One of the perennial dangers of Christian ministry is to begin thinking that our particular ministry is the most important ministry and that everyone ought to be doing what we are doing. Much of this is understandable. After all, if we are passionate about the ministry to which God has called us, then we naturally begin to promote that ministry and place it at the forefront of our thinking. But, we too often forget that God’s plan for the Kingdom is much bigger than our little worlds. There are other ministries that matter too.
I have seen a particular example of this phenomenon in my denomination (the PCA) over the last ten years or so. The hot area of ministry during this time frame has been urban church planting. The cities, we are told, have been abandoned and neglected by evangelicals as they have fled to the suburbs to raise their families. The result is that the inner cities are left unreached and untouched. The best way to recapture the city is to plant churches there—right in the heart of the urban centers.
Now let me say that much of this trend has been wonderful. It should warm our hearts to see Christians going into all areas of our world with the light of the gospel. And I’ve seen much fruit in our denomination from churches planted in urban areas, designed to expand Christ’s Kingdom into the neglected and forgotten regions. Indeed, my own church, Uptown PCA, which I love dearly, was an urban church plant. And I have seen how God has used it to impact the city of Charlotte in a number of incredible ways. No doubt cities are strategic battlegrounds—and we should take this into account as we seek ways to grow the church.
But, occasionally, what we might call the “arrogance of the urban” can begin to manifest itself. Those who are a part of urban churches can sometimes project an attitude, even unwittingly, that urban centers are where “real” ministry happens. The city is where everyone should be focusing their attention. And slowly this can create a critical sentiment that suburban churches—usually bigger, wealthier, and demographically older—don’t really get it and probably more concerned with comfort than with sacrificial ministry. Moreover, the suburban churches are often viewed as out of date and out of touch with cultural and social trends.
Now, we should acknowledge that some of these critiques of suburban churches may be exactly right. Sometimes they may be cordoned off (in an unhealthy way) from the surrounding culture and not willing enough to break out of their comfort zone. And in as much as this is the case, they should be called to repentance and reformation. Nevertheless, the “arrogance of the urban” issue still needs to be addressed. A few considerations:
- Suburbia needs the gospel too. Granted, the suburbs may be more affluent than most urban areas (though below I will challenge this a bit), but they also need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. Do not bankers, lawyers, doctors, business men and women, housewives, also need redemption from their sins? Are their marriages not also in need of God’s grace? Do their kids not also need to trust Christ?
- Suburbia is also strategic. No doubt urban areas are strategic, but so are suburban ones. While traditional suburban neighborhoods (think 2-car garage, white picket fence, etc.) are often mocked in popular culture, this is where many, many people actually live. And there are neighborhood strategies that can really work to reach these people. Moreover, suburban moms and their children are a very important demographic for spreading the gospel. One of the most successful evangelistic outreaches in our church has been to suburban moms with kids, who are eager for relationships with other mothers and often quite open to hearing the gospel.
- 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.
- Don’t forget the rural areas. Jared Wilson has written a helpful piece, Rural Ministry is Not Second Rate, where he exposes the common “disdain” that even Christians have for rural areas and reminds us that they need the gospel too.
In short, the gospel is for all people. Urban, suburban, and rural. Or, as the Scripture puts it, every tribe, tongue, people, and nation (Rev 7:9). If Christ ministered to all kinds of people, then so should we.