Feb

15

2012

Kathy Keller|2:01 AM CT

Why the City Is a Wonderful Place to Raise Children

In 1988 when Tim first mentioned the idea of us going to Manhattan to plant a church, I reacted by laughing. Take our three wild boys (the victims of below-average parenting, as well as indwelling sin) to the center of a big city? Expose them to varieties of sin that I hoped they wouldn't hear about until, say, their mid-30s? My list of answers to "What is wrong with this picture?" was a long, long one.

We now are coming up on 23 years as residents of New York City. Our sons have grown up here, been educated in the New York City public school system (as well as private and Christian schools), married, and---to the surprise of my 1988 self---expressed the desire to never live anywhere else. Two have already bought fixer-upper apartments, and the third is doing everything in his power to move back as soon as he graduates with his MBA. Our granddaughter is a New Yorker bred and born, and already knows her way around the playgrounds and museums of New York, as well as how to charm a free flower from the man at the corner flower stall.

I learned in those intervening decades that the city is a wonderful place to raise children, a place where families can flourish in a way that they may not in the suburbs or the small towns. (See the list at the end of this article that Redeemer elder Glen Kleinknecht put together [with a few additions from me] for staff considering moving their families to New York.)

Don't get me wrong; we've lived and ministered in both suburbs and small towns, and there are spiritual strengths and spiritual needs everywhere there are people. But because most Christians don't think about the city as a great place to raise their family, Christians are moving into the city at a vastly slower rate than the rest of the world's people. I just hope to break some stereotypes about what it's like to have a family in the city.

As a summary I would say that the two main advantages of raising your children in the city are also its two main characteristics---its darkness and its light.

Darkness

The darkness of the city is easy to see. In the first few years we lived here my sons saw, from the vantage point of the back of our van where they were waiting for us to come out of the evening service, a robbery suspect chased down the sidewalk, caught, and spread-eagled, handcuffed, and Mirandized on the hood of the car parked behind us. We drove past hookers in silver lame bikinis and stilettos, watched over by their pimp, on our way home. We watched one man knock another one out in a fistfight at a street fair; and, memorably, a well-dressed man in the financial district drunkenly fall to his knees, vomit all over himself, and then stagger off.

Naturally, these incidents were the subject of lengthy family conversation and discussion. That sin should be so visible, and appear in its true, ugly colors, is of inestimable value in a culture that glamorizes depraved behavior, laughing off drunkenness and promiscuity as "partying" and mocking those who don't participate. I never had to give one lecture on the evils of drunkenness to boys who had seen them live, in living color, for themselves.

In the city your kids see sin and its consequences while you are still with them and can help them process it. Eventually they're going to encounter it for themselves, usually when they leave the protected environment of home for the big wide world---just when you are no longer around to discuss things.

I have had parents counter this suggestion by saying that, as valuable as processing the ugliness of this broken world with your children might be, there is such a thing as seeing too much, too soon. Possibly so, but my daughter in law (with degrees in education from Vanderbilt and Harvard in both primary and secondary education, and experience in teaching both) pointed something out to me---if children are really that young, too young for some sights, they simply won't see them, or understand what they're seeing. Children find a great deal of the world inexplicable to them, so the very young are not usually in danger of being damaged by fleeting glimpses of the sordid world. By the time they are old enough to notice what they're seeing, it's time for parents to be talking to them about it, anyway. And it's usually way younger than you thought!

Light

The other characteristic of the city that makes it a great place to raise your family is its light. Just as the city showcases the worst of the human heart, it also lifts up the best that human culture has achieved. Art and music, drama, architecture, sports, all are the best that they can be. And when you are attending a church full of younger-than-yourself Christians in these professions, your children have role models they can actually embrace. I have often said that the best thing you can do for your teenage children is not to have them in a great big youth group (of other teens as clueless and confused as themselves), but to have lots of young adult, cool, ardently believing friends.

Two incidents in our family illustrate this. It has been our custom at Thanksgiving to gather those who have nowhere else to go. One year several students from Juilliard School of Music came to our Thanksgiving dinner, and afterwards brought out a violin and a viola for an impromptu recital. Our boys loved music, but it had somehow never dawned on them that music was made by people. Their jaws hung open as they watched these two young women pull magical sounds out of pieces of wood.

More seriously, the time came in the life of one of the boys when the club culture cast its allure, especially a fabled den of iniquity known as the Limelight. Begging to be allowed to go fell on deaf ears. Sneaking off to try to talk his way in resulted in being caught and grounded for decades. We were bemoaning this seemingly intractable desire to walk on the wild side to a 30-something friend. He was a talent agent who represented very well-known people, and my sons thought he was the coolest person they'd ever met. When the son in question walked up, Steve turned to him and said, "I hear you want to visit the Limelight. If you want to go, I'll take you. I went there many times before I became a Christian, and I never want to go back. But if you want to see it for yourself, I'll take you." We never heard another word about it. Steve had been there, done that, and found Christ better. His words had a power that our lectures never could have.

