July 26, 2014

The Suburban Jesus Hates Me

I’ve got a descrition of the Jesus Shaped Church over at Jesus Shaped Spirituality.

UPDATE: This post is starting to upset people, which is predictable. Add comments at your own risk because I’m surly.

I’m trying to not write when I am mad, because I always wind up getting in trouble with somebody, deleting the post and so on, but I don’t think I’m going to calm down about this in the near future, so it’s time to type.

For starters, I am just amazed at why anyone would want to be involved with Jesus unless you were convinced that what Jesus said, Jesus taught and Jesus did was the truth. I cannot understand why someone wants to be involved with Jesus if they don’t either intend to believe and emulate Jesus or at least encourage, assist and applaud those who do. Taking the Christian label and then acting like Jesus was someone from whom we should never take advice or example is incomprehensible.

Now I’m not talking about who to vote for in November. I’m basically talking about the fact that if a person follows Jesus at all there is going to be some sacrifice involved. Economic sacrifice. Sacrifice of security. Sacrifice of certainty. If someone wants Jesus without the call to discipleship that means they either a) give up making a lot of money or b) give away your money? Fine, but that’s another Jesus.

Don’t look at me and say that the responsible thing for me to do is follow Jesus, but get in a situation where I can make lots of money. Don’t talk to me about ministry as the big church with the big salary and the big house and the big retirement. I don’t have it. I don’t have anything bad to say about those who do. They stand or fall before God on their own. I just know that Jesus took me out of that career track and put me out here in poverty where he could demonstrate his faithfulness, because I’m going to have to put all my bets on that faithfulness.

Jesus didn’t give me any choices about some things. He simply said “There’s your place, and I’ll take care of you.” I’m not a person who takes that to mean I can’t save money or have a retirement plan, but I do take it to mean that following Jesus dominates the decision of where I am, what I do, and what kind of resources I have.

What I don’t have to do in my ministry is constantly delete sections of the teaching of Jesus and of the New Testament from my Bible. I may not fulfill it, but I can read it and know it’s the real deal in my life. However it’s going to work out, I can say that as much as one can do in America, I’ve come a couple of miles down the long road of following Jesus in the area of money, security and possessions. Not anywhere close to as far as millions of other Christians around the world go every day, but far enough that it scares me, and far enough that when Jesus says he’ll take care of me, I don’t really have a plan B.

I say all this because a recent sojourn into suburbia has reminded me that if one wants to come face to face with the demands and the promises of Jesus, there are just some places you can’t go. Jesus is still the “sponsor,” but the economics, politics, and security of the Kingdom of God are taking a beating over there. Stay very long, and it gets into your head and starts pulling alarms that you’ve actually wasted your life by not having the American Dream.

I’m not in anyone’s face over this, but I don’t get Jesus AND the American Dream. Some people do. Great. I don’t.

The test for me isn’t what the average Christian is doing. It’s what the average Christian has to say about the person who is trying to do it.

I used to get paid by large churches to tell their kids all about Jesus, get them into Bible studies and take them on mission trips- which I choose to be in the inner cities of Chicago and Boston, not the beach. The basic assignment was actually to keep these kids out of drugs, jail and pregnancy so they could go to college, make lots of money and pursue the lifestyles of rich Americans while attending large prosperous megachurches.

I figured this out early on, but I kept telling myself it wasn’t the case. I thought that if one of those kids becomes a serious Jesus revolutionary, going among the poor, giving up the suburban lifestyle, my churches would have applauded.

Then, a few years ago, a church kid from Minnesota came to talk to me. She’d been out of college for a few years, had come to Appalachia to teach English, then taught and coached at our school for a while, after which she took off for Africa for a couple of years. She brought me a letter from her parents where they told her what they thought about her life.

Note: These parents were card carrying suburban American Christians in church. “Nice sermon, pastor.” “Oh the music was lovely today.” “We so enjoyed the youth leading worship today.” All that.

In this letter, the parents honestly said what they thought of this girl. They thought she was nuts. The called all the ministries she worked for abusive, slave labor operations. They begged her to come home, take her college degree into the city and make some money, get a house in the suburbs and find a husband with wealth and security.

And there were good churches up there, too. Churches where she could do whatever it was she was doing.

Hey, I understand what parents go through. I feel their pain. I really do. But that letter told me, once and for all, that I had been right all those years ago, and I’m still on target today when I feel this way. Suburban Christianity is frequently not about an honest following of Jesus. It’s about an edited, reworked Jesus who blesses the American way of life and our definition of normal and happy.

