I’ve always been a city kid and for the most part have always lived in a city. As kids growing up in Michigan, I grew up with the belief that the ‘burbs were somehow not a good place to be. They were filled with white people who fled the cities to escape people who look like me. As I got older, I learned that suburban America is not as whitebread as I was once taught. It’s still not my preference in living options, but I don’t see it as some kind of moral failing either. But in many sectors of the American church the suburbs are considered something…well, alien to Christian living. I’ve read a number of writers and bloggers and heard a lot of fellow Christians that emphasize the need to be in the city and tend to look at the suburbs as a place that is superfluous if not antithetical to being a follower of Jesus. Here’s a sample of what I mean. It’s what set me off to write this rant…I mean post:
Suburban living is about comfort, security, and prosperity. The modern evangelical movement has capitalized on these desires by providing superbly outfitted temples that cater to the consumerist cravings of their congregations. It provides “safe places” where parents can be assured that they and their children will never have to rub shoulders with pagans, never be disturbed by ideas or concepts that challenge their Sunday School faith, and never have to deal with the uncomfortable realities that live next door.
So, this is what the suburbs are all about: a place that is safe, comfortable and affluent. Except that suburbs aren’t all like this and the people living their aren’t always living the easy life. I always get the idea that most of the people who talk like this about suburbs have never really bothered to find out what the ‘burbs look like. They just hear a few criticisms and take them as gospel. Obviously if a family lives in the suburbs, they must be racists that don’t care about the poor and want to live in comfort. I don’t know where in the Bible it says “Thou shalt not live in a suburb,” or “Blessed are they that live in the city,” but it must be somewhere that I’m not looking. There was a time that I would have been as judgemental when it comes to suburbanites. What has changed is that I’ve spent time working in the burbs and I now serve an urban church where most of its members are suburban. The suburbs have some of the same issues facing cities such as poverty. Suburbia is not the promised land. First Christian might be located in Minneapolis, but we are a regional church. A majority of our members drive in from the suburbs surrounding the Twin Cities. Most of these suburbanites are good people, some of whom deal with a lot of pain. It’s been in these experiences that I’ve learned that people who live in Eagan or Eden Prairie or Woodbury are…people. There are people who live in the suburbs who are saints. They do what they can do live as a Christian, loving God and serving their neighbor. I’ve also met people who live in the city who happen to be first-class jerks. Living in the city or the suburbs doesn’t make one a better follower of Christ. What matters is that people learn to be the church where they live. It’s not about the zip code as much as it is about being the church wherever one lays their head.