My sons loved the city growing up, and love it even more now, not just New York, but all cities. London, Hong Kong, Berlin, Singapore all excite them, whereas a quiet, empty suburb bores them to tears. They love the density of people, the diversity of culture, even the sounds and bustle. While they have an appreciation for mountains and the sea, for camping and hiking, they always want to return to the city, with its needs (one son is a pastor) and its possibilities (one is an urban planner). Having them nearby is just a bonus.

**********

Reasons to Love City Living

Money Savers You May Not Have Considered

  • no car purchase + insurance + parking + gas + repairs
  • many free cultural events (e.g., Shakespeare, Philharmonic in the Park), not just amateur performers
  • avoid the many hidden costs of house ownership (to be set against the higher cost of city housing in some places)

Savings of Time and Money

  • subway
  • no house repairs
  • no lawn and garden care
  • no auto maintenance

Lifestyle Benefits

  • simplicity more possible---you collect less stuff in small apartments
  • immediate family is closer physically, harder for kids to isolate themselves; meals together more likely
  • apt cleaning/care is easier, less time-consuming than a house
  • you don't spend all your free time on house/yard chores
  • no scraping off your car in icy weather---enjoy walking in the snow instead
  • no school snow days---the subway is always working
  • sense of community, bonding, in your immediate neighborhood
  • for new parents, especially stay-at-home moms, you don't experience the isolation and despair of being stuck at home all day, unable to go out or even see another adult person---just a trip to the laundry room gives you someone to talk to, and a stroll outside brings you to the world
  • many large American cities have something like Fresh Direct: order your groceries online and have them delivered the next day, boxed, to your kitchen; great if you are sick or time pressured
  • fresh fruit and cheap flowers at corner stands rival expensive shops elsewhere
  • great food in every restaurant---no bad meals

Kids

  • less peer pressure; great diversity of interests and skills in every school cancels the need to fit into a mold
  • diversity of friends and classmates makes them comfortable anywhere in the world later on
  • babysitters within walking distance or travel on own---no driving them home late at night
  • babysitting less expensive with neighborhood co-op
  • kids' friends often within walking distance, or meet at playground; no carpooling
  • easy access to cultural enrichment activities (music, art, drama, parks)
  • you do things with your kids, rather than sending them out to play in the yard
  • teens don't need a car
  • teens aren't riding with other teens who may be reckless, drunk, or newly minted drivers
  • navigating the city makes them resourceful---not going to be unnerved anywhere else
  • kids as young as 11 years old can take themselves to their own dental and allergist appointments, music lessons, playdates
  • if you pray and talk frankly in front of your children about your fears and challenges regarding church planting, and your kids see you deriving the strength to go on with it from God, you will be a hero to your children, one who practices what he preaches
  • you are able to process the sinfulness of the world, which is up close and visible in the city, with your children; they aren't shielded from it until just as they are leaving home and you are no longer as much an influence in their lives.
  • BEST REASON TO RAISE KIDS IN THE CITY: they see young, hip, urban Christians in the church, new believers who have been there and done that and find Christ better than all of it; these young believers are role models that parents can never be---no kid wants to grow up to be their parents; but the artists, musicians, politicians, and others they find in the urban church are a huge aid to making Christianity plausible to kids
  • sin is more visible and salvation more plausible in the city

General

  • airline prices are cheaper to/from larger cities; fewer transfers
  • closer to ministry opportunities, especially diverse groups, the poor, ethnic communities (instead of traveling many miles to reach a people group); virtually all people groups are in the city, especially Africans, Russians, and South Americans
  • less expensive for getaways; can travel by subway to a new neighborhood or a cultural enclave for a change of pace; so many unique experiences close at hand
  • wealthy people in cities are always happy to lend their vacation homes to ministry families for weekends and getaways, as long as you are flexible; since ministry happens on weekends, mid-week getaways don't generally conflict with the owners' desire to use it on weekends
  • easier to reach the suburbs from the city center than to reach the city center from the suburbs
  • access to the best of the best in: professional sports, cultural interests (museums, lectures), entertainment (theatre, music, improv), educational opportunities/options, shopping, influencers in every field, restaurants, medical care

 

Kathy Keller serves as assistant director of communications for Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. She is co-author with her husband, Tim, of The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God.

  • http://www.holidaylonging.org Holiday Longing

    Great article. If I had the calling and the means, I'd be back in NYC in a nanosecond. I see in the list of benefits: "Closer to ministry opportunities." Amen. Living in a major city is not unlike living abroad - it's a missions trip every time you leave your apartment.

  • totheendsoftheearth

    As a church planter with 2 little kids living in urban Japan, I found this incredibly encouraging and insightful.

  • Andres Stolopholos

    As a layperson struggling with ministry in my small town where there are few gospel preaching churches and huge ministry needs, this post was incredibly insulting. Please do some research on the needs of small towns in our current context of immigration and poverty before posting something with the implicit view that there is so little to do here. There is far more here than just mountains, hiking, or the sea.... There are real people here hurting and struggling.

    • J Stew

      Andres,
      This wasn't written as an insult to you or others who are ministering in small towns and to take it as such is quite arrogant. As a small, college town, resident who ministers to poor and homeless people I can speak of this as an encouragement. The lessons Kathy has spoken of here are not just limited to the "big" city but really any city.