It’s Jesus the sponsor of our beautiful church. It’s Jesus the bus driver of the ticket to heaven. It’s Jesus the guy who wants us to be nice to children. It’s Jesus who presides over all kinds of niceness.

Hey….I can get that from Tony Robbins or Oprah. I don’t need to dilute the demanding, revolutionary promises of Jesus into the suburban American Dream. I can get that life from someone who makes no more demands on me than buying a book.

Churches in suburbia can do so much good for the Kingdom, but when I have to come face to face with a version of Christianity that puts Christ in his place and baptizes all the values of the empire, it makes me angry. It discourages me about what all those nice people are thinking in those beautiful buildings. I know a lot of them send a lot of money to ministries like ours, but if we don’t really believe Jesus is the one for whom we sell it all to buy the pearl of great price, what’s the point?

I also know my own answer. Learn to know the virtues of relative poverty. Learn to see poverty as Jesus and the saints saw it. Keep real poor people in view. Keep real poor churches in mind. Don’t listen to the broadcasted, published propaganda of the suburban Jesus. Read the sermon on the mount. Remember that Jesus is a true revolutionary, and those who want Jesus but reject the revolution always have a nice slide show and plenty of facts and figures.

Remember that to those who are ignoring the game, or eating in the parking lot, or dozing in the sky boxes, the game on the field is just a game. To the players on the field, it’s blood, desperation, hope and perseverance.

So if you’re within earshot of the suburban Jesus and his invitation to have your cake and eat it to, walk away. Walk away with humility, but be decisive and walk away.

Jesus never gave his disciples a lesson on how to explain it all to their families, friends and communities. He just told them that the reaction wouldn’t be positive. And he was right. His own family came to take him home when things got tough (Mark 3) and they tried to kill him in his own home town.

Christian had to leave the City of Destruction with his fingers in his ears, you know.

Comments

  1. These folks think missionaries are great, as long as it’s not someone in their family. Then it’s irresponsible and crazy.

  2. First, thanks Michael and Eclectic for your responses. They were read, re-read, and much appreciated.

    Second, I’d like to jump in on the “virtue” discussion. I don’t think the decision really revolves around our virtue (nobody has said that, but I’m following some implications). Jesus told us that we won’t serve God and mammon…that we cannot have two masters, etc. I don’t think it’s really about doing the “right thing” even. It really is, for me at least, a rearrangement of economics. To assign worth (worthiness?) to cultural idols isn’t a question of virtue – it’s foolishness. We’re not depriving Jesus of anything at all when we live the American Dream – we’re depriving ourselves. We are the man Jeremiah Burroughs describes who stands with his mouth open facing the wind and wondering why he never gets full. The wind was never meant to satisfy our hunger.

    So I can live where I want and drive what I want, but I have no cause to wonder why I’m starving.

    Why did Jesus choose poverty when Satan so clearly offered him wealth and power that would be admired and respected culturally? For the glory set before him. It’s the same that is set before us.

    Sorry for the rambling. I hope it adds to the discussion in some way.

  3. Michael,
    You might appreciate David Goetz’s “Death by Suburb,” which addresses many of the same spiritual concerns you and your commentors are raising. I’m reading it right now and enjoying it, though, frankly, wish Goetz hit as hard as you did in this post!

    DMD

  4. Eric Phillips says:

    Michael,

    I think I’m mostly with you here, but it’s hard to sort out some of the things you are saying. They sound contradictory in places. For example:

    “It’s not necessarily evil to have an SUV and a second home. But as a Jesus follower you have made choices with that lifestyle and the basis of those choices was conformity to the ‘normal’ of the culture.”

    How can you say it’s not evil to have those things, and then immediately add that you have them only because you’ve conformed to the world instead of following Christ?

  5. If some of you are first time readers, you probably aren’t used to my “voice.” Have a bit of patience please.

    I never said it is absolutely evil to have anything. Materialistic idolatry isn’t mere possession, but how one uses or relates to something.

    In the suburban culture of my home town, the two story home, the vacation, the SUV- all are “normal.” In the view of the dominant culture, if you don’t have these things or the means to have them and other things, you are not taking care of your family. You are living foolishly.

    I can’t sit in judgment on anyone with these things except ME. My journey convinces me that if I have $40k, I shouldn’t spend it on a car, or if I have $250k, I shouldn’t spend it on a bigger house. But that’s my journey. I have no comment on someone else’s.

    BUT- if your journey tells you this is Normal, I don’t believe you can draft Jesus onto your team to say “amen,” and I don’t believe you can look at a person who made a more modest choice and say “You wasted your life.”

    The dominant culture’s view of materialism contradicts Jesus as I have come to understand him, but I am not the judge of the other person.

