Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Three Greatest Challenges Facing the Church (#2)

Suburbanization (Racial and Economic Segregation)

I am not sure if that is the right wording for what I am talking about here, but it's the best I can think of.

Phineas Bresee founded the Nazarene church, a former Methodist minister who didn't like how far the Methodist church has strayed from Wesleyan ideals of preaching to the poor and needy. It was a church found for the "least of these". A church for the ones the rest of society had forgotten, a place where the last become first. The first Nazarene church opened its doors in 1895 in urban Los Angeles, California. From the begining it was an "intercity church". A church that faced the challenges of being an anchor for the neighborhood it shared.

Then in the 1950's when all the white and wealthy started fleeing the cities for the suburbs, for the most part the church did the same. Even if the church didn't change location, they still became either a commuter church or a financially drained, low membership urban church. New churches started being built by people who all came from the same social economic level, for their friends and families in that same category.

Now you can go to church and hear about the powerful message Christ has for the way we deal with the poor and not ever have to face that in our own lives. I can sponsor an impoverished child for $19.99 a month and put some food in the food pantry. It feels safer, it makes me comfortable to be around those who look, act, and think just like I do. But this is not at all what the kingdom of God looks like, a place where the first are made last and the last are made first. We tell ourselves that "rich people need Jesus too", believing this is just cause for our $5,000 sound system. And it is true, we do need Jesus, everyone needs Jesus, but I wonder how much the church is reaching out to people like us versus how much we are perpetuating a lifestyle that is anything but Christ like.

The church should be the backbone of social reformation. We are called to love others as ourselves. How can a church be that from 30 miles across town from the social problems facing the intercity? How can the church be a reflection of the kingdom of God when only a portion of the people are represented by it? I really do believe that losing the African American voice, the Hispanic voice, the economically poor voice, has made the church lose the message of Christ. The spirit of the church of the Nazarene cannot and will not survive without these voices.

When I read about our world headquarters moving out of urban Kansas City, from a neighborhood it has been in for nearly a century, to a corporate business park in a grass field in Lenexa, it breaks my heart. I wonder if this church still cares about the general principals laid down by its founder. I like to think the church is heading back in the right direction, but it is hard to believe this when the World Headquarters itself is symbolizing so much of what is wrong in our churches. Moves like this have no motive outside of our own perceived "safety" and comfort, and I don't believe in a safe or comfortable gospel.

As a member of this denomination, it is up to me to make these changes in my own life as well. Collectively, as a whole, WE need to do something about this for the church to remain (or become) as relevant to people's lives as the message we believe in.

Jenny and I have found a church home here in Kansas City that we feel more at home in then anywhere we have attended yet. Some considers it an “urban” church; it has a better mix of economic classes then any church I have attended, and leadership with a heart for social justice. But even there we struggle with the desire to be around those who look, act, and think like us. One of the things that drew us in was the abundance of young, like-minded, people. Luckily we have also had the opportunity to meet many wonderful people outside of that mold, but at the same time I wonder, is our small church to comfortable in it's statues as well?

We have been talking about the book "Can This Church Live: A Congregation, It's Neighborhood, and Social Transformation" by Donald H. Matthews in my Sunday school class. I highly recommend it. Hopefully this can get our church thinking about some areas where we can improve how we relate to the neighborhood around it.


Jason Dawson said...

I'd love to know what church you attend?

Jason Dawson

J.R. said...

I go to Trinity Church of the Nazarene on Rainbow Blvd.

Thanks for stopping by my blog.

Scott said...

I think you're two for two and can't believe you were able to boil it down to three. Looking forward to #3.