing, and sending. Good word.

    • I understand what you’re trying to say about “peeling back the layers”. That’s popular, I get it. To some level, it’s really true. On another level, it just isn’t. Despite even the churchianity and religiosity of the South, the fact remains that there are more (numerically) Christians and Christian churches in the south. Not only that, but the true Gospel is preached in much of it, albeit a presence of false gospel is there as well.

      If there is a Christian hub to America, it lies in the South (which is, by the way, home to 4 Southern Baptist seminaries, the most major Methodist seminary, RTS, and many others). That’s not to bash the rest of the faithful Christians elsewhere, simply to tear down your strawman.

  • Madison

    Metroevangelical: A great new compliment/slur!

    The call to move to the cities is an appropriate one for a Christian leader to make, as long as that leader does not pretend that the only way to live a meaningfully Christian life is by ‘changing culture’ in an urban center. The tactic of complimenting culture changers and describing the Christian life as being primarily characterized as mission to the world cannot help but remind me of the person who walked me through my Myers Briggs test. I was told that I am an extrovert, not like one of those stuck-up inwardly focused introverts. The mission of the church to ‘reach’ the cities is an important aspect of creating disciples – but this task does not exclusively define the Christian life, nor can it replace the more primary task that Christians have of worshipping as a gathered people.

    I believe that the best arguments concerning Christian culture change in history should be made in reference to groups of Christians who worship God together for many years (without having conferences to energize them, often having slow returns), and take Jesus’ word seriously when he self-identifies with the least of these. Imagine how often metro-evangelicals would cite a verse from Jesus saying something to the effect: “Befriend the leaders of the city. Capture them with your vision for the common good. Then they will implement good policies to the glory of all.” Or maybe, “Be as innocent as doves, but as strategic in a social sense as a teenage girl.”

    It seems that this emphasis on culture change is present in scripture, but certainly doesn’t deserve chief prominence among the facets of life that characterize a vital community. Perhaps overemphasizing strategic cultural considerations is somewhat self-important, by pretending that Christians can engineer culture change by learning to think like management consultants? Consider the plea for Christians to make art. How much good art has emerged from the spate of Christian artist retreats? That is an open question, but it does not seem that it is helpful to mandate the creation of appealing art that will ensnare the imagination of a pagan culture – good art maybe would take care of itself if it is performed by a good artist. Maybe good communities, regardless of where they are, create good culture.

  • My concern about metro-evangelicals is that they are newcomers that think that God left the city in the 1960-1970s and they will come back and save the city. Yes many whites left the cities in the 1960-1970s, but there were lots of Christians left.

    I actually heard some Christians talking around 2000 in a conference about faith based community development as a new initiative that was started since Bill Clinton. The speaker was completely unaware of the decades history of Christian Community Development Association and the even longer history of many urban ministries.

    Rodney Starks’ Triumph of Christianity blames the urban focus of early Christianity for not actually evangelizing the rural areas and assuming that evangelizing the cities and the powerful would trickle down. Stark says the trickle down didn’t happen and that the current lack of church participation in Europe is directly related to the over emphasis on urban Christian in the early church.

    I definitely think that the church should be urban focused. But not to the detriment of rural areas and suburban areas. We just need a better balance. Rural does not equal good any more than urban equals bad. Or vice versa if you are a metro-evangelical

  • As a member of a metro-evangelical church, I guess I have a few thoughts on this as well.

    First, I am a big believer that God calls people for specific tasks at specific times. I’m hesitant to draw specific missional strategies from Paul’s actions in the first century. Primarily, I think that Paul’s missions were to places that God called him. If we want to see a true revival of evangelicalism we need voices speaking at every level of culture. Though, I agree with the article’s point that we shouldn’t doubt the ability of those in non-urban areas to be the hands and feet of Christ. The church I grew up in (an whopping 80 people) did as much to change their community and show people the love of God as any other church I’ve attended.