  6. You wrote:

    “Then, a few years ago, a church kid from Minnesota came to talk to me. She’d been out of college for a few years, had come to Appalachia to teach English, then taught and coached at our school for a while, after which she took off for Africa for a couple of years. She brought me a letter from her parents where they told her what they thought about her life.

    Note: These parents were card carrying suburban American Christians in church. “Nice sermon, pastor.” “Oh the music was lovely today.” “We so enjoyed the youth leading worship today.” All that.

    In this letter, the parents honestly said what they thought of this girl. They thought she was nuts. The called all the ministries she worked for abusive, slave labor operations. They begged her to come home, take her college degree into the city and make some money, get a house in the suburbs and find a husband with wealth and security.”

    A great post. These parents are reacting just the same as those of St. Francis and also St. Patrick. They do not comprehend the Kingdom of God, or, at best, struggle to comprehend a God who demands our whole being.

    Praise God for those who take the high road, who keep their eyes fixed upon the One in Whom all rest, peace and security resides. It is these who shall be first in the Kingdom of God.

    In Christ,
    amy

  7. These were great parents who had raised a great daughter and paid for her to have many good experiences that shaped her as a Christian.

    They were educated and mature people. They understood what Jesus did, taught and started.

    They would be ideal church members in almost any church.

    But they couldn’t see the Kingdom of God in their daughter. They wanted to see her follow Jesus in the security and financial prosperity of suburbia.

    I’m sure they are proud of her now. (She’s in ministry in the states in a rural church.)

    But I have that letter in my desk, and it has always reminded me that suburban culture is POWERFUL and PERVASIVE in its claims to be “God’s Kingdom” on earth.

  8. Eric Phillips says:

    Michael,

    > But that’s my journey. I have no comment on
    > someone else’s.

    When you express the lessons of your journey as general statements with 2nd-person pronouns, you ARE commenting on someone else’s. EVERYONE else’s.

    > My journey convinces me that if I have $40k,
    > I shouldn’t spend it on a car, or if I have
    > $250k, I shouldn’t spend it on a bigger house.

    Mine too. But there are people who make a lot more money than me or thee. I think we can learn something from the fact that the tithe in the Old Testament was expressed in the form of a percentage, not an absolute value.

  9. Fine, Eric. If you think I am passing judgement on EVERYONE, then you’ve had the opportunity to point it out. You certainly understand the true import of a second person pronoun.

    I don’t know what else you want me to do. Should I remove the post and go shopping?

    Wrestling with suburban culture in my life is pretty hard, and when family gets up on me because of failing to live a “normal” “responsible” life, it makes me angry. But then I said I was writing angry, didn’t I?

    If you want it all black and white, you’re definitely talking to the wrong guy. As I said in the post, I’m not very far down the road of valuing poverty for Jesus sake, but I am far enough down to know that the suburban idea of normal where I live is my enemy, and the compromises I make seldom feel like I am really living out the Kingdom of God.

    But if it’s simpler for you, that’s good. I’m a pretty poor Christian, and a worse writer. I occasionally just lay it out there, with no promises that its right, orthodox or acceptable to all readers. It’s just me, and that’s what I do here.

    The blogs who get mad at all the right people and always say all the right things are in the sidebar at teampyro. Over here, it’s pretty messy.

    That’s not a response, because I don’t know you. That’s just where your comments left me.

  10. Oh….I am not an Old Covenant tither.

  11. treebeard says:

    Michael (dearest iMonk), if there’s one thing I can tell you, it is that you have surely not wasted your life. Your blog, and posts like this one, and so many thoughtful and provocative comments, are of much more value than a suburban lifestyle.

    Watchman Nee once preached the gospel to a poor man in China. The man asked him, “If I believe in your Jesus, will he fill my rice bowl?” Nee responded, “If you believe in the Lord Jesus, your bowl will be broken.” To follow Jesus is to live a broken life, being humbled under His hand. When our “flask of alabaster” is poured out on Him, it can’t be put back together.

    But the key is not poverty for its own sake, the key is to follow Him. If He leads us into a suburban lifestyle, then what counts is our faithfulness. The Christian life is not an ascetic life, it is a life of joy and pleasure. We are allowed to enjoy all of God’s gifts, including whatever practical provisions He allows us. Yet it is also a life of suffering and persecution. Where the balance is in our own lives can only be clear by the Lord’s own work within us.

