Stopping the City Slide

By Mark A. Taylor

Of all the helpful “change” pieces at our site this month, perhaps the most challenging is Glen Elliott’s account of Christians banding together to help change a city in trouble.

sept23_MT_JNTucson, Arizona, according to Elliott’s report, is a decidedly un-Christian place, listed as the 12th-most post-Christian city of 100 metro areas in the U.S. And its spiritual poverty is matched by its economic and educational deficiencies. Tucson is the sixth-poorest metro area in the nation, filled with underperforming schools with terrible reputations.

What kind of change could Christians make happen in a place like that?

The Tucson story answers that question. Elliott tells how Christian leaders have prayed together, learned to trust each other, and committed to serve their troubled city. And the results are nothing short of remarkable.

Today several failing schools in the city are now rated “A” or “B.” The walls between church and state have broken down as school superintendents ask churches to mentor students, run after-school programs, and conduct classes for parents. New churches are starting in school buildings. Churches are helping the county’s Child Protective Services. The city’s mayor is encouraging church-school partnerships.

“I could fill pages writing about the myriad of ways my city is being touched and transformed by God’s people,” Elliott writes.

And now we’re giving him a way to tell us more. Elliott will join me for this month’s Beyond the Standard BlogTalkRadio interview, this Thursday, September 25, at 11 a.m. Eastern. Joining us will be David Drum, one of nine “domain directors” with 4Tucson, the organization connecting churches, agencies, and other groups to meet needs and effect change.

I’m wondering what you’d like me to ask them. Here are questions that occur to me, but I’m guessing our readers will have more:

1. Is this a story more about Christian unity or Christian service? One congregation could not have accomplished what you’re doing. How did you get folks from so many different churches to work together?

2. You say “the greatest driver of change was the first pastor’s prayer summit in spring 2009.” What happened then? What can you offer as evidence that prayer has been a driving force in this change? What does this tell you about how Christians in other troubled cities should behave?

3. You mention that public schools are welcoming Christian servants. What broke down the barriers to make this possible?

4. Have any non-Christians complained about this? Have individual officials resisted your involvement? What happened because of the objections?

5. How do you define all this activity and progress as “Christian”? Couldn’t some secular coalition of concerned citizens have accomplished as much? Is your city becoming more “Christian” because of your service?

6. What have you learned, and what have you demonstrated about how the church can accomplish what government alone cannot?

7. Many others are living in communities with similar problems: failing schools, rising crime, a growing lack of Christian faith. What first steps can they take to make change happen?

That’s an ambitious list of questions, but I’d be pleased to consider yours too. You can ask them during the program, but I’d like to hear from you before that. Just e-mail me today or tomorrow (mtaylor@standardpub.com). Tell me what you want to know and then listen for the answers this Thursday. I’m thinking the kinds of change happening in Tucson could come to many other communities.

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