Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Suburban Captivity of the Churches - 8

If you are interested in learning more about how the forces of a metropolis affect the ministry of local churches, let me know and I'll take you out for coffee at my Starbucks to talk. And if you really want to learn more, I suggest Gibson Winter's book. Very illuminating and disturbing.

The churches have had notable successes in the growing suburbs; they have suffered dismal failures in the central areas of the metropolis.

Religiousness or irreligiousness in the United States will depend upon the development of ministries in the metropolitan areas. This is where the masses of the population of the United States will work out their destinies in the coming generation; this is where the destiny of the nation will be decided for better or worse.
-- The Suburban Captivity of the Churches, Gibson Winter, pg 15

A whole new vista has opened up to me concerning the cultural context of Anchor's facility location in the central area of Fort Wayne. Does the location of a church facility affect the capacity of your ministry, of who will be part of that ministry? Yes. What is the significance of thriving suburban churches and struggling urban churches? A matter of leadership and maturity? God's blessing and wise moral choices? What are the dangers of being a prosperous suburban church? What are the riptides tearing away at urban churches?

These are all significant questions that have surfaced for me as I worked my way through Winters immensely insightful book on the "trenchant dilemma of American Protestantism - its severance from the urgent needs and challenges of the metropolis - and a program for its revitalization."

Sunday marks eleven years as pastor of Anchor; our facility is located about ten blocks from Main Street Fort Wayne. It's a deteriorating neighborhood. How does a church be for the neighborhood while also resisting the deteriorating trend of its location? What are the forces at work in our neighborhood (and throughout the city) that shape the lives of its citizens? And what are churches to do about it?

Winters contends that the core ministry of the church is one of reconciliation (taking a cue from St. Paul in a letter of his to the Christ-followers in the totally fractured city of Corinth). I resonate with that theme of reconciliation as being a crucial element of what constitutes the worth of a church in its neighborhood. But how deep and how far does the reconciliation need to go? Reconciliation not only with God and other Christians, but reconciliation with other races, with those in a different class of society, with those of a different colored collar?

The metropolis, where the masses of Americans now live, dominates the life and culture of the United States. Dr. Winter's analysis shows that Protestantism has not shaped itself to meet the challenges. The inner city, deserted by the churches, grows more desperate under pressure of poverty, crime, and racial discrimination. Suburban churches, preoccupied by the concerns of middle-class domesticity, fail to deal with the total context of their constiuents' lives.

"The choice confronting the churches today is whether to continue ministering to fragments of a society or to reform their ministry in order to participate in the whole life of the metropolis."

This new knowledge is going to take a while to work its way through me, but already there are some important implications that come to mind for Anchor's future ministry:
* first - connect with as many other churches as possible within our neighborhood and in the suburbs.
* second - push the work of reconciliation further, not just for marriages and in parenting, but between races, between classes of people, for criminals, for the impoverished, the mentally disabled, the elderly.
* third - daily trust God as we walk in the Same Spirit as Jesus to do and be good news to the deteriorating city - both downtown and in the suburbs.
* fourth - research, research, research; get wisdom; deal with reality of situation for people, individuals, churches, cities, economic forces, cultural powers, metropolitan currents.

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