Suburban pastor and seminarian Todd Hiestand recently posted his paper The Gospel and the God Forsaken: The Challenge of the Missional Church in Suburbia, which is also available as a PDF. He's done some solid thinking about contextual ministry in a suburban setting. I applaud his work, not just because he quotes my book, but I resonate with and affirm his conclusions. Here is his summary of four areas the suburban church must address (the paper has lengthier sections discussing each of these four items), as well as his conclusion:
So what is the answer for the church in the suburbs? There are at least four main ways the default suburban lifestyle needs to be challenged. First, we need to speak out against the suburban value of extreme individualism and call Christians back to community. Second, we need to deconstruct the value of consumerism in way that leads instead to sacrificial living. Third we need to question the suburban value of safety and comfort and judge it against the call of the gospel. Finally, we need to understand how our individualism and consumerism lead us to neglect the hurting and needy people in our neighborhoods and cities. . . .
We have a monumental challenge if we are going to contextualize the gospel and live as missional communities of faith throughout suburban America. We cannot flee. We cannot get out of here. This is where we live. This is where God has called us. And this “God-forsaken place” that we have been called to desperately needs the Church to stand up and be the Church. We need to be a Church that truly exists for the sake of others. We need a Church that gives up luxury so that others may have necessity. We need a Church that rejects the lone ranger mentality and lives in sacrificial and compassionate community. We need a Church that views money as a resource of God’s Kingdom and not an object to be consumed. We need a Church that trusts the Spirit and takes risks for the sake of the Gospel. We need a Church that comes together to care for the poor in their backyards as well as those in the city.
Perhaps, if we are careful to listen to the voice of the Spirit’s leading, we will see the power of the cross and the Resurrection can transform a place as cold and hard to the gospel as suburban America.
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Al -- Thanks for directing us to this great essay. I am looking forward to thinking more about the suburban church as I read and discuss your book. This essay also has given me a vision for how the church can address all the things that most concern me about being "suburban": individualism, isolationism, consumerism, et.
Al, thanks for pointing to my article. I am humbled that you did. I actually grew up in suburban chicago in des plaines. perhaps when i am back home again i could buy you some coffee or lunch or something...
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