    The draw I see to metro-evangelical churches (like NCC, etc) is that they are reaching folks who might not otherwise be drawn into the church. This can be said by pretty much any type of church-you speak the truth and people will be drawn to it. Metro churches just have a different mission field, not a better mission field, not an inferior mission field. It’s not necessarily that previous generations have abandoned the cities. Rather, I think it’s that so many “Nones” from around the country have flocked to the urban centers. This provides metro churches with an opportunity to reach these Nones or folks who are unchurched or who’ve left the church.

    To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.. 1 Corinthians 9:20-22

    There is good and bad in every church. Where did this obsession with finding the “perfect church for me” come from? Do we really expect perfection in human institutions? Personally, I blame the general consumerist culture in which we live. “Don’t like your church? Go find one that’s better!” At the end of the day metro churches, suburban churches, and rural churches all have the same goal: love God, love your neighbors, preach the truth. I’m skeptical of those who dismiss any church because of some sort of stereotype.

    On a side note, I’ve been thinking a lot about how missional outreach in impoverished urban neighborhoods might effect both spiritual and political issues. For example, my home church is preparing to make a sizable investment in one of the worst neighborhoods in the country. I can’t help but think that investing in Kingdom works will also transform the culture and as a result politics (politics is downstream from culture). That’s one of the reason’s I’ve stayed at ncc despite some of my reservations. I get to work with a church who’s committed both local and international missions and also preaches and orthodox faith from the pulpit. That’s good enough for me.

    • Brandon,

      Good to hear from an NCC’er, I attended there from ’03-’05 (And its multi-site subway stop church structure really puts the “Metro” in metro-evangelical).

      We should all heed your reminder to practice contentment with our local churches. Thanks for that.

      • Shamrock Centurion


        • Trevor

          Are you joking or are you really angry over someone not spelling out the name of their church?!

  • Bill

    Isn’t this just an outgrowth of the Young Life strategy? You reach the popular, powerful, influential people and everyone else follows them. The powerful are in the cities.

    It is no different from the suburban boom of Saddleback, Willow Creek, et al, in the ’80s and ’90s. The target market is the same – it’s just moved. Unchurched Harry and Mary now want to live in a gentrifying neighborhood rather than the ‘burbs.

    (This seems a bit counter to Jesus’ own strategy which involved traitors, zealots and whores…)

    • Alex

      “This seems a bit counter to Jesus’ own strategy which involved traitors, zealots and whores”

      I don’t know how many cities you have been to, but these people are in the cities too lol! And churches are reaching them! New churches are reaching pimps, prostitutes, drug lords, and everything else you can imagine. I don’t know of many churches focusing on the business district of South Michigan Ave in Chicago, but there are plenty of them near the slums throughout the city. “Metro-Evangelical” may not be perfect, but it is certainly a step in the right direction for the American context.

  • Bill Hartley

    Why do we debate things like this? The BEST place to do ministry is wherever God calls you. And he calls people to different places. To speak of one as “more strategic” can only promote discouragement and/or pride.

    In reality, I think many young planters want to work in cities because a) they’re cool, and b) there is plenty people with which to build a mega-church. Hard to become a pastoral rock star in a small place.

    And, let’s face it — very few want to pastor people. A church of 200 is more work than any man could wish upon himself for a lifetime, and this is doable in the smallest of towns. Our lack of pastoral instinct leaves us restless in a small place, and clinging to alternative markers of faithful ministry.

    • I agree that the “best place to do ministry is wherever God calls you”, but sometimes he calls you via means like discussions about strategic ministry. I’ve got a decently tiny college ministry. I have no hub of power, but I still think the call to the city, when issued without pride, as Keller does it, is still an important one. Your “reality” comment is, on the one hand quite realistic, and on the other quite cynical. Yes, a lot of the impetus for the young guys going there is pride, but for a lot it is really a vision for faithful ministry–for preaching the Gospel to the people of the city.

    • Faithful

      All men are totally depraved sinners in great need of The Grace and Mercy God has shown us as believers. The full and true Gospel of Jesus Christ must be preached in all parts of the world. May God raise up men willing to lay down their life for His Glory no matter where He may send them. If you are sharing the Gospel message it will be a great offense to the lost, but as God Grants them repentance and Faith it will become their true Joy. You would be wise to Beware of the Pride that often comes with numbers indeed. But you can tell a tree by it’s fruit, God will not be mocked this isn’t a joke; many will have Hell to pay for they way the handled the Gospel Message, Jesus. May God give us the wisdom to share it with fear and trembling and with Great Love for His People. Merry Christmas.