      This was written as an encouragement for ministry in cities, showing a positive outlook on something that often deters Christians from moving to the "heathen" cities. Study history you will find that in America, churches moved from the urban centers to suburban ones due to a myriad of reasons but one of which was comfort. Nobody is saying that your task of testifying to God's grace in a rural or suburban area is any less great than those in cities.

      Be thankful and joyful about the task that you've been given to struggle and suffer for the Gospel. Grace and peace.

      • Andres Stolopholos

        Clearly I thought Mrs. Keller wrote this article to specifically insult me. *clearly*

        • Amy Joy

          I will pray for your ministry work, Andres, and for God to provide.

  • http://icaughtthevapors.com eve

    YES! I'm so happy I grew up in NYC and went to NYCPS (CPE, Manhattan East and Bklyn Tech) I don't know what to do. There was nothing like it. I simply don't get what kids can get out of living in the 'burbs.

  • K

    Amen, J Stew. What a great article & so encouraging. It's sad people are going to make this into a "She said urban ministry is more important," thing. Because that's so not the message here. Of course there are needs absolutely at every corner of this earth! And praise God He sends people to each corner. She's speaking from her context & it's so encouraging for those of us whose context is similar & who've faced similar trials/struggles that are unique to living in the inner city.

  • http://www.dranthonybradley.com Dr. Anthony B. Bradley

    This is a fantastic perspective!!

  • J Crew

    Lots of hip, cool Limelight herein but no Light. Smugness and worldly idolatry saturates this self-conscious elegy. Well-pedigreed friends, wealthy vacation home loaners, and elite educations notwithstanding, there is much poverty in all that is said and a startling lack of self-knowledge.

    We are told of watching "a well-dressed man in the financial district drunkenly fall to his knees, vomit all over himself, and then stagger off." But he wasn't wearing the trappings of a religious who seems in the world and of it, was he? As such he elicits more sympathy and becomes less of a case study than his observer.

    • BNance

      J Crew, I'm guessing you've read Much Ado About Nothing? Taking your cues from Dogberry?

    • Amy Joy

      Isn't that the point of living in a city, to be the light to the broken people?

  • City Dweller

    I've lived in the City my entire life. I was born into a non-christian family, became a Christian and embraced the reformed faith.

    This is the most unrealistic picture of city life I've ever seen. She's right on about the art, architecture, drama, (missing food) being the best they can be in the city (I don't know about sports). She goes on to say how much money you save in the city... HA! Almost every lifestyle benefit she lists is only applicable to singles, and she is making the case for raising a family. She didn't mention the cost of renting or buying an apartment in the city large enough to raise a family with 2+ kids. Less peer pressure in school due to diversity? Is she dreaming?

    "kids' friends often within walking distance, or meet at playground; no carpooling" Every city church I have attended was full of commuters living nowhere near the Church. Carrying a stroller + another toddler down or up the subway steps isn't quite easy living. That's why my family lives in the city and has a car. Insurance in the city is more expensive than anywhere else. I do have the luxury of riding my bike to work, however that also means many more near-death experiences and a more expensive life insurance policy. When I was a kid, I had local friends, but they were always in and out of jail. My good friends were scattered throughout various parts of the city. As a Christian, my wife and I have to travel to meet up with church friends. My work and old childhood friends are scattered throughout the city. Our kids' friends are also scattered. We find that traveling even 3 miles to meet up with people can be a huge chore and can sometimes take anywhere from 40minutes to an hour.

    Grocery shopping is more expensive, and you make more trips because you have less storage space. Either that or you need a car to get to the bigger markets. Zip cars aren't all what they're cracked up to be.

    Sin is more visible and salvation more plausible in the city. Seems like a geographical deterministic fallacy. External sins may be more blatant, but internal sin is just as hard to identify as anywhere else.

    • Maggie (from Canada)

      I can't speak to everything you disagreed with, but I grew up in a big city and I *did* find there was less peer pressure than many friends in smaller towns experienced. Because we had so many options for things to do (including many that were cheap or free), there was a lot less pressure to go to drinking parties just to have something to do on the weekend. I wasn't particularly cool at my own school, but because I knew some artsy kids from other schools, I could choose to hang out with them instead for fun. That wasn't the case for friends from small towns (ca. 1000 people) whose schools covered large areas, where not fitting in at school meant not fitting in outside of school too.

      Unlike you, my local friends in the big city mostly lived within a 10-minute walk of my house. (Also, none of them ever went to jail! Most of them now have university degrees.) Just wanted to point out that there are people who have had some of the experiences Mrs. Keller mentioned - she's not the only one!

      I do agree that housing prices in larger centres can be ridiculous. I would never be able to afford to buy a place here on my own.

  • Matthew T.

    I can understand why many look at this as a limited point of view. It certainly seems that Mrs. Keller is coming from a position where everyone comes to her -- she's the wife of a Senior Pastor! When ministry comes to you it is much easier than going out and finding it.

    As for the benefits of big city living versus more sub-urban living, you do learn dependence very well in a more crowded place. I live in Colorado Springs, the most rapidly growing metro in Colorado, and we're not packed in tight. Even in the crowded neighborhoods, you don't need to see your neighbors very much. This leads to more independence, and means you begin to realize the value of real friendships more.

