“People can’t tell the difference between Christians and non Christians in how they treat their neighbors.”
This is what the mayor of Denver said to a church leader named Dave Runyon.
I had the privilege of interviewing Dave to learn more about his role as a connector in an organization called City Unite. According to the website, City Unite “helps church leaders work together to partner with business and government leaders to address the major issues facing their cities.”
So the leaders of City Unite, who are all church leaders themselves, go speak with civic leaders in Denver, and they ask one simple question:
What are the major issues in the city?
They don’t say, “Please give us money” or “We call upon our freedom of religion to keep the 10 commandments posted in the courthouse” or “You’re the government! You’re supposed to fix all our problems for us!”
Dave and his colleagues just humbly ask these government officials what they can help with.
Besides the fact that it mimics the servant heart of Jesus, it’s also extremely innovative. If the leaders of the city understand that the church is there to help rather than become an annoyance, then the influence for the cause of Christ makes it to the top levels of city governance.
The Art of Neighboring
It’s so interesting that his response to City Unite’s question of major city issues was a simple call to be better neighbors. From the mayor’s perspective, said Dave, if Christians were better neighbors to the people in their literal, geographic neighborhood, it would actually save the City of Denver a lot of money and manpower. He reported that there would be less weight on the government for programs if people are neighboring better.
So Dave and another leader wrote a book called The Art of Neighboring. In it, they teach about what Jesus expected from people in loving their neighbors. It includes focusing on relationships with people on your block. The geographical closeness is important because you have much easier access to taking care of each other.
The website includes a ton of resources that help churches to develop strategic plans for turning neighborhoods around through love and good deeds. There are group studies, mapping exercises, strategies for getting other local churches to partner with you in the work, and more.
Expectedly, Dave is seeing many changes in Denver since this initiative began in 2010 – for example, there is a rise of the number of block parties; the city is receiving less phone calls from the elderly/disabled about shoveling their driveway or other kinds of yard work; and there is a tangible sense of unity between the pastors of many different churches.
In short, they are developing true community. And Christ is receiving all the glory.
City Unite, the organization
City Unite has a really simple graphic on their website that sums up their point of view. See below.
Obviously, the common good is the goal. The leaders of the churches are the ones taking the initiative to partner with the other modalities, but the government and business leaders play an extremely important role.
The government can help faith leaders become aware of the struggles in their city, and the faith leaders can help create new solutions.
Business leaders can provide funding and leadership guidance, while the faith leaders coach the business leaders about community involvement. Dave himself makes a living by consulting with businesses about giving their employees paid days to go serve at non-profits in the cities.
What About My Church
Are Dave and his friends better than the rest of us? Of course not. But their model shows the rest of us what it means to change the city through the work of the gospel.
We need to be asking ourselves these questions if we want to take seriously the church’s role in seeking the welfare of the city:
- Do we truly value unity between ourselves and other church leaders?
- Do we respect our civic leaders enough to humble ourselves and admit we don’t know better than them on the issues our city faces?
- Are we strategic in our efforts to do real life-on-life ministry?
- Do we take care of our literal, geographic neighbors?
- Do we even know our literal, geographic neighbors?
People like Dave Runyon of City Unite are an inspiration to us because they imitate Jesus.
Our cities need us, the church. Let’s be there for them.
Dave Runyon offered suggested reading – a book called To Transform a City by Eric Swanson and Sam Williams.