Building a Better City: Economic Development

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The last value that I want to encourage you to think through in this short Building a Better City series is in regards to local economic development. That is, how are you promoting a heightened sense of localism in what you’re doing in church planting and local church ministry? This must be a value woven through whatever project that you’re leading or a part of.

I vividly recall a couple of years ago during my Understanding the City class (which was predominantly comprised of African American pastors) we unpacked the mixed bag of what gentrification brings to our community ... both its tensions and even its positives. Some were leery (and rightly so!) about some of the changes this process has brought about and is bringing to this once predominantly African American neighborhood. On the other hand, several homeowners in the class who have been there for decades shared how they were not only grateful for how much their home values have skyrocketed, but also for all the new businesses that have come in, as well as the new neighbors and more people moving into the neighborhood. They vividly remember that it was not too long ago when many services and businesses had pulled out.

Bringing economic stabilization, vitality, or growth is essential for the health of a neighborhood. “When cities first arose, they created a distinct kind of human life within their walled, protected space. Out of this dense proximity flowed three signal features that mark urban life” (Keller, Center Church, 135-136). These signal features represent the best intentions of the way urban life was and is meant to function: safety and stability, diversity, and productivity and creativity. Joel Kotkin also points out that there are definitive markers which are found in those cities that not only are surviving but thriving ... “the sacredness of place, the ability to provide security and project power, and last, the animating role of commerce” (Kotkin, The City, xxi). The strength of the economy is a pivotal feature for the overall health and vitality of the city.

To discuss building a better city, neighborhood, town, or village means that we must take into consideration all of what makes communities stable and healthy. A quick survey through Leviticus or Deuteronomy reveals that a just economy was a central feature of how God’s people were to live in covenant relationship with God. There was no separation between “spiritual” activities and “physical” or “everyday” activities. They were all one and the same. The gospel speaks to more than transitioning our membership to heaven after this life is over; it invades and renews every aspect of life and culture here and now.

The value of economic development is foundational for the church’s role in community building. My intention is for us to collectively think through what shapes and informs our involvement in our town or city regardless of what scale is involved. Hopefully this can animate conversations as to how churches can help their communities. These are also the very kinds of conversations we cover in our Intrepid cohorts.

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Written by Sean Benesh

Director of Intrepid