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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Upon This Block I Will Build My Church...?" (The Church From A Distance)

Late last week, I was driving along on the way back home from where I work.  Maybe it was something in the air that day, or maybe it was something that I ate -- but as I drove, I started to notice something that I probably should have noticed before:

I noticed that the closer and closer I got to my home, the more and more churches I began to see.  All kinds; and not little ones either.  I wouldn't say they ALL fit into the "Mega-Church" category, but let's just say that you wouldn't be hurting for leg room in one of these structures.

Now at this point, you're probably thinking, "Wow.  So What?".  Well, here's the "what "-- I work in an area of Houston, Texas that is a low-income, high crime, "minority"-based area (or what would commonly be known as, "the hood" or "the ghetto").  But I live in a sprawling, middle to high-income, predominantly Caucasian (which I am not, by the way) area, roughly 25 minutes away.  Something in me sparked and I asked the question to myself, "Why are there so many more churches being built in the suburbs than there are in the city (or more particularly, the inner-city)?"

As Tim Keller points out in his latest series, Gospel in Life, the city is where cultures, ideas and people merge.  In other words, it is where you will undoubtedly find the greatest cross-section of people.  So why is it that the churches seem to be running away from this?  Is this not exactly where you would want to be?  So what's the problem?!  Why are churches in "the hood" so scarce when the area is so densely populated?
Answer: I propose that it is because we think to small.  We have a microscopic view of a telescopic expansion. It appears that too many ideas that are not based on Scripture have crept in  and made a home hearts and minds of many on the topic of  "Church Growth".  No matter how big the building, the Church itself becomes too "small".

Small Demographic
Most churches nowadays spend a whole lot of time trying to find a niche' audience.  This process helps to breed what I would term as a "country club" mentality; only certain types of people can get in and/or are accepted.  You have to look the part and sound the part, or else you can't take part.

Small Evangelism
Due to the fact that you only focus on a certain group of people who meet specific criterion, the act of evangelism begins to go the way of the Do-Do bird.  Since your main attraction is ultimately looking the part and sounding a certain way, then there is really no need to go into the "gory details" (sin, repentance, salvation, atonement, Jesus, etc.) of the Gospel.  Robust salvation in Christ is in danger of becoming easy-believer theology at this point.

Small Preaching
This is where everyone begins to operate on assumption.  "Since they're here they obviously believe", so the need for the preacher to dig his heels in and give doctrinal teaching and preaching becomes unnecessary because everyone's "been there and done that".  The "gospel" that is delivered is most often downgraded to the felt needs of the particular group. (i.e. Movie sermons, political preaching, etc.)

The Cause
You may be wondering what could cause such a mentality to creep in and begin to contaminate the sweetness and beauty that is the True Gospel?  First and foremost, it's fear.  I remember a time at a church that I was attending where the life within that small community was vibrant and full of eagerness to hear the Word.  Bible studies there were always engaging and sound.  But when it came time to go "across the tracks" and promote VBS and witness in a less than desirable neighborhood, you would be hard pressed to have anyone show up.  When the few of us (about 10) that went showed up on site to go to work, we were told in no uncertain terms by an officer that it was indeed a rough area to be in and there was the possibility for harm.  After this announcement, some of the workers opted to wait by their cars.  Then, there were five.

I give this illustration not to criticize, but to show just how powerful a tool fear can be for the Devil to use to lull us back into our comfort zone.  After all, is this not what he did to Jesus when he was in the wilderness?  The Enemy wants us to take every opportunity to circumvent peril and discomfort, no matter how big or how small.  The smaller we are willing to go to achieve comfort, the harder it will be to shake us out of our complacency to reach those who are not like ourselves.  In other words, it becomes easier to become a racist or an elitist under the guise of Christianity, rather than love those who Jesus loves.  Don't believe me?  Then how do you explain the Ku Klux Klan or Black Liberation Theology?

The Cure
Here in the United States, even though we will claim to have made progress by leaps and bounds in the area of race relations, Sunday mornings are still one of the most segregated times of the week.  Well, it doesn't have to be this way.  We need to return to the source of the Scriptures; where we learn that God is no respecter of persons, status, or wealth.  We see in the writings of Paul that more often than not, God chooses the low, the downtrodden and weak, to confound our silly preconceived notions.  The Gospel is not to be discriminatory, but promiscuous in the nature of how it is to be shared.  My prayer is that the Lord would give us new eyes and a new vision of the His Church -- that we would see it through His eyes. The Church of Jesus Christ is not to be a building of bricks and wood, but living stones -- the people themselves.  I've said before and I'll say it again:

People, not a place, do the Church make.

It's not built on my "kind", my country, my hood, or my block.  It's built on the Rock.  The World is our neighborhood.  Therefore, the Church is bigger than we think...where everyone is welcome.

And they sang a new song, saying, 
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”  - Revelation 5:9-10


Study References:

Matthew 16:18, 28:19;  John 6:37, 7:24, 17:15-21;  1 Corinthians 1:26-29; 1 Peter 2:5;  1 John 2:2


Soli Deo Gloria,
Shon
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