    • I agree with your sentiments so strongly, Bill, thanks for commenting. The work of pastoring a mid-size church is truly a massive undertaking that in some ways exceeds the burdens of leading a megachurch. Btw, would you happen to be the Bill Hartley who pastors Christchurch in Mesa?

      • Bill Hartley

        Yes, Keith…you found me out!
        Having served on Megachurch staffs, I can “amen” your comment. The undeclared-yet-always-lurking goal of megachurch leaders is insulation from actual soul-care with individuals. Especially for the Senior Pastor, who can kick himself upstairs until he is only required to “shepherd” the staff and Elders. If truth be told, shepherding (genuine discipleship) rarely happens in a large-church setting. We’re building a ministry on a different set of assumptions at CHRISTCHURCH.
        Blessings to you.

        • I thought I remembered your name. My family used to attend East Valley before we moved to Michigan and I think I even heard you preach once. Godspeed.

  • Writing as an suburbanite who appreciates the call to the rest of the country, I suggest you read Tim Keller’s Center Church to see his actual argument for the move to the city before you say it’s a baptized New Urbanism based on “proof-texts”. He has strong biblical, pragmatic/sociological, and historical arguments to undergird his call to city. If only for the fact that the population itself is shifting to the cities, and churches should be where people are, the call to the city is important. I’m sorry, but this is not an adequate rejoinder to the Metro-Evangelicals.

    • Just because population is shifting to one place doesn’t mean the place they are shifting from is unpopulated,… aren’t the country folk people to that need true churches? Why can’t we have an equal emphasis on both?

      • I don’t work in the city. I work in the suburb. I totally think country people need good pastors too. The equal emphasis on both would be nice in theory, but realize that:

        a. Keller’s call to the city is also part of a larger to the mission-field, to global cities.
        b. Keller is advocating for a need that he sees. It’s that simple. God’s laid the city on his heart and he’s got some reasons that he thinks a lot of pastors looking for nice ministries right out of seminary won’t think of. It’s like asking somebody writing a book to increase involvement in social justice were then criticized that they should have place an equal emphasis on the cultivation of the arts in the church, or vice versa.

        • But isn’t there a difference in putting what “God laid in someone heart” over everyone else?

          • Well, it depends on how you do it–whether you denigrate the call of other ministries in the process or not. I think more people should volunteer with college ministry. I think it is a crucial, pivotal, under-reached age gap that we are missing. I will argue that it is quite strategic to serve with them all the while not telling people that serving in other ministries is bad. Also, it may be that what God’s put on his heart is to lead other leaders into the city.

    • tobi

      right on, derek.

  • eve

    Someone mentioned race and I cringed. But two things I can say along that line is (1) I often wonder why, when I hear of middle-class Whites wanting to embed in poor communities, why they almost always select poor Black communities in cities? It’s bizarre. There are more poor Whites than Blacks … it’s weird to me that many White church planters who want to “reach the poor” neglect the poor of their own race and head directly to the poor of another. (2) I also wonder why Blacks who are middle- or upper-class clamor so much to “reach the ‘hood’ [i.e. poor Black communities].” What about communities of the socioeconomic status they themselves came from? Are the economically poor the only ones worthy of the Gospel?

    • Eve, one thing you will likely never hear an evangelical associate poverty with is white people even though, as you said, most of America’s poor are white. I have never understood this.

    • Yes. And yes. I grew up in an area where the Rust Belt and Appalachia converge and I cannot tell you the levels of poverty, brokenness, and social dysfunction in that community. And we were predominantly white. It always seemed like an area to escape, but I’ve come to realize that in God’s providence, growing up there prepared me in entirely unexpected ways for future calling (my husband pastors in Appalachia).

