I am largely a suburban kid. I went to high school in Edmond, OK, suburb of Oklahoma City. I ministered in Liberty, Missouri, suburb of Kansas City. And now I'm back in McKinney, suburb of North Dallas.
It is no coincidence that I have stayed in suburbia. I am comfortable there. It feels like home. I know the homes, the schools, the chain stores--Home Depot, Target, Chili's. And of course, there is always a mall close by.
Chain restaurants are like suburbia itself--safe, predictable, comforting, and rather unimagitative and boring. I remember Chuck Monan, my preaching buddy, taking me around to a lot of "holes in the wall" in OKC. It was some of the best food around. But I never would have gone to these places on my own. You see, that's what suburban folk do--they stick to the comfortable and the familiar.
So guess what suburban Christians are looking for? A safe, comfortable, predictable Christian experience. Are the playgrounds safe and fun for my kids? Do they sing the 20 most popular Christian songs that are on Christian radio? Are they going through Max Lucado's latest book? (We are going through Fearless right now.)
All of this is fine in one sense, but let to itself, it leads to spiritual malaise if not spiritual death. My friend and missional leader Alan Hirsch, author of The Shaping of Things to Come and The Forgotten Ways, says that there is something about middle class, suburban Christianity that is antithetical to following Jesus. A similiar point is made in the book, Death By Suburb. One of my favorite stories in this book is of parents working on their child's 6th grade science project while their son is off playing videos games. When the child get's his grade, the parents proudly say, "We got an A." The point it that the parents are finding their identity in their child's accomplishments, which is a type of narcissism.
Here are some of the problems with suburban Christianity:
- Materialistic Christianity -- This results not only in personal materialism, but it in picking a church because they have the shiniest building.
- Consumeristic Christianity - Members come to worship, assemblies, events, etc. to be fed, never to give. They go to the church that offers the most goods and services.
- Crossless Christianity - I know that a certain preacher in Houston in one of the biggest churches ever seen has inspired millions of people. I am grateful for this. But I have never heard a call to sacrifice from him. This message, of course, would be counter to suburbia, which never advertises, "Come live in the Woodlands. You will have to sacrifice for others and your kids may not be safe. But if you'll deny yourself, you'll love it here."
- Christless Christianity - There is a whole book on this subject which I am eager to read. But Christ just doesn't fit in suburbia very well. Can you see Jesus riding around in his SUV, dropping off kids at soccer practice or church? No, I'm afraid Jesus is far too radical and dangerous for today's suburban Christianity.
The evidence is in, however. Typical suburban Christianity does not produce disciples of Christ. It produces consumers who hop from church to church looking for the best deal for their tithe--or rather, their 2.5% giving. And if the children's or youth program or the preaching or the worship or the carpeting isn't cutting it, their try the store--I mean the church--down the street. Rarely does a family say, where can I be best used? Where does God need me the most?
Calls to go feed the homeless? Far too unpredictable. And messy. Calls to go on mission trips? Too dangerous. And disruptive to one's schedule. Calls to devote money and resources to reaching lost people? Hey, don't you know that I'm the customer? Meanwhile, members take this consumer mentality back to their marriages and their other personal relationships, and we wonder why Christians are divorcing and have few real friends, just like everyone else.
Becki and I are not immune to this malaise. We both would enjoy living in the hubub of the new urban living. We enjoy meeting people and having lots to do. It would be a great place to do ministry. The reason we have ruled it out right now? Our kids. It's not safe or predictable enough.
That is the problem with suburban Christianity. It prevents us from taking any chances or putting us into situations where we would have to grow and depend upon God and each other. And by our actions and inactions, we teach our children that this is what the Christian faith is all about. And our kids drop out in droves.
Have you experienced the spiritual death of suburban Christianity? What is the solution?