The Church’s role in Suburbia

It could possibly be over a year ago, I asked readers to give me some topics to write on and this was one of the ones that was brought up. I started a draft with just the title and that’s as far as I got until now. Rather then just delete it I figured it’s time to dig in a share my brief thoughts.

I know the person asking this didn’t intend this, but I think I initially have to say the churches role in Suburbia is to be the same as it’s role everywhere, and that is to make the good news of Jesus known to all people. So the role in Suburbia is the same as in the inner city, the war zone, the church buildings, the workplace, the brothel, the senate, the sweatshop, and in the family. So, if we are going to ask about the Suburbs we need to ask about these other places as well, but you can do that within your own church. on to Suburbia…

Let me start with what I do not think the churches role is, because I think it will get to the heart of what is inherent in this question for many people. I think we’ve started asking these sorts of questions about certain places, activities, and lifestyles in order to justify those things. So, by asking and answering the question of “The churches role in Suburbia” we might automatically acknowledge that it is an okay lifestyle and place in which to dwell for a Christian. A Wealthy CEO with a membership to a country club begins to ask, “what is my role as a Christian in this country club” and inevitably the answer will make the assumption that they should continue to be a member of the country club. The church wouldn’t allow the same question to be asked and answered of a drug dealer in a crack house, we would instead acknowledge that the answer must include that they stop dealing drugs. I hope that made some sense.

So, and I’m going to be bold about this, I don’t think the churches role in Suburbia is to live the lifestyle of suburbia and from there have a role of influence (wait though, I’m not saying you can’t live there). I would argue that the church, made of many individuals and families would do much better moving in geographical proximity to those in physical need (which is not in the suburbs), but that is a whole other topic. For now, let’s assume you are living in suburbia. I think our role as the church is to share the good news of Jesus with our neighbors. And before you think I’m talking about the Romans Road sharing the gospel let me clarify.

Suburbia is full of all the things the world tells us will satisfy our souls. White picket fences, SUVs, makeup and fitness machines, electric can openers and pretty pets, big plasma tv’s and our very own swing sets. If your living in suburbia with all this stuff, and your telling your neighbor it’s really Jesus who satisfies you, let me just say it’s going to be a confusing message.

A vision for the church in Suburbia:
Keep your house… for now. Sell all your unnecessary possessions, or even give them away to your neighbors. Tell them they can have those things because they will not truly be satisfied by the stuff, that only Jesus can satisfy. Take the extra money and give it to the poor. In fact, go out and bring the poor to your house for a big banquet. Sell your trendy car and buy a cheaper one with cash, that gets you from A to B. Take the extra cash flow and start sponsoring a child, take in a foster child, donate to the women’s shelter. Pay off your house in a year or two, because the debtor is slave to the lender. Find a church made up of people that look different then you and who worship in a way that might not be the most comfortable for you, you’ll likely have to drive a ways to find this place. Shed your life of anything that might confuse your neighbors, so that when they so your joyous, selfless life, the only thing they can acknowledge as the source of truth in your life is Jesus Christ.

14 thoughts on “The Church’s role in Suburbia”

  1. Great post. You raise some very interesting points. In principal I agree but don’t you agree people must be ‘there’ in their spiritual journey to make such drastic changes. I mean how many people could a suburban church connect with if when they walked in the door they were asked to sell all of their possessions? I think the role of church in suburbia is to tell the community about Jesus and show his love, just as it would be anywhere in the world. The mission needs to include Suburbia right? Having said all those, your point about the joyous and selfless life (free of the burden of conspicuous consumption) in Christ is right on.

  2. I do sympathize with the “being there” in our spiritual development. I have seen this in my own life. However, the more people are living radically transformed by the Kingdom, the more, I think, others will progress toward that. I’m not sure I see Jesus’ ministry on earth calling people to baby step their way to Kingdom living.

  3. Hi- I am a posting a comment for the first time in your blog. Thank you for writing this article.

    I had some pretty intense debates at work with a fellow Christian regarding wealth and it’s place in a believer’s life. She asked me with wide eyes, “So you’re telling me that God doesn’t want me to become rich?” I was speechless. Unfortunately the Church in Suburbia bought into the health-and-wealth gospel, which is no gospel at all; it is Satan’s attempt to cripple us into consumerism.

    There are several “churches” in my town that is broadcasting this false gospel.

  4. “I think the role of church in suburbia is to tell the community about Jesus and show his love, just as it would be anywhere in the world.”