    I once heard a wonderful, true story about a Russian woman, an aristocrat who became a Christian in the pre-Revolution days. Whenever she met with fellow Christians in her city, she felt guilty, because they were so poor and had such hard lives (yet they were often more joyful than she was). She did what she could to contribute to the needs of the church, but always felt condemned that her life had been so easy, and that all her practical needs were met in abundance. Then one day she read a portion in 1 Corinthians that says, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” And what spoke to her was, “Not many were of noble birth.” Her response: “Thank God there are a few.” After that, she felt at peace to be with God’s people, realizing that the noble born and the common people all have a place in His kingdom. Only in Christ are those class distinctions truly done away with.

    To follow the Lord might mean He will teach us to be more responsible and faithful in handling our finances (including via Dave Ramsey), which will increase our wealth so that we have more to give. I can definitely testify that He has taught me to be more careful with my money, so that I can support my family. He’s convicted me of irresponsibility and selfishness. But I’ve also learned to be grateful for what He has provided us. I used to be very self-condemned, until I realized that if we live in a nice home, we won’t become closer to God by living in a not-so-nice home. The Lord’s love for us doesn’t change because we become more poor or more wealthy.

    There are plenty of very poor people who are greedy and envious, even without many possessions. Poverty does not automatically save anyone from their sinful nature. And there are plenty of wealthy people or middle-class suburbanites who have been saved from greed, envy, selfishness, and materialism. I do question the idea that we should feel guilty if God allows us a comfortable life with many possessions. As long as we live before Him, we don’t need to condemn ourselves. He will be faithful to let us know when our hearts have become preoccupied. He will break what needs to be broken.

    Right now I meet with a megachurch that has managed to reach professionals, suburbanites, and the very poor. The Word of God is not watered down there, it’s not a “prosperity gospel” place. And I see the poor and the wealthy all worshipping the same Lord, and thanking Him for all of His spiritual and tangible blessings. That to me is what the kingdom of God is really about.

  12. Eric Phillips says:

    > You certainly understand the true import of a
    > second person pronoun.

    In the sentence I quoted, “you” referred to any Christian with an SUV and a second home. There is no other way to read it. The hypothetical “if you…” = “Anyone who….”

    > Should I remove the post and go shopping?

    The statement I quoted actually comes from your comments section. The post itself made me wonder what you meant in places, but didn’t come right out and say that people wouldn’t have SUVs if they were following Jesus.

  13. Eric Phillips says:

    I’m not an Old Covenant tither either. I’m just talking about the idea of a percentage. It’s actually related to what you said in your post about “relative poverty.”

  14. Eric: I said…

    >It’s not necessarily evil to have an SUV and a second home. But as a Jesus follower you have made choices with that lifestyle and the basis of those choices was conformity to the “normal” of the culture.

    As a follower of Jesus with an SUV and a second home, “You” (understood hypothetical person addressed in dilemma) have made choices with that lifestyle.

    HAVE MADE CHOICES. You choose to spend the money on the SUV rather than on a Corolla, rather than on college, rather than on stocks, rather than on missions or world hunger or the church building fund.

    “And the basis of those choices was conformity to the “normal” of the culture.”

    In suburbia, white people driving SUVs is “normal. The choice to own one is made within the cultural parameters of normal.

    Now exactly where am I up in someone’s business saying that it was wrong of them to buy one? Where do I claim to know enough to say that? I’m saying that the choice was made within the parameters of cultural norms.

    I really want to know how I got from saying “it’s not necessarily evil” and “you made choices” to condemning EVERYONE.

  15. Eric Phillips says:

    Michael,

    If all you meant was, “You made value-neutral selections about how to spend your money, and they happened to correlate with the choices being made by your neighbors” I wonder why you included the detail “as a Jesus-follower” and prefaced the remark with, “It’s not necessarily evil… BUT.” If the implication was unintended, it’s remarkably strong for that.

    As for condemning EVERYONE, it was just everyone with SUVs and two homes. My point was, you weren’t addressing one specific guy, but everyone who fits that template. And since the specifics (SUV and 2 houses) were meant as examples of a _type_ of affluence, it was considerably broader even than that.

    I’m totally on your side about people giving you grief for the kind of ministry you feel called to do. Just be careful not to do the same kind of thing in reverse.

  16. Eric,

    I grew up a long way from the suburbs, and it would take more than a little effort to change my level of discomfort there.

    I ministered as a youth specialist in suburban churches for almost half my ministry years, 13 of them on full time church staff. It was there, in those good churches with those good people, that I learned the difference between suburban normal and Jesus normal….and how deeply I was implicated and involved.

    The personal pieces that I write deal with the personal struggles that I face. If I were writing diatribes against all SUVs, it would be a very different blog.