      Also, I can’t help but wonder how folks in the inner-city view those who intentionally move into their communities to “save” them. There have to be intrinsic cultural and economic barriers in place. And how much of this is (even unintentionally) being fueled by a complicated combination of a messiah complex and the “white man’s burden?” Certainly not dismissing efforts to help the poor and evangelize the inner-city, but maybe middle-class folks should let those faith communities that are already present in the inner-city take the lead. Maybe, like is happening more often in international mission work, we should submit ourselves to the Church that is already present in these communities and work alongside and under them.

      • Interestingly enough, I work in a predominantly white and very poor community full of incredible social dysfunction, but I live in an inner-city neighborhood where a CCDA church was planted 25 years ago. So I’ve got both bases covered here!

        I’d say that reaction within African-American communities varies; some people are glad to have any help that’s coming while others are incredibly suspicious no matter what. The good part is that people with White Man’s Burden tend to either burn out quickly or get spun in raging cynicism. They are rarely the sorts of folks who *actually* move into a poor neighborhood, usually because church leaders are careful about who they encourage to move in. We’ve seen partnerships between our church and another, more established, church really bear a lot of fruit.

        I hate to be cynical (and I’m only repeating what community members have told me), but the problem with a lot of “faith communities that already present in the inner-city” are either: they are commuter churches and have the same haughty “let’s save the poor people!” attitude or they’re theologically anemic to the point of uselessness. There are some that are committed to their neighborhood and to Jesus– and those are usually the sort that are very open to partnering with someone from outside because they need more resources for development!

    • Two thoughts in response to yours:

      (1) It’s probably *partially* a rural/urban thing in that homogenous poor white communities tend to be more rural (and thus harder to reach/less appealing/fewer resources around); see Jake Meador and Adam Shields’ comments. Homogenous poor black communities tend to be more urban and thus easier to reach. This is entirely conjecture, but I suspect that a lot of white poverty is spread out more evenly through cities & their suburbs and thus there’s less opportunities to “target” particular communities.

      However, metro-evangelicals and evangelicals intentionally moving into poor communities to church-plant & do community development are kinda two different sub-tribes that read a lot of the same books.

      (2) This is also conjecture, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the relationships between churches– there are many “commuter churches” in the city that have historic roots and a lot of people flock in from the suburbs.

      I would also argue that the issues of black poverty are more easily stereotyped and tossed around in national discourse. And, unsurprisingly, the church follows the culture…

    • Jonathan Chan

      Eve, Hannah, Dr. Bradley,

      I certainly can’t speak for anybody else, but living in a mid-size Southern city, I’m part of a church and CCDA community in an overwhelmingly African-American neighborhood where nearly 50% of the residents live under the Federal Poverty Line. The core group of transplants began moving in 7-10 years ago, not seeking to plant a church, but building relationships, opening homes, providing after-school tutoring, starting an alternative high school, and launching other non-profits focused on affordable housing and outdoor adventure. Central to these efforts was an African-American pastor who was born and raised in the neighborhood, and had been praying for a movement of reconciliation and relationship among Christians of diverse race and class backgrounds.

      A church wasn’t started until 4 years ago. Folks had been meeting for prayer and Bible Study for some time, and then a visit from John Perkins really set things in motion. His counsel was that without a common worshiping community, all these efforts would fail. Why was a new one needed? Why wouldn’t churches in this neighborhood suffice? A survey of 60 churches in and around the area found that not a single one of their pastors lived in the neighborhood. Because of “Black Flight” these predominantly African-American churches drew the vast majority of their congregants from 1st and 2nd ring suburbs. Those who could get out, were getting out, for reasons that were completely understandable. In other words, these churches were in the community, but not with it. Most of the kids coming for tutoring didn’t go to any of these churches.

      So here we are now, a diverse community of whites, Asian-Americans, and African-Americans, many of who have moved in from the outside, others who grew up here or close by. I’m a recent transplant, trying to figure out what reconciliation and re-neighboring looks like in my own life, learning from those who started this long before me. We’re not perfect by any means. The temptation to be an insular community within the community is always present. There are cultural and economic barriers. The White Man’s Burden needs to be stamped out constantly. But we take seriously the model of the Antioch Church, which crossed racial and economic barriers. We take seriously the fact that our city has an incredibly broken history of racial division that has caused incredible pain for the whole nation. We take seriously the fact that this neighborhood is not another country; 50 years ago, white people fled it because black people were moving in, today, non-blacks still fear to come here.

