Karis: "In the City... For the City"

Let me talk for a while about our church slogan: "In the City… For the City." It's catchy enough. At least I think so. But what does it mean? It's at the heart of what I want us to look like as the people of God in this city. We should be "in the city" in at least two senses. First, we can speak geographically. The truth is that most evangelical churches are no longer in the city. They've gone to the burbs, where land is cheap and life is easy. This is true across America, and certainly also in Columbia. We at Karis believe that culture happens in the heart of the city, in our city's downtown, "The District." This is the center of social, economic, and educational life here. We are committed to planting a church here that stays here, that impacts this key area of Columbia, and, due to the presence of the university, our state as a whole.

Second, we can speak philosophically. An oft-repeated evangelical slogan is that we, as Christians, should be "in the world, but not of it." But I would argue that, across the board, we are not in it at all. In our hearts and minds, we see ourselves standing outside the city, often heaping scorn upon her with our words. If we enter her to do evangelism at all, it's often "parachute style," where we leap from our planes, drop our tracts or Christian pick-up lines, and return to our helicopters that take us to our comfortable, Christian subculture. A key word we use much at Karis is missional. This is simply the word missionary used as an adjective. As missionaries cross land and sea to become part of a culture to reach a culture, so do we desire to do that in Columbia's downtown. We desire to live here, eat here, play here, shop here, and hang out here. This is ultimately so that unbelievers might be won to Christ, but, because we love the place and sense God's call here, we experience great joy from just being in the city. True, it is a means to an end. But in our minds, this isn't just an evangelistic strategy. It's being true to who we are. This is our city. This is our people. We love "The District."

Let's consider the idea of being "For the City." Let me take two angles on this, as well. First, think of this as working for the good of the city. Our "invite cards" at Karis still say, "In the 'District' for Good." Although our current slogan best expresses what we're about, that old one is dear to our heart, as well. Biblically, we see God moving from creation to recreation as we move from Genesis to Revelation. The fall messed things up. Jesus has come to inaugurate his kingdom. The glorious new heavens and new earth will be free of poverty and sickness and war and suffering. Sin will be obliterated once for all. But that kingdom has broken into the here and now, thanks to Christ's life, death, and resurrection. We, as the new people of God, can be used by the Lord to usher in the kingdom in part, as we wait the consummation of Christ's rule. Therefore, our desire at Karis is to work for the good of the city. We labor for the city's shalom, the hope of Israel, old and new, that will be present in full at the last day, but can be present in part right here, right now, through the ministry of Christ's church in the power of the Holy Spirit. So we care if Columbia has good schools. We are excited to plant trees in "The District." We care deeply about the arts. We want to befriend the homeless. We want to truly listen to the hurts of our city and lovingly provide the answers her citizens need. And we want to be model citizens, doing whatever we can to make Columbia a better place to live. We are for the good of the city here and now.

But, second, think of this as working for the salvation of the city. Liberal mainline Protestants have become so much in the city, that they have truly become of it. In an effort to engage the culture, they have become indistinguishable from it. They have lost the gospel of our Lord. So, although we strive for the shalom of "The District," we recognize that true and lasting peace or wholeness can only come through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Although Christ's people can spread Christ's kingdom here and now, our city's citizens cannot experience that in full, today or forever, apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, to be for the city must include working for her salvation, by proclaiming the historic gospel, or we're truly working against her good. This, of course, will be greatly misunderstood. People will be confused by our ministry. Some will be attracted. Others will be repelled. Yet we remain committed to the glorious gospel of our Lord. As missionaries, we cannot forget our message.

We will strive at Karis to be a peculiar sort of church in the minds of Columbia citizens. Unlike most conservative, evangelical churches, we will strive to be a part of our city's culture, trying to serve her and engage her. Like many mainline liberal churches, we will work for the good of the city, serving not just our citizens' souls but their bodies, as well. But, along with our evangelical brothers and sisters, we will cling to the gospel, proclaiming it and living it, telling Columbia that what she needs is God's amazing grace, His karis.