    I have no right or place to sit in the place of God and judge another person. I also have no right or place to ignore what Jesus means. He’s not a movable standard when he says you can’t love God and mammon. He was completely right. While I have no idea if all wealthy suburbanites love mammon, it was Jesus who said it is almost impossible for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of heaven. It was Jesus who said our security was from the same insurance company as birds and flowers. It was Jesus who said take no thought of tomorrow. Not me. I’m just trying to cope with it all.

    The problem isn’t suburbia per se. It’s the love of those comforts, the love of that security and the love of that normal in my heart. If there is a way to deal with that without recognizing that the persons telling me I wasted my life are up to their ears in suburban normal, I don’t know what it is.

    End of this discussion from my end.

  17. Re: the update. I seem to remember Jesus’ words and teaching upset a lot of people, but that never stopped him saying what was in his heart. I want to thank you for the open and honest way you write and also to say that I take courage in knowing that it’s okay to have an opinion. The easier option for us all would be to say nothing and hope for a quiet life, but I know I couldn’t live that way, however tempting it can sometimes be. I look forward to reading more of your posts and facing the challenges they present.

  18. Eric Phillips says:

    > End of this discussion from my end.

    And a good end. Cheers!

  19. Thanks for this, Michael. As a young person and follower of Jesus who has been immensely blessed with a high-paying profession that I really enjoy (software development), I’ve really spent a lot of time thinking through issues of the right use of my money. Check out globalrichlist.com–the amount of money the average American has in contrast to the rest of the world is staggering, and I know I’m I’ve got a fair amount more than the average American. How can I reconcile this to the radical call of discipleship? It certainly hasn’t helped my sense of unease with my wealth to have lived in China the last two years and visited many poor villages.

    For a while, I tried to figure out how much I should be giving (10%? 20%? 50%?), which of course is based on the Old Testament tithing model. Now I realize I was thinking about it entirely the wrong way…that way of thinking says, “the money I earn is mine, and I will choose to give some portion of it to God”. Instead, I should remember that ALL of my money is God’s. The giving percent matters far less than constantly reminding myself of this fact, and being willing to open my wallet generously when opportunity presents itself.

    I hope and pray that I live in a permanent state of unease with my wealth the rest of my life, always regarding ALL of my money as belonging to the Father.

  20. It occurs to me that while we look at “You cannot serve both God and Mammon” and easily conclude “therefore, stay away from Mammon”, Jesus looks at it and concludes “therefore, don’t be anxious about your life, what you’ll eat, drink, and wear”. The issue isn’t how much we have, it’s what is our heart caught up in? (This doesn’t let suburbia off, as suburbia is generally caught up in what they have.)

    The structure of the statement (‘you can’t serve God and Mammon therefore don’t be anxious’ seems to imply to me that Jesus considers being anxious about food, drink, and clothing to constitute serving Mammon. This seems to me to be directed as much to the poor as it is to the rich. Certainly worry about where food, drink, and clothing is going to come from is common to the poor.

    A lot of people look at the second half of Matthew 6 as teaching “put God first and He’ll supply your needs” which lends itself to prosperity teaching. From what I can see, the teaching is just as much “Trust in your heavenly Father, who will supply your needs, so that your heart, instead of being caught up in acquiring what you need, can be caught up in being in God’s service”. It is not, as we easily take it, a formula for getting your needs met (If you’re trying to “seek first the Kingdom of God” in order to get your needs met, then getting your needs met is the primary goal, and you’re really seeking that first). It’s a rearrangement of perspective, so that your heart, instead of being worried and caught up in where your needs are going to come from, is freed up to be able to serve God wholly, in whatever circumstances He calls you to serve, so that like Paul you are able to say “I know how to get along with humble means, and I know how to live in prosperity”.

  21. Michael,

    Obviously you have touched a MAJOR nerve with people. Thanks for the courage in sharing your heart and challenging some assumptions.

    And you’re dead wrong about being a “worse” writer – you’re a FANTASTIC writer.

    Off topic – could you tell how you set up your podcast audio through Podango? I thought going through Podango meant they insert an advertisement into your podcast, but if I recall there isn’t one in yours.

  22. John Doe says:

    “The issue isn’t how much we have, it’s what is our heart caught up in?”

    They are the same issue. Take Luke 12. It’s filled with Jesus telling us not to be afraid and anxious, and then in verse 33, he makes this simple statement:

    “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”

    It’s nice to try to remove our things and what we think about our things, but Jesus says one verse later:

    “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

    My point here is really that whatever answer we come up with, the truth is more radical and irrational than our answer.

  23. “Over here, it’s pretty messy.”