    As I recall, being out in the country is viewed as being very therapeutic in the bible. It seems that being alone can help a person, but only temporarily.

    But then, yes, we are called to reach the lost and hungry. City Dweller is right, though: it is just as hard to see the in-dwelling, hidden sin of indivuals when faced with such obvious cultural sin.

    And eve, let me tell you something: until you have tasted and experienced suburban living, do not write off the possibility that there is life to be had there. I, for one, cannot speak for big-city living, but I can tell you that there is much life to be had apart from the city. Have you ever taken a hike through a snow-blanketed canyon? Climbed a mountain? Flown a kite in a grassy field? Slept under the stars by the side of a lake? How about bathing in the sun while reading a good book? Played a game of frisbee or softball in your backyard? And all of this withing 25 miles of home?

    Ther is much to do in both the city and the country. I cannot determine which is better, as I have not tasted both. As I understand, Mrs. Keller has. She might be a better person to ask?

  • Andres Stolopholos

    I agree Steve. These are very helpful words.

  • kelly

    I wouldn't have expected Mrs. Keller to be criticized for writing a piece on how their city life experience had shaped them and their family! I am very grateful with how and what she shared. My husband & I have always had the dream to live/pastor in NYC, but as of yet, not an opportunity for us. We do live in a smaller-scale city though and I am very grateful. We love city life and love raising our kids here. The things they are able to experience culturally, educationally, and otherwise are vast. We love ministering in a city and the many people groups you can interact with. Thanks Mrs. K...maybe someday we'll see you in NYC. =)

  • James

    This post is probably helpful for those who are considering inner city ministry. I have friends who live in big cities and do fine. I’ve traveled in cities often in my short life, for work etc. As a country boy, I prefer to be far away from them, though. As a boy, there was nothing so close to heaven as running through woods and wading through streams; playing out all day, my dad teaching me how to be a man in the context of God’s creation. You can raise a family in the city, but it’s certainly not ideal for many… I wouldn’t think it would be cheaper either. $40K would be difficult (impossible) to live on in NYC, but where I live, it’s a decent salary. Whatever context we find ourselves in, we must use it to shape our families and model Christ to our children. I know how to do that best where I live.

  • Melody Mariner

    Thank you Mrs. Keller for showing us what it looks like to count our blessings no matter where God may put us. While I would never hope to live in a big city, if for some bizarre reason I would end up in one I will try to remember all the good things that are possible. In the meantime, I will try to do the same with my own surroundings. Surroundings that I will confess that I forget to appreciate at this point in the winter.
    I hope that you are able to let the unfounded criticisms found here roll off. I'm truly sorry.

  • http://www.thinkpoint.wordpress.com Steve Cornell

    This is very interesting and brought back a memory. About 15 years ago, I was asked if my name could be given for the pastoral search team at a Church in NY City. The Church is on West 57th surrounded by the full life of the city. At the time, I couldn't imagine taking our four children into the city. Perhaps I was influenced by my teen years of running the streets of Philadelphia. This certainly provides a different and refreshing perspective. I chose to remain in Lancaster, Pennsylvania --- another great place to raise a family!

  • Andrew

    Interesting article. In my (admittedly short) life I've grown up in the suburbs, attended college in a small town, and now live in a built-up area near Washington D.C. (with plenty of friends in the city itself). I've been fortunate to see a bit of each scenario; having friends these situations right now helps as well.

    I strongly disagree that city leaving is cheaper, at least in pricey areas like DC, New York, or San Fran. Rent gets incredibly high the closer one gets to the city center. For young single people, this either means getting a cheapo apartment, burning your budget up on rent, or packing in more people than the place was designed to handle. Many people are fine doing this, but it requires major sacrifices nonetheless. Public transit (at least in DC) is quite expensive if used during rush hour, while parking in the city can run over $20/day. Insurance, groceries, cable, utilities, etc. all cost more as well. Most of this is driven by real estate costs and the high wages demanded by people to live in a high-cost location. I know plenty of friends in small to midsize cities who make considerably less money than I do but have noticeably higher standards of living. Taxes are higher (particularly in BosWash or California).

    Convenience is also a factor: shopping takes more time and effort in the city unless you deliver it to your door (which costs extra). Despite the supposed efficiency of public transport, it can take while to get to your destination if that destination doesn't align with a nearby stop. It's very hard to get to the suburbs/country if you don't have a car, since most cities' train lines only go out so far. Traveling to places other than similarly-large cities is a chore, since without a car you either rent one or ride a bus. If you choose to own a car, most buildings in dense areas charge hefty garage fees. Gas stations are infrequent and expensive. There are also more restrictions on personal liberty - firearms, tobacco use, noise regulations, etc.

    Now, life isn't all about bigger "stuff". I love the dining, history, culture, entertainment, sports, and diversity of the city. If you're bored here you need a wake-up call. Having said that I rarely grew bored growing up in the suburbs -and I wasn't exactly partying my way through high school. It all comes down to what you're looking for and where you believe you're called to go. Big-city living is ideal for those who don't mind less space or posessions, who are attracted to the city's vast opportunities, and who are willing to make the financial sacrifices. Suburban living is great for those who like city amenties but also like to get outdoors, get around conveniently, and have more peace/quiet/breathing room. The country is awesome for those who prioritize simple living or an outdoor lifestyle.

