As many of us know, Phoenix is among the most transient cities in the country. This pattern of constant comings and goings inevitably gives shape to our neighborhoods, businesses, schools, and churches, for better or worse. On the one hand, transient cities benefit from new ideas and ventures. At the same time, relationships often suffer as a result, and loyalties can run thin.
For many years Timothy Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, has been making a theological case for Christians to move into cities and to stay there. Though many Christians have tended to view cities as havens of moral evil and social ills, he argues that our impulse shouldn’t simply be to flee to “greener pastures.”
In his short e-book Why God Made Cities (available for free here), Keller reflects on the well-known words of the biblical prophet Jeremiah to the Israelites who were living as exiles in Babylon. Keller writes:
What does he say to them? He says, “Identify with the prosperity of that city.” He does not say, “Go into the streets and preach to the city. Hand out tracts in the city. Then, get out.” He says, “Settle down. Build houses. Have children. Identify with the city. Identify with the people of the city, with the well-being of the city. Weave yourselves into the city in a way that weaves wholeness and health into the city.
If you are in a city or a community that is broken, where people are burned out or spiritually lost, where there is violence—stay as long as you can. Identify as much as you can. You have to work this out with your conscience, but Jeremiah 29 says don’t just have loving feelings. Don’t just preach. Identify. Serve. Pray for the peace of the city.
I wonder what it would look like to see a collaborative movement of people who stay. Not just in hip neighborhoods or hurting neighborhoods, but all kinds of places—in North Scottsdale, South Phoenix, East Mesa, West Glendale, you name it.
And I’m not talking about staying just for the weather or the golf or the prevalence of carne asada tacos (though each of those things is wonderful indeed). Rather, I wonder what it would look like to see people stay because of a love that goes further and deeper than what’s obviously lovable. The kind of love that leads someone to weave herself into the very life of a neighborhood—or a company or a school or a cause—with all the joys and sorrows that are sure to accompany the pursuit.
So here’s a question for you: Who are the people you know who are committed to staying put, who are helping to weave wholeness and health into their communities in new ways wherever they are? However you do it, please find some way to celebrate and share their stories. We need to hear them.
Tim Hoiland is the director of Flourish Phoenix. He has done wonderful work to promote the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in our city, and has graciously allowed us to share the fruit of his labors throughout our blog.