    That’s why I like it here.

    For a while, I tried to figure out how much I should be giving (10%? 20%? 50%?), which of course is based on the Old Testament tithing model. Now I realize I was thinking about it entirely the wrong way…that way of thinking says, “the money I earn is mine, and I will choose to give some portion of it to God”. Instead, I should remember that ALL of my money is God’s. The giving percent matters far less than constantly reminding myself of this fact, and being willing to open my wallet generously when opportunity presents itself.

    Generally speaking, I think the above is a good perspective and it’s one I try to maintain, but even then, there are pitfalls. I’m speaking particularly of this thought: “The giving percent matters far less than constantly reminding myself of this fact, because it’s only a stone’s throw from there to, “It doesn’t matter what/if/how I give” (and live).

    And I’m writing this from New England suburbia, where I’ve spent all 41 years of my life to date. This entire topic is something I struggle with — usually when I’m being judgmental about richer-than-I-am Americans. Their decadence sickens me until God taps me on the shoulder and reminds me of that big honking plank I’ve yet to extract from my eye.

    Michael, maybe it’s because I’m yankee born and bred, I’ve never thought anyone who was living simply was wasting his life though, and I’ve never been a part of the suburban subculture where that was an issue. I’m sorry you have to put up with that. I’m pretty appalled right now that anyone has treated you that way. I expect God to be pointing out another one of my planks any moment now, because I’m really in high dudgeon.

    Sigh. I hate when I have to deal with my planks, but thanks for getting me “ready for work.”

  24. They are the same issue.

    Not quite. It is quite possible to give up possessions and still be caught up in them (or to be caught up in the fact that you gave them up). Those who simply lack possessions can easily be caught up in the desire to acquire them or in the envy of those who have them. The goal isn’t the lack of possessions , it’s a heart caught up in God.

    My point here is really that whatever answer we come up with, the truth is more radical and irrational than our answer.

    That, I’ll agree with wholeheartedly.

  25. We moved to Quebec a year and a half ago in the hope of me being a pastor someday up here. Funny how America can look so strange when you have been on the outside for a while. Quebec is definitely not poor, but atmosphere is quite different and the churches are not rich. I resonate with this post much more now than I would have a few years ago. Thanks Michael.

  26. About a year ago, there was a study that came out tying high obesity rates in the US to poverty. The question that has niggled at me since is why people in poverty in other countries starve to death, but somehow poverty here is tied to abundance?

    I live far from anything even remotely smacking of suburbia, but the desire to want more and bigger and better at the expense of following Christ’s call to help others is alive and well in rural areas, and rural churches, as well.

  27. right on, Dude! All my ministry friends live in lovely, well decorated middle class houses and I live in a lovely little cracker box, and drive a faithful ford with the front bumper ripped off. I used to feel guilty about not providing my wife with the “American Dream” but now she has cancer and possibly only a few year to live, and we both rejoice in our simplicity, and are deeply content.

    Reminds me of Liam Nieson in the closing scenes from Spielburg’s movie about the Holocaust … (names escapes me for the moment — old age) in which the German business man wishes he had sold his gold pen in order to have saved one more life…

    here is a question for you, when do churches stop being “the church”?

    my own answer: when they are no longer composed of serious followers of Jesus … at that point they become civic associations or religious associations … not the ecclesia …

    I have been accused of being anti-church but I don’t think so … I am pro-disciple.

  28. just wondering says:

    Um, so is it okay to be rich and a Christian?

  29. There are rich people in the Bible.

    Jesus wasn’t rich.

    Jesus said it was hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom.

    The New Testament warns the rich with severe warnings because wealth provides many temptations to other sins.

  30. Courtney says:

    I agree with you and know it’s necessary to voice these things, thank you. My one qualm has little to do with substance and everything to do with function/application. Nowhere do I hear you encouraging people to stand up for and REDEEM the church in suburbia! Nowhere do I see it made clear that the greatest way of preserving integrity in your local church is by commiting to it, and bearing it’s integrity yourself. I’m a first time reader, so say this only because on one occastion (at least that I’ve noted) your post has encouraged an individual to redivert her money and time from her local church to something better. Where is the Love of the Church in that? Where is the Love of people whom you share life with? Where is the respect for leaders that demands voicing concerns to THEM?
    More importantly, where is Jesus in that? He died for individuals, but he left the Church. If shopping for BMW’s can potentially show the love of mammon, can shopping for churches devalue the Love of Christ for her church?
    Again, you never told people to shop around, I see this as a potential application of this topic.

