What does City Transformation Mean?

by Bruce Mann

ONEchurch describes its mission as “participating in the transformation of the city.” 

But what is transformation?  And can a city actually be transformed?

Photo of homeless person sleeping on a bench in Alexandra Park, Brantford: Brantford Expositor, Brian Thompson
Article: "More Using Homeless Shelters" by Michelle Ruby
Photo: Brantford Expositor, Brian Thompson
Article: “More Using Homeless Shelters” by Michelle Ruby

Further, can the church be more than just a religious institution, significantly participating in the shaping of the culture, social framework and even the economy of a city? It’s an important question to answer because if it can, and if that’s what Jesus desires of his people, then these questions are not just interesting but mission critical. 

A close look at Scripture would indicate that the early church not only had a message of personal salvation but also a powerful and intentional influence on the shaping, or rather reshaping of society at large (Acts 5:28/Acts 19).  Granted, this didn’t happen in a day or a week but over months, years, and even generations.  God’s heart for his beloved creation, seen throughout Scripture and church history tells us that God cares deeply that His Kingdom (literally: the King’s domain) comes not only to heaven but also to earth.  In fact, that’s how Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:9-13. 

But how do we do that and what does it look like?  

We use the word Transformation in the ONEchurch mission statement for a very specific reason.  On an individual level, 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that in Christ people can become a new creation.  This is a process for sure, but it’s not about patching up the old so we can merely survive this life, it’s about transforming us into something completely new – so we can thrive! That principle is at work in all areas of our life and faith walk and it’s also at work in the collective influence of God’s people as they go out into our communities. 

Individual, personal transformation is something with which most Christians are familiar.  Now, in order to truly come together in “philosophical unity”* around the purpose of ONEchurch, we need to really understand what is meant by “City Transformation.” This has two parts: the “Mission of Transformation” and the “Heart of Transformation.”

The Mission of Transformation is to see God’s love, grace, and character influence all areas of His fallen creation.  That obviously includes people, but it also includes the structures and systems and even the environment we live in.  In doing so, we are actively working to fulfill the prayer Jesus taught us to pray: that His kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven.  Transformation, while compassionately clothing the naked and feeding the hungry looks beyond relief to solutions that will help resolve root problems.  The Mission of Transformation requires the whole church (both individuals and congregations) bringing the whole Gospel (the Gospel of the kingdom* that includes the Gospel of salvation) to the whole community (all people and all places). 

The Mission of Transformation is a tall order, but it is what we have been tasked with and we have the Holy Spirit to help us (John 16:12-15). However, this mandate cannot be completed without our own hearts being transformed to reflect the heart of God toward his creation.  That’s why the Mission of Transformation requires a Heart of Transformation

The Heart of Transformation is aligned with God’s heart for creation.  The Scriptures already referenced are good indication of God’s heart.  2 Corinthians 5:16-21 elaborates, telling us to “regard no one from a worldly point of view” but that we now are ambassadors of reconciliation “as though God were making his appeal through us.”  In Matthew 5, Jesus implores us to be like His Father in heaven and bless the just and the unjust, the righteous and unrighteous.  In short, we are to have an “others-centred” ethic:  it’s not about us anymore.  Our default response to those around us is to bless and seek relationship so we can be ambassadors of reconciliation.  This is why God’s kingdom doesn’t advance through political means or force or even logic and reason.  It advances primarily through serving and relationships.  Having our hearts passionately aligned with God’s heart informs how we engage in the Mission of Transformation, not the other way around. 

There is so much more that could be said here.  In fact, our goal over the next several months is to unpack for discussion the major themes (below) that guide ONEchurch.  Each month at our luncheons we will be taking to time to discuss the ideas presented in the newsletter.  So, plan to come out and join the discussion. We will be discussing “Participating in the Transformation of the City” on September 12th at noon at the luncheon hosted at Organized Kaos.

God’s has a great plan of our city and county! Let’s ensure we are tracking with Him as He leads us.

Bruce Mann
ONEchurch Community Action Team Chair

*We will be discussing the themes of “philosophical unity” and the “Gospel of the kingdom,” as well as some other key ideas in a future newsletter.