    Lastly, while I can't speak personally to raising children in the city, I have relatives who grew up in the city and I work with youth ministry in the inner suburbs of a big metro area. The peer pressure and opportunities to get in trouble exist there just as much as they do in a quiet exurb...oarticularly in wealthy neighborhoods. The statistics for high-schoolers in the DC metro area regarding sexual activity, substance abuse, and suicide are not only tragic, but are among the highest in the country. Schools full of children with affluent, well-connected parents breed unique forms of peer pressure - materialism, pressure to get ahead in those honors classes at all costs, pressure to get into the right college, pressure to fill one's schedule with all the right clubs and activities. The biggest thing our kids struggle with here is not temptation to party but temptation to completely burn themselves out (with their parents often pushing them right along). I'm not trying to paint affluent big-city neighborhoods as houses of horrors, but they present their own challenges to raising children.

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  • E

    Absolutely awesome writing, and I feel right at home (from Budapest); it makes me feel, like, I have just (at age 54) "arrived" home. Thanks. Wow. Just shared with my kids (in hope/prayerfully, that they'll choose the right place, if they'll have children.

  • Becky P.

    I am thinking that she wrote this article in opposition to the mindset that one "should live in the country if you are a Christian, and esp. a home-schooler"--and they frequently "diss" the city as a place for raising Christian kids.

    I appreciate her perspective. We need all kinds of Christians--city dwellers and those who don't mind a more rural way of life.

  • Kara

    Thank you.
    We are raising our children in a city of 4 million in Russia. And we've realized that many of the 'hard things' of living in Russia have simply to do with living in a huge, dense city. On the other hand, many of the wonderful things are also benefits of a huge, dense city. My favorites are walk-ability (preschool, school, grocery, bank, post office, pet store are all within a 5 minute walk) and public transport (to get anywhere, anytime).

    Though I look forward to when God calls us back to the States, it makes me sad that there are few places to find the kind of density we experience everywhere here.

  • tim

    Kathy - Thank you for a great, insightful article. We're a family of five living and working in Bangkok with a church-planting team. We'll be making a move further into the urban core in the coming months and your article highlighted so many of our thoughts.

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  • http://wkshank.wordpress.com Wendy

    I have to admit that I was a little bit stung by a couple of the lines in this post, at first interpreting them as "my way is better than your way" -- in particular, the line about the city being "a place where families flourish in a way that they may not in the suburbs or the small towns." But as I re-read, I think you are not saying this lifestyle is BETTER or is THE way to flourish, just that it brings some specific opportunities and advantages that suburban or rural family-raising generally does not. And I agree with you. I imagine that you would also agree there are advantages that suburban and rural dwelling bring to the raising of children and to ministry that city-living does not offer as easily. As our savior said (himself being raised in a rural setting and ministering to both rural and city folk alike), "go into ALL the world," which surely encompasses field, forest, and avenue. The whole thing is white with harvest.

    We have raised our sons in both rural and suburban settings and had to deal with both negatives and positives in each. All three young men have been exposed to cultural variety and stunning sin-ruin, some of it close to home (the suburbs may not be quite the hothouse of homogeneity you and I remember from our younger days), some at schools (we chose public, and state universities), and some in travels to cities here in the U.S. and abroad. The God they have been taught to know from birth still has his grip on them; praise his grace!

    As others have commented, we are all called to different settings, and to settle in to the one God puts us in and then cast stones at those who labor elsewhere is not only uncharitable and ungracious, it is a terrible display to the watching world. I do NOT think you are doing this, Kathy, and I hope in response that we in different settings will not do it either. Blessings on your ministry in a city we have often enjoyed visiting, and thanks for your perspective. I love the way God has opened your eyes over the years to the goodness of a calling that you initially reacted negatively to. I love how He does that, wherever he calls us to go.

  • Elysia

    Thank you for this article, Kathy Keller! It was very encouraging to me. I grew up in the inner city in a very close-knit, Christian family. We had wonderful Christian friends in the Church who truly were a light to my siblings and me. My home and my church were a haven, and the light contrasted the darkness that I saw in my neighborhood and public school. My older sister and I navigated the city by a city bus, and I learned to be courageous despite the depravity I saw. Both my sister and I became missionaries! Perhaps this city life was a gift from God's hand for us to prepare us for the call to minister in big cities around the world. This is giving me courage, too, if God ever calls my family to live in a city in the future.

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  • Susan

    Thanks, Kathy, for this wonderful article! We work with a fair number of young adults who are interested in urban church planting, but nearly all of them make comments along the lines of "I'll plant a church in the city until I have kids," or "I'd like to do that but have huge fears of the impact of raising a family in the city, where there are so many dangers." Thanks for putting your heart (which resonates with mine) into words which I can pass on. While God calls many people to minister in small towns or suburbs, when He calls us to the city, we must go! And when God calls us to the city, He calls us as a family. He loves and cares more for our children than we ever can, and they are safest when we are obeying His call on our lives.

