Thursday, May 13, 2010

Practical Ways the Suburban Church Needs the Urban Church

Alternate Titles:

On church and neighborhood (Part 2) [See Part 1]

Jamaica, in further further review [See review and further review]

How can Darliston Baptist Church in Jamaica help its North American partner, Northridge Church? How could my Detroit hood church New St. Peters help a potential suburban partner from the metro Detroit area? How could a church from the city of Rochester help Northridge?

Often its clear how help can be passed one way in those partnerships. One church is far wealthier than the other, and usually far better resourced in many ways.

What practical ways can the under-resourced church (URC) help the over-resourced church (ORC)?

I give away one of the answers by using the word "over-resourced." In partnership the URC serves the ORC by providing an opportunity to be generous in a connected, relational way. Whenever Christ talked about serving the poor, it was always in the context of being with them, or relationship. I'm also reminded of Paul's praise for the Philippians (Phil 4:10-20, particularly v.17).

The URC had been among the poor and knows how to serve its neighbors effectively.  It is easy for the ORC to be tempted to view themselves as reaching down from on high to lift up the weak.  The URC can teach humility by leading the ORC into service and outreach in their community in ways that are culturally relevant and effective for them.  The last century of missions has proved the damage of outsiders coming into a community and trying to do things their own way.

 The URC can teach the ORC a deeper understanding of the gospel.  In many ways I believe the poor know the truth of the gospel better than we do.  It's hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  We don't really know what it means to trust God only, and have nothing else to depend on (no money, no social network, no government). Even if we consider the Jamaicans, of whom the majority are not suffering in dire poverty, their lives are much more simple and close to the land than ours, and I believe we have something to learn from them that sheds light on the gospel, particularly in issues of justice for the poor and oppressed (Luke 4:16-21; 6:20-31).

And finally (and dearest to my heart), both churches help each other battle racism.  Rasicm (not overt, individual malice but systemic and structural oppression of minority ethnic groups) is in the air we breathe in America. When Northridge sends teams to Jamaica, they can help us breathe air that is a little different for a time.  And cooperation between churches of primarily different colors in the same geography can lead to overcoming ignorance and anger. Here's a poem I wrote last summer that describes some of my thoughts about race.
To me this is a crucial issue for Northridge in particular.  Looking at the location of the church (see the map below) and considering the demographics of the attendees, we have a problem. Perhaps it is youthful idealism, but I believe Paul when he writes that Christ has destroyed the barrier between people of different ethnicities, and has made the two one (Eph. 2:11-22).  And though racial reconciliation it is a very difficult issue, the challenge makes it no less our responsibility.

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