Mark Harris, 4Tucson

Read Time: 10 minutes
By: Mark Harris

Interview by City Gospel Movements

What got you into this city movement work in the beginning?

I grew up in the Southwest and after college became a stock broker for 10 years in Houston, Texas at Merrill Lynch. After I received my MDiv I went on staff at a large church. Soon after that, I came to Tucson to plant a church with the burning desire to change the city.

I have now been in Tucson 24 years as a pastor of the same church of about one hundred people. In the first 10 years of ministry we planted 18 churches out of our little church. These churches were of various denominations and diverse communities. We thought that if we planted enough churches, we could change the city.

Out of those churches there were over 3,400 people coming together on Sunday mornings and over 1,200 people accepted Christ as Savior.

But on further investigation, after 10 years of planting churches, our city was actually worse off than when we started. Murder rates were up, teen pregnancy was up, high school dropouts were up, bankruptcies were up and fewer people were interested in spiritual things. Every measure of the city health was worse than when we started ten years earlier.

I came to the disheartened realization that I wouldn’t live long enough using a church planting strategy to change our city.

God used that evaluation to begin changing my paradigm of what it meant to be salt and light in a city. I had been guilty of trying to make a kingdom impact alone. God convicted me. If I was going to be allowed to be part of a biblical city transformation movement, I would need to repent and change my heart toward pastors and Christian leaders in the city who had reached out to me over the years, but whom I had shown little concern. Truth be told, I believed they were part of the problem.

For the next twelve months I obediently went from pastor to pastor asking for forgiveness, unsure of what God was up to. Like so many Christians today, I had a very individual centric view of scripture rather than a city centric view.

At the end of that twelve months it became obvious that for biblical city transformation to take place it would require the whole body of Christ, not just one pastor. Biblical city transformation was only going to happen in direct proportion to the willingness of Christians in the city to become the answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17.

Biblical city transformation would require a different strategy.

We have all witnessed the power of the gospel in personal transformation, but few in our generation have experienced the power of the gospel to transform a city. Church planting is a great evangelism strategy, but to change the city’s structures and institutions will require a different strategy. I have since discovered that the Bible has a lot to say about how to transform cities.

As I explored at the needs and dreams of Tucson and challenges that elected officials and people of influence faced in making those dreams become a reality, I began to see patterns between the challenges of our city and the challenges of cities found in the Bible.

What are you currently doing?

4Tucson has developed a working City Transformation Model designed to address city-wide systemic problems, called Focus Areas, with biblical solutions. Our model divides the three sectors of society (public, private and social) into 12 Domains (business, education, healthcare, justice, church, prayer, sports, environment, social services, philanthropy, government, and media/arts). We ask Christians in our city to join 4Tucson by becoming a partner. Our goal is recruit 10% of city’s population as Partners.

The first part of our strategy is to mobilize our partners into one of the domains to facilitate networking, collaboration with other Christians and for city changer training. Each of the Domain Directors are considered missionaries to our city and must raise their own salary support until they gain enough influence and momentum to stabilize their salary.

The second part of the strategy is to research each of the 22 Focus Areas from a biblical and social perspective. From the research we develop a biblical Action Plan to engage Christians in solving that particular city problem. We encourage every Christian to find a place of service where they are most gifted or passionate.

Know the Problem and Do Something about It

The Mayor asked if we could help with the issue of homelessness in our city. After some preliminary research we found over 170 groups serving the homeless. We explained to the Mayor that our city is the 6th most impoverished city in the country and we believe we could be more help if we focused on poverty reduction. Our 100-page poverty reduction research report identified what the Bible says are the causes of poverty as well what social research identified as the problem. One of the first effects of the research report was that it changed the city conversation from homelessness to poverty reduction.

With each of the 22 Focus Areas we employ the following strategy:

  • Specifically define the city-wide problem.
  • Research the scriptures for understanding and sustainable solutions.
  • Research published studies on problem.
  • Create an action plan to address the problem.
  • Mobilize and engage Christians to implement biblical solutions and sustain the changes.

4Tucson has become the neutral convener for unifying the body of Christ. We are not a church. We are not aligned with a particular denomination. We have Christian leaders who are white, black and Hispanic all working together to make a city a better place to live.

What do you hope for the future?

I recently finished a book called You are the Light of Your City which tells our story and shares our city transformation model. I hope it encourages Christian leaders around the country to believe their city can be transformed by the power of the gospel.

4Tucson’s hope is rooted in Matthew 5:16. Our hope is that we let our light so shine before our city, that the citizens may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.

About the Author

Mark Harris is the Founder and CEO of 4Tucson, a catalyst to mobilize Christians in Tucson to help solve the city’s toughest problems. Previously he spent ten years as a financial consultant with Merrill Lynch in Houston, Texas. While living in Houston, he earned his Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In 1994, he and his family moved to Tucson to plant The Oasis Church. Mark is co-founder of Old Pueblo Community Foundation and Institute for Better Education.

Mark says that his greatest success has been being married for 32 years and having three adult children that still like to spend time with him.
Mark has been called a visionary leader, but he would say he is just trying to be obedient to God’s leadership in his life.