  • Jeff

    I'm happy that Mrs. Keller and her family enjoy living in NYC. But as someone said previously, this article really is unrealistic. Ask New Yorkers themselves. A recent survey showed that New Yorkers are the most miserable people in America. I've lived in the middle of cities (Baltimore, Philadelphia, Portland) and in the suburbs, and I can tell you that the suburbs are a much nicer place to raise a family.

    While it's hip and trendy to poo-poo the suburbs, living in the city is depressing and exhausting. When I lived in Philadelphia, I got so tired of being asked for money by panhandlers multiple times each day that I began asking them for money before they could open their mouths. On two consecutive mornings, I walked out to my car and found all four doors wide open and everything stolen. People used to put up signs in their windows that said, "No radio." Folks stopped doing that when there was a rash of smashed windows with notes inside that said, "I didn't believe you." And there is no yard for your kids to play in--you've got to go find a public park where the crack addicts and homosexual prostitutes hang out. Darkness? Definitely. Yes, the restaurants and theaters are nice--but who can afford to go to them?

    I'm glad someone likes raising a family in big cities. But I am so thankful that the Lord has given me and my family a full and joyful life with countless loving Christian friends and numerous ministry opportunities in the beautiful suburbs.

    • mel

      They are miserable because they don't know their Saviour and they don't know how to count blessings. They only know the hunger and dissatisfaction of an unsaved soul. It really sounds like they need more people with the Holy Spirit to live there.

    • Jamie

      Jeff, with all due respect, your post undoubtedly revolves around one person- you. The posture of this article was not to compare the "holiness" of living in the city versus a suburb, but to challenge the notion that children can't or shouldn't be raised in the city. To attack either one or take a posture of superiority because of where you live is missing the point. Yes, the city is arguably a "darker" place, and yes, the sin is perhaps more visible and from your front door step, but we have a Savior who came to us in our most ugly and dark state, without hesitation. Jesus came to us, abandoning comfort and preference when we had absolutely nothing to offer him. Some people will live in cities, and some in suburbs, but the call on our lives does not change. Praise God for His grace in your life, but remember that we sacrifice, just as Jesus did, for the sake of the gospel. When we place our hope and identity in a Christ, the things we elevate in preference and as comfort simply fade in the background.

      I live in a mega-city as well and am thankful for people challenging previously held ideals. Thank you for writing this article and I pray that it would be encouraging to those laying down their lives for the sake of the gospel, regardless of where they live.

  • Sara

    As a Christian family of six preparing to move from the suburbs of Seattle to London, I found this post encouraging. We know we will face new challenges in the city, but we'll also leave behind the worst of suburban life. As a mom carpooling 4 kids to school and activities, I often drive 20 hours a week. In London, we'll be living a tenth of a mile from our children's schools and our new church home. Yes, our house will be less than half the size but still cost almost twice as much. We'll only have one car (though we will only need it when we leave the city). We'll have people from all over the world in our neighborhood, which is a blessing as we are a multi racial family. We live in a moderately diverse suburb now, but I look forward to our African daughter having the experience of being in the majority at the local schools. The process of getting rid of half our stuff has been freeing. We're simplifying so we can live more missionaly. I for one can't wait to get out of of the burbs and into the city. Thanks Mrs Keller!!

    • EE

      Sara, London is an absolutely fantastic place, particularly to raise a family! I just said a prayer for you and your family's new adventure.

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  • Single in The City

    As a single woman who lives in the city I just want to comment that the city needs families! Mrs. Keller is not criticizing those who live in the country or suburbs, but instead challenging families to consider life in the city. Reports about crime, poor school districts, and higher expenses make living in the city unattractive to families. I get it! But, consider the fact that their are four primary communities that live in the city. These communities are the poor, immigrant communities, single professionals, and the upper class. How much would these populations benefit from being surrounded by stable Christian families? It would be revolutionary and culture changing! The city needs the influence that families can bring. For example, imagine the witness of a Christian Mom volunteering in her neighborhood public school. I imagine that she would advocate for quality education, which would benefit all the children in the neighborhood. She would probably make friends with single Moms, be welcoming to foreigners, and provide shelter for children with a poor home-life. Or, the witness of a Christian Father who leaves work to attend his child's sporting event. The Father might remind his single male co-workers that marriage and family is a rewarding life. The city is a mission field desperate for believers to dwell in its neighborhoods. Think of Daniel and Jeremiah, both called to dwell in secular cities. As the city is hub of economic,cultural and intellectual change, when their is a Christian influence it not only benefits the city, but also the suburbs and the country. I believe those who are willing to make the scarifies associated with city life will be richly blessed.

    • BKK

      I think this is exactly right! We are a family living doing church planting in Bangkok and I think these same ideas apply here. It's so important for people to see a healthy, stable Christian family. So much can be done just by functioning as a Christian in a dark place.

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  • Mike

    "My sons loved the city growing up . . . whereas a quiet, empty suburb bores them to tears." If I lived in the suburbs - if that's where God had called me to minister and serve - I'd be hurt by this comment. I similarly heard Tim Keller once say at a conference, 'The problem with the suburbs is; don't even get me started about the suburbs!" There were 3000 people at that conference. I imagine many of them were from the suburbs. They were, however unintentionally, made to feel like they were living in a second-rate community.

