As I march towards my doctoral graduation, my mind dwells on all those who made my acheivement possible. In the forward of my book, I listed a slew of those people and I want to take some time to elaborate on their influence.
2. I am thankful for the cities I have visited during my lifetime. My time in Jerusalem, Paris, Caracas, as well as dozens of American cities, instilled in me a passion for urban areas. These cities spoke to me and influenced the direction of my life and this work. It is impossible to separate my existence from the city of Cincinnati. I am her native son. My love for her will never wane.
The reason I decided to attend Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary was because they had a specific doctoral track in urban ministry. I discovered that my acceptance into the school was actually a few weeks too late for me to begin with that cohort, so I was forced to choose another track. Fortunately, this path still permitted me the opportunity to focus my studies on the movement of the gospel in cities.
I never imagined that I would devote my life to living and working in the cities. Despite growing up in an urban congregation, my first two full-time ministry experiences were in very suburban areas. When Kelly and I felt the call to start a new church in 2005, we knew two things: 1) we wanted to do so in the Cincinnati area and 2) we wanted to go where there weren't many churches. The more we prayed, the more we felt called to move into the city.
Honestly, I found the 'burbs preferential: lawns, chain stores, backyard decks. What's not to love? But the longer we spent in our suburban oasis, I had a spirit of discomfort. I discovered that my way of thinking was counter-cultural to that of suburbia. My giftedness is pushing against established thinking, striving to bring a balanced view of the world and faith. This doesn't necessarily work well in relation to the suburban value of conformity. It's not that I didn't enjoy our life there, or that I hold any ill-will toward the people or situations we encountered. But ultimately, though I though it was our ideal context, it became evident that the city might be a better fit.
Upon moving to Walnut Hills, I became a dedicated student of my city. I read absolutely everything I could concerning the history of Cincinnati. I would go to the downtown library, checking out nearly every book concerning the history of our neighborhood and city. I soon became a volunteer tour guide for the Cincinnati Preservation Association. And I eventually expanded my studies to encompass the development of urbanity in the United States in the twentieth century. I was able to draw from my experiences from time spent in cities throughout the world. My passion for cities was cultivated in our early years in Cincinnati's urban core.
I know now that there's no other place where I can be. God called me to minister in the city.
I once heard Timothy Keller, a minister in New York City make the following statement. Mind you, this isn't a direct quote, but the spirit is definitely accurate.
Many pastors move to the city with a goal of saving it. But after moving there, they eventually discover that the city saved them.
And that's the truth. Even though I thought God called me to move into the city to transform it, I fully recognize that he used the city to transform me. I am a different man today because I live here. I'm eternally grateful for the chance we have to live here and look forward to decades more of life living here.