      At our best, this is not about saving anybody else. It’s about reconciliation and being obedient to God’s call, seeking the good of this city and dying just a little bit to my own cultural and economic preferences, so that I can give and receive new life in a diverse expression of the Body that’s witnessing to the life-changing power of the Gospel in this neighborhood.

      • Really appreciate your perspective and your call to this kind of work. Obviously it’s one thing to sit here and pontificate among ourselves and another to be doing the boots on the ground kind of work. Thank you for that.

        Another thing that I wonder about is whether middle-class folks are ready to embrace the necessity of living alongside their neighbors not simply geographically but economically as well–i.e. living the brokenness with those we serve. There is this weird conflation among my generation of trying to engage the hipster love affair with technology and the trendiness of social justice. And yet,I know that nothing prepared us for ministry to the poor like being poor ourselves–nothing makes you understand the complicated nature of accepting charity or getting govt help until you yourself have to walk into the social services office. Not responding to your personal situation more than simply thinking out loud.

  • Jake Meador

    Thank you for this. As a lifelong Nebraskan, I’m just about fed up with the urbanism talk, not because I think it’s wrong, but b/c I think it encourages a tendency most of us already have, which is to see ministry outside of major urban centers as the kind of junior leagues, it’s like the farm team for big urban church jobs. So the only people working in rural or smaller urban areas get portrayed as either a) temp workers who are waiting for the call up to the big leagues, or b) people who weren’t “good enough” for the majors and so spend their careers toiling away at AA ball.

    That’s overstated, but when I look at the church wasteland that is much of rural Nebraska, it’s hard to not feel angry.

  • Andy Crouch

    For the record, that snarky, snappy phrase was 100% the headline writer. :)

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  • Shamrock Centurion

    It may seem impertinent, but when I saw Andy’s post to check out this blog post, the term METRO-EVANGELICAL made me cringe! Whoever coined it seemed to have been coining a coin of the decidedly big city, big sin and big sex realm — the term striking me right in the part of the guts that make one want to heave and not leave anything behind in a blast of projectile vomit at a culture that no longer things HETEROSEXUAL and HOMOSEXUAL are sufficient, nor the word ROMANCE, but must now call someone who lives a HOMOSEXUAL life a METROSEXUAL and call a romance between two men a BROMANCE — such big city ideas and acts and life styles that God was not into building cities that partied hearty and engaged in the sort of cultural clap trap and crap that brought about such terms in Sodom and Gomorrah, but He was tearing them down with as little as the sound of trumpets around a city, as in Jericho — no stranger to Metro-Sensual Sin! So, whoever decided to term yet another phrase to go on forever misunderstood, misused and abused — after all Generation X led to the term Generation Y, when, get a clue, Douglas Copeland used the X as a Roman numeral signifying the generation which was the TENTH generation since the founding of America — nice work at Christianity Today. However, the mere making of cute terms to make The Gospel seem more relevant — really, to make those writing about The Gospel seem more relevant, perhaps — makes not for wise and discerning discourse on the matter, and cheapens the discussion from the outset!

    • Scott

      You might want to check what “metrosexual” and “bromance” mean. They don’t mean “homosexual” and “romance” (respectively). They’re different terms because they mean different things.

    • Further up the comment thread, Andy Crouch clarified that the headline “Metro-Evangelical” was added by the headline writers at WSJ.

  • Another observation: in my experience, when middle-class suburbanites do try to church-plant in mid-sized cities, they often draw folks from the suburbs who drive into the city for church gatherings but who don’t actually live there. This creates a weird ghettoized community–a community within a community that only exists in a store front on a Sunday morning. Which is precisely when downtown areas are quietest.

    Also I wonder how much of our understanding of city evangelism must adapt as cities themselves have changed over the millennia. While basic structures are undoubtedly similar, we’re talking about population centers that are exponentially larger than the cities mentioned in Acts. Where exactly is the public forum in NYC? Where is Mars Hill? The contexts in Acts seem to be much more intimate so that the entire city could quickly know that the Apostles had showed up and were preaching the gospel. That sort of thing simply can’t happen in today’s cities and this must be part of the conversation.