    Patrick, this statement I completely agree with (as I mentioned early on in this post), however, your thought that that somehow dictates the need to shape our lives appropriately to being the most appealing (in the way that we would think) to suburban church visitors is what I think is terribly dangerous.

    In our desire to “share Christ” and be “seeker friendly” we’ve completely ditched a lot of what Christ’s message was. There are so many scenarios in the Bible were our logical choices would be different then what God dictates and we both know whose plan works in the end.

    I’ve got a few more verses I’ll probably hit on as it relates to this. But do you understand what I’m saying? I’m saying the most evangelistic, sharing the gospel way we can be, is to live it out as fully as possible, and that means a sacrificial life.

  5. Ariah, I am not sure what there is to be considered ‘dangerous’ about showing people the love of Jesus. How are folks to hear the gospel if they can’t ‘seek’ out its meaning for themselves. It’s all a matter of context you see. You can’t set the standards by saying ‘this is the real Jesus and you must do this to follow him.’ This implies that you (or anyone else) has some gnostic understanding of who Jesus is and what he intends for each of our lives. Being called to follow is MUCH more complicated than that. Besides, the guidance of the Holy Spirit is what matters most.

  6. Patrick,

    Your right on that there is nothing “dangerous” about showing people the love of Jesus.

    I absolutely believe we should allow people to ‘seek’ out the gospels meaning as well.

    I think there is a lot we agree on, and I think before we can take this part of the conversation further, we’re going to need to back up a little. I’m not sure quite were to begin, maybe we have to find an agreed upon starting point on what the gospel should look like in our lives?

  7. Nicholas Hune-Brown wrote a piece for the Toronto Star about a year ago entitled “Suburbs: A cliche from hell.” He writes:

    “There are certain landscapes that have been described so often they exist as much in the imagination as in reality. A first-time visitor to New York will find it difficult to see the city with fresh eyes as she walks down the familiar streets of Woody Allen movies. Parts of London will always belong to Dickens, and to this day Casablanca remains more a romantic symbol than an actual city…

    …Despite its relative youth, suburbia is already a thoroughly mythologized landscape with its own set of clichés and conventions. The word brings to mind a number of images and associations, many of them negative. The suburb is a land of white-picket fences and well-trimmed lawns, of teenage angst and mindless materialism.”

    First, it would help us to get past cliches. Second, your suggestions point to some of problems of the suburb, but don’t systematically address them. This is my way of saying that your suggestions are too individualistic. They help me live more faithful life as a largely disconnected individual. If we asked a different question – How do we redeem the suburb?, then we might get answers that, for example, might tie the amount of required affordable housing in an area to its average income. This would help address the problems of stratification, etc.

    I like your suggestions, but think we can ask bigger questions in relation to the suburb.

  8. -drm-,

    I can be a little dense at times. I appreciated the quote and the thoughts, I’m a little unsure how to respond though. I feel like we always need to begin with the individual, that’s almost always the place that change begins, it begins with you.

    Affordable housing is great, how do I change my life to help address that?

  9. “I feel like we always need to begin with the individual, that’s almost always the place that change begins, it begins with you.”

    Myth (…though with some truth in it). An individual never exists as such. There are certainly things you should be doing, but there is only so much you can do alone. What if change only comes through encounter?

    This is one of the problems with Evangelicalism (and those like myself who grow out of it), namely, that eye contact is important, the encounter with the singular Other in all his/her particularity, personal change, etc., but it is difficult to get people people who focus heavily on these to engage in grass roots organizing, coalition building, organizations like IAF.

    “Affordable housing is great, how do I change my life to help address that?”

    It looks like you’ve read Alinsky, that’s a good start. Talking within the power structures within which you already dwell is a good start…

  10. “Keep your house…for now.” Invite people to live with you. Share meals.


    Thanks for stopping by my blog. It’s encouraging to find people who care about people, the earth, living well. It’s beautiful. Stop by any time.

  11. -drm-,

    Wow, I like your mention of “encounter.” I think that’s pretty spot on. That’s why I’m encouraged not to live in isolation carrying out my faith, because God calls us to community, “love your neighbor.”

    As for affecting change toward affordable housing, I don’t currently live in the power structure of the suburb. I think the majority of the people who read this who do, need to begin by making lifestyle changes, and then organizing to affect other changes.

    As for inviting people to live with you, you might want to check out this post:
    Guestrooms for Jesus

  12. Rock on. It’s sad that hearing the gospel is so rare and novel, but it is, and it still surprises me. I now am even more excited to read on.

    P.S “churches” > “church’s”

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