The City

Harris Creek’s mission statement is “seeking the welfare of the city.” During this time of year, I usually spend a lot of time talking about why this is our mission statement, how it’s the essence of the Gospel, and what we mean when we say we feel called to seek the welfare of Waco. All of these things are essential for our congregation to understand, so I feel as though I cannot talk about it enough. However, there is one important part of what Harris Creek is all about that often gets overlooked. The component of our mission statement that rarely gets discussed is why our mission statement focuses specifically on “the city.”

Let me start by saying that I am well aware that Waco is not a thriving metropolis like Dallas, Austin, or Houston. All of our transplants from these larger cities don’t need to get snobby by pointing this out. However, even though the population of Waco and the surrounding area is only around 225,000, I would argue that using the term “city” is not a stretch for a church in Waco, Texas. Here are a few reasons why we chose to include the city in our mission statement.

First, our mission statement at Harris Creek is based on Jeremiah 29:7, when God tells those Israelites in exile in Babylon to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you.”[1]So, obviously, first and foremost, we wanted our language to be rooted in the biblical text from which it came. When Jeremiah uses the Hebrew word for city, what he has in mind is quite different than the images we think of today. In his book, WacoCenter Church, Tim Keller[2]points out that the term city in the Bible was typically used to describe a settlement of people packed within a surrounding wall for protection.[3] It was rarely describing the size of the population. If anything, it was about the density of the population rather than the size. This is hard for us to understand today because cities are so much larger than they used to be. In fact, Waco is also larger than most cities in the ancient world. For example, historians estimate Jerusalem had a population of 40,000 people during the time of Jesus. At its highest points, during religious festivals, like The Passover, it would swell to 250,000, which would have put a huge strain on the entire city. So, again, focusing on population alone to define a city is not always accurate when using the biblical term.

A second reason we use the city in our mission statement is based on a broader theme that runs throughout Scripture. There is a pattern that runs throughout the Bible concerning the term city and it is that God seems to always be in the process of redeeming cities in the Bible. The first time we see the term city show up in Scripture is when Cain, the man who murdered his own brother, is building a city in Genesis 4:17. I think it’s safe to say cities have a pretty shady beginning in Scripture. Cities seem to be, at least in Genesis 4, a far cry from what God intended when He placed the first human beings in a garden in Genesis 1-2. However, when we get to the last book in the New Testament, the book of Revelation, we see that God has the plans to redeem the whole world, even our cities. In Revelation 21-22, we see that God is preparing for us a “holy city” to dwell within for all eternity. Andy Crouch talks about the shift in mentality towards cities in Revelation and says, “Somehow the city, the embodiment of concentrated human culture, has been transformed from the site of sin and judgment to the ultimate expression of grace.”[4]This is important to us at Harris Creek when we think about why the Church exists in the first place. We believe that God wants His Church to participate in this reconciliation and redemption project now, with Him, in the place He has planted us by sharing the Good News with those we live with in community.[5]

And really, this focus on the redemption of our city through the Gospel’s advancement is what drives us at Harris Creek. I believe God is doing something new in our world. I believe He is actively at work redeeming all that has been broken and ruined by sin. If you have the eyes to see, much of His redemption work today is happening in the city. In fact, a few months ago Harvard Business Review published an article about a shift that is taking place within cities today. In the last few decades, the term “inner city” carried with it negative connotations. However, today this is slowly, but surely, changing. Cities are now being seen as centers for innovation, creativity, and the place to be if you want to change the world. In Waco, we are seeing this transformation begin to happen, as well. I believe people have realized this, and this has led to the single largest human migration in the history of the world. That migration I’m talking about has been a movement from rural environments into the world’s cities. Statistics show that 47% of the world’s population is now living in an urban environment, and that number is still on the rise.[6]So, at Harris Creek we believe God has called us to be a part of what He is already doing in this city where He has planted us. We want to participate in this redemption process by bringing the Gospel to every corner of our city and see God change it in the way only He can. That is, very simply, why we feel called to seek the welfare of the city.

[1] Emphasis mine
[2] Keller should know a little bit about cities because he is a pastor in one of the largest cities in America: New York City
[3] Tim Keller, Center Church, Kindle Locations 3702-3703
[4] Andy Crouch, Culture Making, Pg. 122
[5] See 2 Corinthians 5:18-19
[6] Bryant L. Myers, Exploring World Mission, Pg. 13

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