  • Comment from a decidedly non-urbanite:

    As a guy who has spent his life ministering in a small, getting smaller, city, and sparsely populated county, it would be easy to jump on this. I resist. I see the rational for Urban ministry as kind of like the old bank-robber’s line: “Why do you rob banks?” ” . . . minister in the cities?” “That’s where the money/people is/are.” Since there are buildings in major cities that contain more people than my city, and since the young movers-and-shakers tend to move away from places like Covington, to places like New York or Washington, all other things being equal. Pastors like Keller are going to have greater influence than pastors like Merrell. I’m content to influence a creek. That water flows into major streams.

    I rejoice in ministries that influence large populations and centers of power. Strong influential ministries like Redeemer Church add something to the Evangelical culture that helps folk like me. We have used Keller’s books for studies. Keller has opportunities in NY that he didn’t have in Culpepper, VA. I’m glad. From my perspective, he (I don’t know much about Driscoll.) has used those opportunities in ways that have helped those of us in smaller places. I’m thankful. When I think of it, I pray for Tim Keller & his ministry.

    Bottom line: I assume that those who choose to minister in the big cities choose to do so for the same reason I have invested my life in a small place. I think this is where God wants me. I think there are people here who need what I have, by the grace of God, to offer.

  • Alex

    One thought I would like to add about what the Bible says about the city. I have been working on a Thesis to trace the biblical theme of the Temple. One thing is clear, that the temple and the city go together. The first temple can be seen at creation in the garden of Eden. God tells mankind to fill the earth with his image bearers. Essentially a massive city (if it weren’t for the fall)! The temple was built in Jerusalem… the city of David. It became the focal point of Israelite worship and the grass roots of the early church. Revelation 21-22 paints the picture of a huge city and it’s temple, Jesus. God’s presence and the city have always gone hand in hand.

    The idea of God and man dwelling together has often been pictures in the scriptures. This is not a proof text. This is a theme that can be seen throughout God’s blueprint for his creation. While we cannot isolate all our efforts to the city, we must not neglect God’s love for the city.

    • Alex have you read Jacques Ellul’s book on the meaning of the city in scripture? I always find him a provocative commentator with a somewhat unique point of view. Blessings as you work on your thesis…

  • matt proctor

    Seems like there is a both/and approach we can all agree on: Paul focused on the cities; Jesus seemed comfortable in the shadows (even Jerusalem isn’t that “big” in the 1st century of big…more backwoods and hill-billy than cultural center). Both Paul and Jesus impacted the world. Admittedly, most change will happen in cities (lots of people live in cities who help pay for foundations, academies, schools, etc.). James Hunter has done some good stuff on this in “To Change the World.” And yet, many great writers, painters, and thinkers never made it to the cities/places of influence until they honed their skillset in a more rural/suburban area (Abe Lincoln came from nowheresville, Marilynne Robinson is from Iowa, and even Tim Keller learned about church in VA, long before he reached the Big Apple).

  • Jon Tyson

    Thoughtful article.

    As one of the new metro-evangelicals, I too am often ashamed of the self importance and arrogance that often bleeds into urban mission.

    In the body of Christ we all have different gifts and callings, and we should learn to celebrate the diversty of gifts, locations, calls and ministries that make our faith so rich and compelling.

    We should also acknowlege the strategic nature of urban ministry at this time of history, but know that our primary call is that to faithfulness, not strategy.

    We must discern our call in such a way that we are prepared to hear “well done good and “faithful” servant”and be less obsesive about trying to hear “well done good, strategic servant”

    May God give us grace not to judge those who love and champion the cause of urban mission, and also to love and champion mission and faithfulness in EVERY other context.

    The Western Church is in such bad shape, that we dont need another us vs them mentality.

  • E_Case

    I planted my church in Chicago in 2001, so I was a bit “ahead of the curve” so to speak, but lately I’ve been struggling with the tension between “intentionality” and “incarnation”.