    I love the city, though I don't live there. I'd love to minister in the city, though I'm called right now to serve in a rural community. I just wish all this defence of and promotion of urban ministry could be done without pitting it against rural and suburban ministry. I've heard it over and over and over again.

    Some are called, like Paul, to the cities. Some of us, on the other hand, must go with Jesus to the countryside.

    • Steve

      That last line was great. Jesus was from a small town folks.

      Look, small towns aren't better than metros, nor are metros better than small towns. I respect the Keller's tremendously, but I do feel like this article was a bit tone deaf. I'd also like to see some statistics on some of these hip young church plants. How diverse are they really? My hunch is they probably appeal mostly to young, college educated, mostly white professionals... in which case they are just the church for folks who used to be in the burbs, but have begun moving back to the city in the last few decades. Different day, same crowd.

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  • Hope

    I really appreciated this article, as a young wife who picked up and moved to the big city with her husband to support and inner city church plant, I got a lot of flack, "well what are you going to do when you want to have kids.", "you can't have a family in the city"... I think Mrs. Keller assumes (as most of us do) that the suburban /rural lifestyle is acceptable as a route for the good christian, and wants to let us know that there is an alternative. After the extensive critique we had to deal with, it is nice to see an article validating our hearts.
    Many of the critiques of the article centered around the darkness and misery in the city, well, Jesus said that the well don't need a doctor but the sick... In the city we come across darkness daily, much more so, or more visibly than in the suburbs... Great! Light shines brightest in the darkness! In my first week in the city I had the chance to invite college kids, homosexuals and a homeless man to share a meal with us, and was able to speak to each about Christ... In one week! The density of the city allows for such things, it means the missionary field is at your doorstep!
    And in response to Steve, I belong to one of those churches and although it may be the exception to the rule, we are full of every color, creed, socioeconomic status... School teachers and prostitutes, a few wealthy and some in subsidized housing. I understand where you are coming from Steve, but there are some churches that are in the city, and truly for the city.

    • City Dweller

      Nobody is criticizing Mrs. Keller because we believe the city is dark and miserable and that nobody should come here to preach the gospel. We are criticizing Mrs. Keller for pragmatic untruths about the benefits of living in the city.

      • J Stew

        It's not pragmatic untruths if she and her family have experienced them...just because you haven't or can't see the benefits doesn't make her a liar as you are calling her to be. Get over your opinions and read what she is saying in the tone she has written.

  • http://www.dailyvowelmovements.com Andrew

    Thanks so much for such an encouraging article. I live right in the heart of the Sydney CBD, and found many helpful words here. Thank you.

  • http://www/redeemer.com Tim Keller

    Some thoughts for the commenters:

    1.Kathy's point (as the title says) is that the city is a great place to raise children. She's not saying that it is the only place nor the best place for every family to do it. Rather, the thesis is that it is a much better place to raise kids than most Christians think.

    2.The point of the list at the end is that the city is more has more economies of scale and efficiencies than most Christians think, not that it is always necessarily the cheaper place to live over all. Many people look at the higher housing costs and insurance rates and think that all the city's other living expenses are equal or more than those same expenses in the suburbs. But that is not the case.

    3.Lastly, some of the commenters seem to have only certain kinds of American cities in mind. Some speak of city churches that are filled with commuters who live nowhere near the church meeting location or who are mainly 'hip and white'. There is soon going to be an extensive survey of new church plants in London over the last few years. Preliminary indications are that they are neither all-white nor filled with commuters.

    4.The underlying premise is this. About 5 million new people move into the great global cities of the world every month. That means we should be planting (across the world) far more churches in cities than we are currently. The people of the world are moving into cities faster than the church is, and so we simply want (through articles like this) to encourage more Christians to live and minister in cities.

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  • carl peterson

    I live in a small town next to a big city (I worked in the dowtown of the big city) I enjoy both and see many ministry oppurtunities in both. I think the article was fine. Some christians avoid the big city (especially NYC) like the plague. Christians (as a whole) need to not abandon the big city. Unfortunately some Christians have.

    With all that said, my church has been working through some of Tim Kellers sunday school materials. One part of these materials is a fierce apologetic as to why Christians should not live in the country (suburbs probably either) but instead should move back into the big city.

    I feel that part of the study was thought provoking but overall it did not speak about the many ministries and needs in our small towns, suburbs, etc.

  • RA Oakland

    I am raising a family in a city. I also tend to like the work coming out of Redeemer in NYC. This article was odd at points... and I don't think she meant to write this way, but it does have an air of arrogance. ("My sons loved the city growing up.... whereas a quiet, empty suburb bores them to tears.")

    This to me was odd:
    BEST REASON TO RAISE KIDS IN THE CITY: they see young, hip, cool urban Christians in the church, new believers who have been there and done that and find Christ better than all of it; these young believers are role models that parents can never be---no kid wants to grow up to be their parents; but the artists, musicians, politicians, and others they find in the urban church are a huge aid to making Christianity plausible to kids

    So you want your kids to love Christ bc the cool kids are doing it? This does not feel like the gospel message, but PR for the city.

    I love the city. I love ministering here. I grew up in the burbs, and I'd rather live in the city. But this messaging somewhat is off, even though I agree with many of the items on her list...

