Most of you know I spend a great deal of time reading about “mission,” what with being a Mission Pastor & all. On Mondays, I try to get your thoughts going about stuff I read. Today’s thoughts come from Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts from the Missional Frontier, by David Fitch.
Let’s talk, you and I.
See, I have this romantic notion that life will be better elsewhere. Maybe it involves a coast rather than my southern Bible-Belt landlocked region. Maybe it’s an urban environment rather than the homogenous privacy-fenced HOA’d suburban area I find myself in. Maybe it’s a small church rather than the megachurch arena I find myself in. I’m not hurting for reasons to smash the low-hanging fruit of contemporary American suburban spirituality. Frankly, it’s all too easy from where I sit.
But the message has been clear and consistent and reinforced: Staying is the new going.
I had options, man. And I wanted to take them. To take a job in some state that touched the Pacific Ocean and was located in San Francisco or points north. To maybe get a loft apartment downtown where the hip-n-with-it loiter. Or create some newfangled incarnation of church maybe at a pub or outside the megachurch robotic lights & smoke machines and get to the heart of what a church should be.
Instead, God said, “stay.”
The reasons are legion. I grew up in the suburbs. I understand the rhythms. I get the values. My dad couldn’t wait to move his family from our blue-collar roots into them. I got my unappreciated education in them. I got married to a girl from them and fell into them once we bought our first home. I raised my children in the safe environs (even if I homeschooled one of them and the other went to art school downtown). I’ve kicked against them as much as possible, but I am them.
So, I stayed. And the suburbs are my current calling. Of this, I am certain.
I mean, it’s easy to kick against the suburbs. It’s almost too easy, really. Consumerist. Corporate. Systemic. Formulaic. Homogeneous. See? It IS simple, and not necessarily wrong per se. Wanna know something else? It’s too easy to say the answer lies in some pub church in Portland or NYC while I make use of my cable bundle to blog about them.
No. God said, “stay.” Because there are people in the place you “get” and, while the romance of a coastal inner city is enticing, you don’t “get” them.
So, if God says, “stay,” why would he say that? What am I supposed to do while I’m here amidst my privacy fences and HOA’s and consumerist churchianity and homogeneity and SUV’s and upward mobility and above-average progeny and trips to Target? That’s the part that’s not so simple, really.
This is where I’m so encouraged by David Fitch’s insights into “prodigal Christianity.” The author gives us insight into how we’re supposed to live in light of our situation no matter if it’s inner city or suburbia or third-world or emerging-nation or whatever.
First, we are to proclaim the Gospel in the day-to-day of people’s lives. We should build relationships to the degree that we can humbly declare the reality that His Lordship matters wherever we have been placed. It’s easy to think in terms of going to Africa to do that when the reality is that we’re still in our place the other 345 days in a year.
We should be agents of reconciliation. We should forgive others in whatever that looks like in the context of the relationships we’re in. This is hard to remember when my fence that leans 3 inches is given a postcard of shame. But our role is to love others and real relationships tested over time matter.
We should be with people on the fringes. As someone who is often on the fringe, I deeply appreciate this. People in the Church were willing to look past my appearance and my music as someone who was loosely affiliated with punk rock. But this goes far into our comfort zones, trying to make room for those who are homeless, drug abusers, immigrants and others who society says aren’t a part of the “in” crowd…especially in evangelicalism where we tend to expand that list. There has to be room in the Body for the “least of these” or we’re all just living a lie, no?
We should bring the little children to Him. I’m a big fan of Children’s ministries and things like Vacation Bible Schools, we should make sure we have room for children in every aspect of what we do as a Church. Evidence abounds that families can be changed by one child…and our churches should make room for these little ones and their families.
We should understand and affirm the five-fold ministry and gifts. Fitch is a proponent of the gifts of apostle, prophet (both “little ‘a’& ‘p’), evangelist, shepherd and teacher. I’m not sure I go that far, but I can agree that all believers should be agents of sending out believers into their worlds, seeing the target and listening to those who keep us focused, those who lead others to Christ and those who pastor and those who teach. While Fitch and I may not agree fully on the specifics of that, we’re both of the belief that the Body needs to recognize those who facilitate formation of the Kingdom however it may look.
Lastly, we should be people who are involved in Kingdom prayer. So often, we try to run the show when we should be trusting Him to run it.
Fitch sets forth the idea that these practices (along with the Lord’s Supper and baptism) should be the impetus as we “stay.”
And that’s one of the reasons that I stay. As I said before, it is romantic and easy to “go,” especially when those places have a cooler climate and are able to steer clear of the Bible-belt presuppositions that are all too prevalent in our world.
But as I said before, those are romantic notions. It’s no better “there” than it is “here.”
And the real romance is in “staying.” To be part of a community that you “get.” That you understand. That, in the words of Fitch,
If these practices sound familiar, it’s because we also see them in Christendom’s churches. Too often, we know firsthand how the Lord’s Table has become a quick five-minute cognitive exercise squeezed in at the end of the Sunday morning service…Likewise, our preaching often looks like slick packaging of information with an application added at the end…in the same way, we have made ‘being with the least of these’ and ‘with children’ into mere programs…we could go on about how the fivefold ministry got organized into the more efficient (and highly overworked) senior pastor, or how kingdom prayer got organized into Wednesday night prayer meeting, or how reconciliation got organized into conflict management…Mission and kingdom were lost…we need to reclaim these practices for mission.
Like I said earlier: I had chances to leave.
It’s easy to kick against the suburbs. But once you get past the romance and dive into the “sleeves-rolled-up, steel-toed boots, safety-glasses/hard-hat” world we live in…I’ll leave the inner-city coastal ministry to those who lived it and know it until or if God is telling me to expand my horizons.
As far as it depends on me, well, as long as I see the irony of pumping gas into an SUV wearing a Ramones t-shirt, and I understand the items Fitch listed avove, well, that gives me license to stay.
And, if you’re asking, too often, people are quick to move when the better part of valor is to stick it out and model Kindom life to those who God has already placed you in proximity to.
Just a thought, patrons.