  31. >I’m a first time reader…

    And therefore you aren’t aware of my own commitment to and involvement in the local church for 30 years and today. Or of the hundreds of posts about the church on this site that agree with you.

    I would simply suggest that no one is doing something wrong if they leave A church for ANOTHER expression of church or ANOTHER kind.

    Redeeming existing congregations is a good work. I tried for 12 years. It didn’t happen. I would have been better planting a church. But God knows what he’s doing. Everyone isn’t supposed to be in a rich suburban white church. Everyone isn’t supposed to choose a church for children’s programs and music.

    Some people are called to be part of a church so that church can be a living community shaped like Jesus.

    BTW- this web site isn’t promoting “church shopping.” Again, as a first time reader, you’ve dropped into the middle of a large conversation. Be cautious what you assume is being said.

    peace and thanks for reading

    MS

  32. Michael

    Good post and the touching of nerves on this topic is to be expected. I am not in complete agreement with you on some of the issues.

    Michael, you said:

    “There are rich people in the Bible. Jesus wasn’t rich. Jesus said it was hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom. The New Testament warns the rich with severe warnings because wealth provides many temptations to other sins.”

    That is not the only or necessarily the best interpretation of all the verses in the NT addressing affluence or wealth.

    Have you read Dr. Schneider’s book: “The Good of Affluence – a Biblical View of Wealth”?

    The issue was that material wealth was not the essence of their (the rich) evil; rather, their attitude toward their wealth was symptomatic of a deeper spiritual evil. Jesus did make discipleship demands of his followers that included discipline in the use of wealth. The question is how to interpret what Jesus said since the Gospels give different messages about possessions/affluence/wealth (wealth-negative and wealth-affirming passages).

    From the wealth-negative perspective (the Rich Young Ruler), it is easy to draw the conclusion that affluence is wrong and hard for a rich person to be a disciple. The traditional interpretation is that Jesus called his followers to abandon all wealth to follow him. Is that the case? Many who heard the demand to leave everything, were not required to do so (Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Zaccheus).

  33. The question that has niggled at me since is why people in poverty in other countries starve to death, but somehow poverty here is tied to abundance?

    I suspect it boils down to, by and large, the poor here do get food, but it’s not necessarily good food. I do know that in my and my girlfriend’s efforts to lose weight (more hers than mine, though I could use it more), we’ve found that good food is more expensive than bad food. Bad food, e.g. tends to have more fat than more expensive good food. Plain white bread (which is really not that good for you) is much cheaper than whole wheat or multi-grain bread. Our poor become obese because they can only afford the cheaper, more fat-and-sugar-laden foods.

  34. Rose Mawhorter says:

    Thanks for the great post. I agree with you 100%. My husband and I have been preparing to become missionaries in about a year. We haven’t received a lot of flack for the fact that we want to live in poverty but what we (especially my husband) do occasionally get flack for is the fact that we’re considering spending time in South Africa without all the elaborate security that the rich people have. People also give us trouble because we refuse to save for retirement or pay for any voluntary insurance. I think that the underlying issue is the same. People don’t trust that God will bless those that faithfully sacrifice things/security for his sake.

    My heart grieves with you over the church. I long to see all those that call themselves Christian living wholly committed to him. If only I manage that myself first. :)

  35. I’m really late joining the party, but I just wanted to thank you for your bluntness, honesty, and willingness to say things alot of other people are scared to say. I really really appreciated it and hope that I can walk this narrow road along with you.

    I was listening to a sermon the other day and I thought an excellent point was made–if you had been an alcoholic before you were saved–wouldn’t people council you to maybe avoid bars for a while? Maybe it would be wise for you to avoid the temptation?

    Can this mindset also apply to our consumeristic mindset? Our greedy temptations?

    See here’s my fear–maybe I’m not strong enough to withstand the pull of my culture–my culture that cries that life is found in getting married, having a stable job, nice family, and owning a house. Maybe I’m not strong enough to stay here and not fall into the trap.

    If you are–good for you. You’re stronger than I can.

    But if I can’t live here without falling into this trap–then I’m leaving, because if I really believe what Jesus said–then this is more important than anything on earth….

    yeah sorry if that doesn’t make alot of sense–it’s late and I’m tired…so yes please excuse me…

  36. Mike Stidham says:

    Dave wrote:

    “I stood in Family Christian Bookstore yesterday. I almost cried. Most of the place is full of Make My Life Better books.”

    I WORK there. Imagine how I feel. Some of us there prone to reflective moments want to go past crying straight to primal screams now and again. But we hang in there for the few, rare moments when some opportunity of exhortation, encouragement, even witnessing present themselves in a way that doesn’t always happen at other jobs.

