Friday, April 15, 2005

The Suburban Student

When I was up in NYC last summer, I remember asking one of our missionary contacts what he thought were the top 2 skills needed to do urban church planting. He replied, "Flexibility and creativity." We continued to dialogue about the demands of church planting in an urban context, how it was never cookie-cutter, that reading a manual about it was not enough preparation, that it demanded vision, foresight and the ability to think on your feet and change direction on a dime. It was a very valuable conversation for me personally.

The Mrs and I have recently been throwing around the idea that 'hey, suburban ministry is tough too!' Don't get me wrong. This is not to say that urban ministry is not as hard as everyone says it is. Not at all.

This is to say that there are significant cultural and societal issues that make suburban ministry tougher than it looks on the surface. Along the same lines, to say that it is worth it, and that people are specifically called to ministry in the suburbs.

A few things that come to mind:
- race
(Rudy's post and the comments about this topic really contributed to our conversation)
Suburban churches are by and large ethnocentric. In our context, there is almost 0 minority. Race is an element that I address, because in the suburbs, we can grow kids that are disciples of Jesus but only ever see spirituality among white kids.
When the center of Christianity is now Timbuktu, Mali, these kids need to have the progression of exposure, processing and action on the subject of race. Certainly inner city ministry deals with race. I would submit that it is as big of a deal in the suburbs. In both cases, we cannot allow the propogation of this wrong kind of thinking to the next generation.

- wealth and prosperity
Our students have everything they ever need. They have almost everthing that they would ever want. The materialism, affluence and comfort of the suburbs can turn out mediocre followers of Christ, who never understand what it means to be in need, and what it means to suffer for the call of a disciple. How do you show a group of kids who have never been hungry what its like for the majority of kids around the world? How do kids learn about a culture that has never heard about a Bible when they have stacks of Bibles collecting dust in their homes?

- entitlement
Some of our suburban kids have a sense of entitlement. I deserve it, you owe it to me, I can do whatever I want to do. It's a pervasive attitude that challenges authority, leadership and service. Is it any wonder when we build ministries that focus on themselves? During four years of my small group ministry, I did a mere four weeks of serving someone outside the church with my students. And we wonder why they feel entitled to so much? Why they get an attitude when invite them to serve. Why being needy is a feeling they can even begin to relate to.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love what God is doing in our community. I see God moving in so many ways in light of our church move, a new church focus on community impact, and what SPACE has planned in the next few years. God has called me to the suburban student, at least for right now. And the suburban student is difficult to mobilize.

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