In 1997, some old friends and those who would become old friends hosted the Emerging Urban Leaders Summit in Washington DC, with the help of Re:generation Quarterly, The Falls Church, and Leadership Network. We wanted to name and capitalize on the fact that God was doing something, that God was raising up a new generation of Christian servants and leaders to engage the city and work for justice for the sake of God’s love and as agents of God’s Kingdom.
A few months later in March of 1998 I put this assertion into an article for Sojourners magazine titled “The Stage is Set”. I’ve put it below in full and is still alive online here, and Sojourners’ short synopsis reads that ‘A small group of twentysomethings can change the world. A generation of them can reclaim the cities of America for the kingdom of God. This is our calling.”
That was then.
Fifteen years later, this is now. It is profoundly encouraging to see the actual proof of this instinct at The Justice Conference in 2013. Of the several thousand who are here, 60% are under 30 and I would guess maybe 10% are over 50. God has raised up a generation, and is raising up the next, and may he keep on doing it from from generation to generation. God has and is unleashing his people for justice and compassion in the city and in the world.
Somehow I feel like I can breathe, and celebrate, and thank God for the good work he’s done… before getting back to the work he’s called us to do, and is enabling to happen.
“The Stage is Set” Sojourners, March 1998
By popular perception then and now, Jesus’ band of soon-to-be leaders was anything but full of potential. A few rural fishermen, a cast-out tax collector, an alternative anarchist, all 12 of them twentysomethings. This was the community that would found the most significant movement the world has ever seen. Looking at these young people, Jesus didn’t see problems. He saw promise. The rest is history.
So-called Generation X, the group of people in America born after the early ’60s, has been much maligned and deemed a generation of little promise. Undoubtedly this first post-Christian generation has grown up in unprecedented family breakdown, technological advance, rapidity of change, moral decay, geographic transience, and global urbanization. But if we look with the eyes of Christ, we should see incredible potential for the kingdom and gain a great sense of hope for America’s inner cities. It is my conviction that God will use the challenging and changing environment of this generation for the redemption of North America’s cities and their people.
When one thinks of the problems of the city, what come to mind? They are myriad. The stories are different in each city, but the problems and the overwhelming need are the same. Our cities need the body of Christ to live out the values of the kingdom in their midst, for the values of the kingdom match perfectly the needs of the city.
Where there is hopelessness, the kingdom offers hope. Where there is racism, the kingdom teaches reconciliation. Where there are devastated families, the kingdom commands community. Where there is violence, the kingdom brings peace. Where there is injustice, justice. Where there is immorality, holiness. Where there is hunger, homelessness, and squalor, the kingdom commands compassion. Where there is hatred, love. Where there is addiction, freedom. Where there is devastation, the kingdom promises redemption. The needs of the city correspond point for point with values that are thematically biblical! America’s urban centers groan, waiting for those who will live out those values and in so doing display the beauty of the kingdom of God in the theater of the city. This young generation has been primed to be those people, for we thirst for these same values.
We are the first to inherit the implications of the civil rights movement, and so come to the table of race relations ready for reconciliation. MTV, the ease of world travel, and instant international media coverage make us comfortable and even desirous of multicultural communities. Rwanda, O.J., and Rodney King have created a thirst for real justice. The high rates of volunteerism and desire for personal involvement driven by the need for tangible significance have created a great proclivity to acts of compassion.
Personal brokenness has made the message of redemption compelling for us even as we offer it to others. Broken families have made us hungry to be in community and to create them where they don’t exist. An increased interest in the spiritual makes us ripe for a powerful move of the Spirit and open to a mystical spirituality that will empower us to serve. Fallen leaders, shows like The Day After, broken relationships, and personal pain have created a cynical hopelessness for many who will become our greatest evangelists of the gospel once they’ve been gripped by its hope.
The needs of the city can be met by this generation if we can tap into the hunger for the kingdom that God has already implanted in us. Ray Bakke, who according to Christianity Today “may know more about urban ministry than any other evangelical,” was asked to comment about this generation’s unique potential for America’s cities at the Emerging Urban Leaders Summit last September in Washington, D.C. “This much I know,” he said, “the stage has been set.”
If you are an older reader of this article, I encourage you not to marginalize this generation. Rather, invest your time, wisdom, and resources in us. If you are in this generation, run to the worst parts of our cities and establish communities of faith and action. Settle there and serve many. Dream big and pray hard.
The young disciples of Christ were destined to spread the gospel and establish the church. Through the strength of community and the power of the Spirit, they did so. Following their example, let us live out our destiny to make our cities shine as a witness to the world of the glory of our God.
And with this celebration, this ‘Praise God!!” reflection, I’m done blogging The Justice Conference 2013. (Don’t miss the post on Eucharist). Thanks for sharing the experience and the joy, and your heart for justice. In light of what was said these past hours and days, May God help us be people of prayer and people who are just.