  • http://www/redeemer.com Tim Keller

    RA Oakland --

    The dominant principle here is not that urban churches are so much filled with 'hip' adults as they are with young adults. I wish teenagers were more willing to look to their parents and to their parents' peers for role models, but they often do not. A 15 year old can't imagine being a 45 year-old, but he does aspire to be like the 25-year old young adults he sees. In suburban churches, those people are a minority, often a tiny minority, while at Redeemer our sons grew up in a congregation that was 80% single. These were the kind of people that teenagers wanted to be like, and when they met so many who were godly and passionate for Christ, it had a huge impact. That's the point.

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  • m

    I live in boson and echo many of Ms Keller's sentiments. She has written a well thought out article, and has encouraged many young families who find the prospect of raising kids in a city frightening. A great thesis to be sure, but not exactly what was written.

    A few sentences reveal arrogance toward a rural way of life. Maybe acknowledging the mindset of city people toward their rural counterparts and how that can rub off on your kids (and ourselves) could be considered part of the darkness that she mentions. Many of Dr Keller's most ardent supporters who buy his books and buy his sermons live in those small empty suburbs! I have been to NYC a dozen times and have never seen people reading a Tim Keller book, but if we were to walk into Starbucks in Marietta, GA, to be sure, there would be at least one guy/girl with their face planted in his pages. Just be careful how you present yourself.

    I praise God for all the blessings in your life, Ms Keller. The Christian community is enriched to have the leadership of you and your husband.

  • Ali Saunders

    I grew up in the country Australia with acres of bush around me and went to a small local church and a Christian school. Now my husband and I, and our 3 rabuncious boys and baby to come, have moved to start a church plant in St Kilda, Melbourne, a very urban, cultural mixing pot near the city. Most Christians look at us like we're crazy and it is much further away from family, more expensive and the darkness of the city is definitely in your face. As much as I love the country, we are called to be on mission and the city is jam packed with people who need to hear the gospel and see how we live it out in such a secular setting. Our problem is that most Christians won't make the sacrifice to join us (especially families). Kathy, thanks for reminding us of the benefits. God is very good and there are many things that we enjoy about living in this eclectic part of town too. In the end, I don't want our kids to grow up comfortable and protected in a Christian ghetto like I did. I believe that God is strong enough to overcome the darkness, rather than them being overcome by it.

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  • Guest in the Kingdom

    @Andres Stolopholos - Thanks for your honesty.
    @ Tim & Kathy Keller

    I appreciate Kathy's perspective on how raising children & serving God is possible in the city as the two are often thought to be incompatible in recent history. And more importantly, I appreciate the bigger story of Tim & Kathy's devotion and obedience to God in serving Him in the city despite their desires & concerns.

    That said, there seems to be a movement in American Christianity, including the Gospel Coalition, where urban ministry is now the "rage" or the forefront for God's work. Focusing on an area that's been ignored/underserved is commendable but the line in our hearts between focus & elevation is a fine one, consciously or unconsciously.

    As a long time city dweller (NYC, LA, Chicago, Beijing), who was raised in both small town America and US & CA suburbs, I can say city folk, including Christian ministry folks, often have a tendency to see themselves & their work to be more important and better than their counterparts in smaller areas. I say this as I've seen this attitude in countless friends and coworkers in ministry and in myself! A "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" attitude. I love Redeemer and the Kellers but sometimes my antenna, correctly or incorrectly, picks up the "city is more important rather than the city is just as important as the suburbs & towns" along with their intended message.

    In the end, the pain & the need of His people is the same regardless of their zip code.

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  • from suburbia

    Thank you Kathy Keller for your article! I can't agree more that raising kids in the city has it's unique benefits. I grew up around NYC and now live in the suburbs but wish my child can experience growing up in a big city. This is my one big regret of living in suburbia where many are obsessed with creating some bubble of protection for their children. (I'm guilty of it!)

    One thing I would add is NYC is a very unique place and many of the benefits aren't as available in smaller cities in the U.S. I've lived in San Francisco and you don't have the diversity of Manhattan nor is public transportation as developed. I can say the same thing for Seattle or Los Angeles. Most families will still need a car. Kind of like living in the outskirts of Queens, Brooklyn or the Bronx.

    Lastly, I would not be surprised if many who live in the suburbs or small towns maybe offended by the article. But you shouldn't be...you have to remember it wasn't so cool to live in the city in the 1970s and the 1980s. That has changed over the past 15 years or so as now it is the thing to do for those who can afford it. But it was very difficult to get Christians to move to the city or stay in the city. And these arguments are made to help others see the stereotype of the city being a dangerous place for children is just untrue.

  • Cherie

    Such a great perspective. I have been involved with a church from the opposite perspective, desiring to have parents to have the most influence (which they do) but seeking a to shield them from everything outside of the Chrisitan community. Having children 'protected' from the darkness of the world unfortunately, deprives them of the best life has to offer and at the very least lacks diversity. Wish we had seen this sooner. God in his mercy has given us three believing young adults with one prodigal. He has recently moved to New York ( which he loves) and praying that Christians will reach out to him. So happy Redeemer is there!

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