Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Missional Among not Missional To

Let's make sure we have the right preposition, especially in our heart and attitude.

Bob recently had this to say in his post Hero or Partner:

"I really don't think I can help a cause or community that I am not personally involved and invested in. If I'm not willing to share the community's fate (good or bad), how effective can I be? If I can insulate myself from the day-to-day realities; if I can step away (or move on) without personal consequences; if I can only sympathize and not empathize; I'm just a band-aid. A do-gooder who had the need to "pet the unfortunate" for a season--it makes you feel good, right?

But if I'm buying what I'm selling, I have to truly walk in the community's shoes. And they aren't necessarily comfortable."

Jamie says it like this in his post Serving Need:

"It is critically important to see that neutrality (which could probably be better defined as mutuality) must be the firm foundation upon which meeting needs must be built. Without the humble acknowledgment of our commonality, we can too quickly take on a paternalistic attitude towards those we serve. It is not the good Christians lowering themselves to serve the filthy masses. That is offensive, despite the very good intentions that fuel it. We need to serve people from below (foot washing) or alongside."

Mark asks this question in his post Follow the Money:

"This isn’t to say that we should forsake the affluent. But it is to say that we should stop starting with the affluent, building upon the affluent, and elevating the culture, style, and sensibilities of the affluent. Instead of building a church upon the “best of these,” in hopes of ministering later to the “least of these,” why can’t we simply go among the “least of these” at the very beginning?"

Which leaves me wondering about being missional in the suburbs.

Todd Hiestand has written an excellent article entitled Missional in Suburbia. I hope that you can take the time to read the entire thing. I will include a few quotes here to whet your appetite:

"Despite its nice exterior of SUV’s and housing developments, could it be that the suburban world is as God-forsaken as any place on the globe? This paper will argue that it is. If this is true, what does it mean to be the church in suburban America? What does it mean to be “missional” in a context where there are very few apparent and obvious needs?

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 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."

This is an indepth article well worth reading in its entirety.

What do you think? Especially if you find yourself in the midst of the suburbs, how do you live missionally among? Is your mission to find God at work among the suburbs? Or is it your responsibility to go to the margins? Can we go to and still be missional among?


Jamie Arpin-Ricci said...

I highly recommend Albert Y. Hsu's book "The Suburban Christian", as it really seek to honestly engage these questions, facing the strengths and weaknesses of the suburban life.


P.S. Thanks for using the quote!

rich said...


Add to this the fact that there are many poor, least of these types in the suburbs...


Until recently, my family was techinally below the poverty line, yet we live in the suburbs.

bryan riley said...

Because of my weakness, for me living in suburbia was anesthetizing to the power of the a walk of faith. I hope God will increase my faith so that I can minister more effectively in suburbia.

Inheritor of Heaven said...

I think Bob answers the question about how to be missional when he says we "need to be personally involved and invested. We need to walk in the community's shoes." That would be true whether one is called to mission in the neighborhood or among those on the margins. That means one has to open up relationally with people. It means giving of "time, talent, and treasure" all of which is a sacrifice when one considers most of us (especially in the burbs) keep those things to ourselves. I think too that many in suburbia are perhaps too proud to share their hurts and struggles and may be too proud to accept help until things get really bad.

Alexander M said...

Preparing for a community event on the 4th of April (Anniversary of MLK's martyrdom).
This post gave me chills because it was so appropriate for the attitude I feel I need during the event.
Thank you!
Thank Synchronicity!!
Thank God!!!

~ Alex

grace said...

Thanks for the book recommendation Jamie. As always, your posts are a wealth of insight. I wish that I had more time to interact with all that you write, but often find myself showing up late to the discussion.

That's a very good point and a reminder that besides looking for the margins, we should have our eyes open to the needs in our midst.

I think that comfort and security are strongly anesthetizing to most of us in the suburbs and to the
American church as a whole. In fact, I believe that is where the missional church will find its greatest resistance, when the idols of comfort and security are either threatened or challenged. On a personal note, I find that challenging them in my own life is requiring a greater submission to God's grace and Lordship in my life.

You really nailed it. An attitude of generosity in our relationships can be difficult in a culture of individualism. Sometimes it is much easier to give an offering than it is to invest relationally with our time and heart.

I am so glad that these were the right words at the right time for you. God is good!

Gary Means said...

I live in the burbs. Our small city (population 5,000) is adjacent to a larger small city (population 40,000) with 25% of its residents living near or below the poverty level.

The largest church in that city, with an attendance of 5,000, does offer a form of outreach to the poor and disadvantaged, but it is heavily motivated by a manipulative evangelistic effort. In the 90s that church dropped the word "Baptist" from their name because it impaired their evangelistic efforts. Of course they are a "Community" church now.

So I have wrestled with what to do personally. I have looked and looked and cannot find a church with an emergent/missional heart in our region. If I drive half an hour into Seattle I can find many urban options, but there are needs here in the suburbs too. But you also raise the question of how we live personally, regardless of what body with which we affiliate ourselves.

I really appreciate these questions being raised and the thoughts and resources you and your readers have provided.

grace said...

Hi Gary!
Sorry I missed this comment earlier. Your raise some really good points.

My "context" doesn't include people who are needy in a homeless, going hungry way. For me being involved in that way would be "missional to" which I think can be necessary, but can also end up being paternalistic.

I do believe that there are people in the suburbs with true spiritual needs and that Jesus is equally interested in their redemption also. So I am trying to keep my eyes open to the needs that the Spirit reveals to me in the individuals I am among.

However, as far as the suburbs are concerned, I am also frustrated at how immersed we all are in consumerism. Even in the church, there is such a lack of hunger to truly live the life of a disciple.

David at Be the Revolution wrote an awesome allegory that demonstrates this.

There aren't churches in my area that are consistently involved in ministry at the margins either, although I've considered checking out what's happening with the Salvation Army. Because of that, I guess I've focused on being missional in a more individual way.

It is always great hearing your perspective.