A while ago, I posted a blog article entitled “The Arrogance of the Urban” where I expressed concern over the attitude prevalent in many ministry circles today that “real” ministry happens in the inner city, while those in suburbia are out of touch and concerned only about their own safety and prosperity.
Part of the reason that urban ministry is regarded as more relevant is because of the belief that it is filled with minority poor that have been neglected by the mainstream church. While this is no doubt still true in some places, it is a vast oversimplification. In my original article I wrote:
Suburbia is not as rich and racially monolithic as you think. People’s impression of the suburbs is that everyone is wealthy and white. Although there is a lot of truth in that impression, it is not as accurate as you might think. Samuel Atchison has written a helpful article that highlights the recent trend in the past few years where young professionals are moving into the city centers, while the poor are fleeing to the suburbs! In fact, I see this in my own city. One of the most racially diverse areas I see regularly is the suburban parks where I take my kids to play. There, all playing together, are folks who are Asians, Indians, African Americans, Hispanics, and more.
My own experience with the suburbs seems to be more widespread than I even realized. In a recent article, Anthony Bradley points out that recent studies have shown that urban areas are no longer than location for poor minorities that they once were. He highlights the opportunities this creates:
This current shift also provides wonderful new opportunities for suburban churches and other cultural institutions to remain in the suburbs and adjust their vision and activities to receive this new cohort of suburban poor. Words like “urban” and “inner-city” can no longer be associated with racial minorities and the underclass. In the coming years, as is the case today in cities like New York, “urban” and “inner-city” will be the home of cultural elites who are rearranging the market and pricing out the poor. In the near future, the inner city will be the place to find trendy coffee shops, Whole Foods, and artist enclaves. The suburbs may not be where all the “cool” innovators and culture makers will live to raise their children but it is the place where poverty is exploding.
In the end, this whole issue raises an important lesson for evangelicals. We have an unfortunate tendency to chase what is cool in our culture and make it the centerpiece of our ministry (often denigrating other ministries that don’t share our vision). Meanwhile, we don’t realize that we are really about 10 years behind the cultural trends anyway. We are perennial late-comers to what our world thinks is hip.
It is time to abandon the evangelical quest to be “relevant”. We need to be more cautious about letting cultural trends determine and dictate our ministry choices (and attitudes). God’s word is sufficient to fill that role.