Monday, May 25, 2009

Suburban Myths Part 1

Just lookin' out of the window
Watchin' the asphalt glow
Thinkin' how it all looks 'hand-me-down'

Recently, Justin Taylor over at Between Two Worlds posted a link to an article that touched the age old (okay maybe it's not that old) suburban vs. urban debate. Part of the article states that for some it's cool to love the city and loathe the suburbs. As one who was born and grew up in the city, went to live in the burbs for a bit and have since returned to the city I thought I'd chime in on the subject. Some of you probably recognized the lyrics above from the closing song of the 70's show 'Good Times'. Many of us who were raised in poor black areas of America's large cities can readily identify with that song. Growing up in these areas I never met anyone from my family, friends, classmates, or anybody else who actually wanted to live in the city. As far as the city went the mantra of my parents, relatives and other adults in my life was 'get an education, get a good job and get out. My wife was the first black person I'd ever met who was raised in the city and still had a strong desire and determination to live in the city.

Over the last couple of decades much has been said about the mandate for Christians to move from the suburbs back into the city to bring the gospel to bear on the many challenges faced by those who live in the city. There has been however a fair amount of mythology that has also grown up around this subject. With that in mind then I'd like to do a short series of posts to expose and challenge some of these suburban myths.

Myth #1 - It is the church's responsibility to provide complete and comprehensive care for the poor. I call that a myth because while the church can and should certainly offer ministries of mercy toward the poor the entire problem of entrenched, generational poverty is not something we can or should try to solve on our own.

Myth #2 - White suburban evangelicals are indispensable to the recovery of our major cities, especially the poor black and Latino neighborhoods within those cities. I say this for three reasons. First, I don't want to ignore the ethnic dynamics of this discussion because it is still the elephant in the room. Second, I'm certainly not saying that suburbanites aren't welcome because they are (see next myth). Third I want to caution suburbanites against embracing a messiah complex with respect to the city.

Myth #3 - Moving into the city is the only way suburbanites can engage in effective ministry within the city. As Col. Sherman Potter would say 'that's horse hockey'.

Myth #4 - Ministry among poor blacks or Latinos is the only way suburbanites can participate in meaningful ministry. Trust me, having lived in the burbs I can tell you first hand that there are plenty of opportunities to serve the gospel among middle to high income suburbanites.

Myth #5 - The church can serve the poor most effectively by giving practical biblical advice and setting up practical anti-poverty programs.

In my view these are some of the myths that have grown up around the the urban vs. suburban ministry debate and thus must be addressed if we are to continue to work together to serve faithfully wherever our Lord has called us to serve.

To Him Who Loves Us...
pastor lance


Graham said...

Thanks for tackling these myths. I think you've stated them well.

Just today I "penned" an article that addresses both #1 and #2. I'd love feedback "from your side of the fence" on how there can be true mutuality and reciprocity that embody the Gospel.

Pastor Lance said...

hey Graham,

thanks for your article on the assets within those poor (economically) black and Latino neighborhoods we seek to serve. we do need to recognize that there are many folks in those communities who are far just as concerned about their communities than we are.
and i've heard from more than a few teachers and principals that the more parents are involved in their child's education, the better than education will be.


Graham said...

The pleasure is mine. Thanks for raising the level of the dialogue.