    In between those moments, we sell “Make My Life Better” books and mourn that the real MMLB book is sold in another part of the store.

  37. For the most part I agree with your points. I pray Christ will give you that extra touch of humility when people are willing to take you a step farther. Eric Phillips’ comments above come to mind.

    Grace and peace to you in Christ as you intently follow Him!

  38. Wow, I can not say how much this post blessed me.

    I grew up in a upper middle class home and was a suburban Christian, when the Lord blessed me with a husband it was a husband who had the call of the Lord upon him to be a pastor. It was a call to poverty, in some peoples estimations. To have my husband be everyone’s except mine. To give up all for the Lord, and yet he has never forsaken us nor have we ever begged bread. And yet my family has not always been supportive. My family was upset at the way we have followed the Lord and yet it is the call he has given to all who claim his name. To give up all for him. What a blessing.

    Thank you for the encouragement that you have given to this pastor’s wife.

    In HIS Keeping,
    Mrs. B

  39. Excellent post.Sustain the oustanding work,You should definitely have to keep updating your site

  40. iMonk,

    i resonate with the things you have said here strongly. A friend sent me this link because of what you said about people thinking missionaries are great as long as it is not someone in their own family. Welcome to my world. Since i was fourteen i have known that a ministry of missions is what God is calling me to, and my parents have resisted every single step of the way; encouraging to not ignore the talents God has given me, to not dismiss the intelligence he has blessed me with (as if, i suppose, to be a missionary requires no brains and no talents…). i love my parents, but i love Jesus more. i just do not know how to make them understand that.

    Also, i wonder how to make them understand that the simpler way i wish to pursue is not a rejection of what my parents and (especially) my grandparents worked, dug, and clawed their way out of a hole to get for us. i appreciate that the opportunities i have been given to have resources and an education (as well as the opportunity to renounce my wealth in favor of a simpler life) have been bourne out of all of their hardwork, but i see also that their hard work is informed as much by a striving to social middle-class norms as it is by a desire to give their children something better than what they had. That norm, that prosperity gospel i have been fed my entire young United Methodist life, that idea by which my mother can find no other way to express herself than to buy me things, is what i reject.

    Because i just keep coming back to Jesus, who does not seem to seek better for himself or for any one else. The last shall be first? Blessed are the poor (or the poor in spirit, depending on the Gospel…)? We sing a song at the kid’s camp i work at that goes “humble thyself in the sight of the Lord; and He shall lift you up, higher and higher, and He shall lift you up.” I keep coming back to the desire to CHOOSE humilty, to choose the end of the table, to choose to be last. Will parents ever come around to this? i pray that if i am ever a mother that i will not resist the pull on my children’s hearts to go in whatever direction the Lord leads them.

    Thank you for your words. i am glad to know that i am not the only person who struggles here.

    -rebecca

  41. I agree with you. For me, it was NOT wanting to go to the suburbs. For many years, it was hanging over my head as that’s where the jobs were for my husband. Somehow, we ended up staying in the city near our church(& he has graciously commuted the many miles).
    But even a simple life in the USA is so much more comfortable than the foreign mission field, so I’m sure that many who live simple lives here struggle with that. As for my kids, I would be thrilled if they were called to missions or any job where they could serve the Lord(secular jobs included).
    I had never heard of you before Andrew Marin shared about your book review yesterday. Now what he does ‘ring my chimes’ rather than mowing the grass & playing golf in suburbia. I guess I’m more of a minority in that interest, but more have been going his direction over the years. I love people & because they need the Lord, I like to build those bridges. Pray for Andrew as he is getting so busy! I wish you well in your work, too.
    Mrs “T”

  42. jesusfreak_elle says:

    few comments on your “ranting” i myself have had similar qualms with the church. I am 21 years old and have been a christian for 3 years. I grew up in a broken home, poverty and experienced a childhood no child should ever see. Having the Lord in my life felt so AMAZING because at the time I truly had no other. Having a relationship with him took precedence over anything else because I had nothing else. When I went off to college I noticed that there were these Christians there whose background was so much different from mine. Ones who accepted Christ at 7 and whose beliefs and theology where fed to them by their parents. Kids with shiny new cars and “perfect” childhoods who never really knew what it meant to suffer for the gospel. 2 Timothy 3:12 says everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted. The world should hate us because we don’t belong to it but if we bled in, if our lives are not radical, if we choose that career path over what God has willed, if we follow the status quo, is the Gospel of Truth really being preached. Jesus didn’t come to Earth to bring peace but a sword. He came to set a man against his father, and daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

    “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:34-39