Content: New Platform, New Conversations

by Brandon O’Brien

Historical movements don’t have precise calendar start dates. But the Reformation made a striking symbolic beginning when a monk pinned a list of grievances to a church door in 1517. The world commemorated the 500th anniversary of that moment, and the Protestant Reformation it represents, in October 2017, at the end of my fifth month as director of content for City to City.

While historians and theologians celebrated the doctrinal and ecclesiastical legacy of the Reformation last October, I kept thinking about how the movement began with content development (writing 95 theses) and distribution (nailing them to the door of Wittenberg Castle Church). Communication technology—Gutenberg’s printing press—spread that content across a continent and beyond. And here we are, half a millennium later.

The delivery systems have changed. In addition to books, we work with tweets and blogs and video and audio content. But it’s as true today as it was 500 years ago that the right kinds of resources unify individuals into movements. Some resources train or encourage. Some help people put into words their deepest values and experiences. In short, movements still require content development and distribution. City to City’s content department creates and distributes movement-minded resources for church-planting networks that work in global cities.

City to City has been developing resources with Tim Keller, based on his extensive ministry experience in NYC, for the last 10 years. To supplement this good work, we are broadening our efforts in 2018. To foster a truly unified movement among the diverse and growing church networks we support, we must do more than simply create and distribute resources for our global partners. We need to create and distribute resources with our global partners. Doing so pushes us into territory where there are few guides; the scope and complexity of our mission require us to pioneer new ways of developing and distributing resources.

That means the overarching theme for the City to City content department in 2018 is “proof of concept.” We will test new ways of creating and disseminating ministry resources to learn what avenues are feasible and effective and which ones aren’t. We will experiment and learn. Some of our initiatives will work and some won’t. By year’s end, though, I expect we will have a better idea of how to help develop resources that foster gospel movements in global cities.

We will also be looking for and developing the next generation of thought leaders working in church planting around the world. We want to find the practitioners who are leading thriving, gospel-centered, contextualized ministries in places like Lagos, Beijing and San Francisco and make sure everyone can benefit from their wisdom.

To that end, here is a short list of things we’re trying in 2018:

  • Pilot a writing course with pastors from various regional networks to help them share their on-the-ground experiences
  • Collaborate with networks in as many as five countries to produce and distribute resources written by local leaders
  • Connect pastors and planters through an online platform that allows them to engage one another directly with ministry problems and solutions
  • Incorporate more writers into all of our ministry resources
  • Introduce Tim Keller to a broader audience of church members and lay leaders

Martin Luther is credited with helping Christian Europe rediscover the gospel. City to City aims to do something similar—to help leaders in prominent cities rediscover—or discover for the first time—the gospel and its power to transform them, their churches and their cities. I’m humbled by the role content plays in that mission and comforted by the reminder that “neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Corinthians 3:7).