    We didn’t choose Wrigleyville because we wanted to go “upstream” and change culture. We chose it because we wanted to live there and try to live out the vision of Jesus and the Church.

    ALSO, as we got settled in, we discovered that we were FAR from the first people in Chicago who had planted a church. There were so many people who were doing vital, long-running ministry there.

    They just didn’t dress as hip as we did. lol.

    Having left Chicago, I’m contemplating and praying through a return to an urban context, but for me that call is deeply associated with the question, “Am I prepared to LOVE (fill-in-the-blank-city)?” not, “Am I wanting to change culture downstream?”

    Great article, and great thoughts.

  • Daveyboy 53

    This is a needed corrective. Thanks.

  • In related news, Tim Keller also wisely advises young pastors or seminarians “to consider being a ‘country parson’ — namely, the solo pastor of a small church, many or most of which are in non-urban settings.”

  • Luke @ Deep Roots Library

    Very interesting discussion, I find it almost as fascinating as the article itself.

    As someone in rural southern Illinois, and who’s father has a T.hD. in rural church growth, I agree wholeheartedly with the fact that rural and small town churches can have a tremendous impact for the Kingdom.

    That being said, when all the people in the small towns see a movie, where is it made? Cities. TV? Cities. Major book publishers? Cities. Who tells the narratives that shape the way the suburn, small town, and even rural folks think? People in the cities. That’s what they mean by getting upstream in the culture. The ones who tells the stories are the ones who are reaching the most minds quickest.

    Whether we should have this goal of affecting culture in this way is another conversation entirely, but if that IS the goal, there’s it’s just common sense that cities are where it’s at.

  • Hannah

    It’s interesting to me that this rhetoric from Keller, Driscoll, et al seems to have little interest in healing the hurts of their cities, meeting the poor and the broken, except in a perfunctory way, and are mostly concerned with reaching the powerful part of their cities, the “influencers” and the “cool” people. I think Mars Hill does a homeless outreach, like, once a year? Oh please.

    There are many, many models of being the church in the city, and the ones that stand out to me (as an urbanite) are those that go to be with the poor, as Christ did. This can happen in an urban or rural context.

    • I think you’ll find this video of interest:

      Maybe we’re too quick to assume the worst about the ministry and motives of others. I am not in any way affiliated with RPC, I live in California. All I can say is that I rejoice for the Tim Keller’s of the world as well as the faithful small town pastor that no one has ever heard of. As long as the Gospel is front and center, I rejoice.

  • ForeBarca1899


  • ForeBarca1899

    The issue of spreading the gospel is a matter of grammatical interpretation. Matthew 29 states that we are to go into all the world. The emphasis is on the adjective “all.” Hence, any interpretation that violates the comprehensive call of Jesus to spread the Gospel is at best a misinterpretation, and at worst a heresy. In other words, as Bill Hartley on this comment site has written, the question becomes: where has God called you to spread the Jesus’ elixir of Eternal Life? Is it on the highways? Or shall you do so in the by lanes and alleys? Or in all of them? Prepare ye the way then!

  • Culture is made in cities, period. Media emanates almost entirely from three places: New York, Los Angeles, and Washington DC. If you aren’t in one of these places, it’s tough to affect culture through media and entertainment. The same is true for many other things such as art. That doesn’t mean other places aren’t cultured, but the cultural trends that sweep through America originate in the big cities. Speaking of Mark Driscoll, it’s easy to see this when examining the rise of the coffee shop in America thanks to the Seattle coffee house culture that birthed Starbucks. That didn’t come from suburban Des Moines. The Stonewall Riots were in New York not Muncie.

    Yes, in the era of the internet, you can build a platform from anywhere. However, this is unlikely to change the institutions of any industry or culture segment you are operating in.

  • Anna

    “For the body is not one member, but many…If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?..And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.”
    (I Corinthians 12:14-21)


    “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? Fo his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.”
    (Romans 14:4)

    I think people who seek to serve God in a rural area are great. And when God puts it on someone’s heart to serve Him in the city, that’s great, too. For either group to critique the other is not our business–we should concentrate on the work God has given us ourselves.

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