They Need Good Pastors and Good Churches Everywhere by Kevin DeYoung

Posted: March 9, 2010 in Uncategorized

Did you see this article last week by Bill Steeger on why Uncool People Need Jesus Too? I don’t know Steeger but apparently he works with church planting in the Acts 29 Network (think Driscoll, Chandler, Patrick). And apparently all the proposals he sees for church planting look the same:

It’s amazing how many young pastors feel that they are distinctly called to reach the upwardly-mobile, young, culture-shaping professionals and artists. Can we just be honest? Young, upper-middle-class urban professionals have become the new “Saddleback Sam”.

Seriously, this is literally the only group I see proposals for. I have yet to assess a church planter who wants to move to a declining, smaller city and reach out to blue collar factory workers, mechanics, or construction crews. Not one with an evangelsitic strategy to go after the 50-something administrative assistant who’s been working at the same low-paying insurance firm for three decades now.

Why is that? I can’t offer a definitive answer. It could be that God is legitimately calling an entire generation of young pastors to turn their focus to a small segment of the population that happens to look very much like they do.

Ouch. Understandably this piece has caused no little stirring of the blogosphere pot (go here for a similar piece that caused almost no stir). Before we are too hard on Steeger for making urban church planters feel bad we should remember these are the people he works with. If he’s lobbing grenades it’s toward his own side. But before the rural, suburban, or blue collar folks feel smug, we should remember evangelicals are still woefully under-represented in cities.

The urbanophiles like Keller are right to trumpet the strategic importance of cities (but here’s Keller praising The Country Parson). Likewise, we are probably overdue for a few reminders that artsy, culturally savvy, influential young urbans are not the only unreached people group on the planet.

Before I came to East Lansing I served as an associate pastor in Orange City, Iowa. If the Bible belt has a buckle, this was the logo on the buckle. This Dutch burg (pop. 5500) named after William of Orange, has, if I remember correctly, three RCA churches, three CRC churches, a PR church, a PCA church, an EFCA church, a CMA church, a Lutheran church, a Baptist church, and no Catholic church. The church I served had close to a 1000 people at the time. You could literally do Evangelism Explosion in a weekend and reach all the unchurched. Not the place that needs a lot of strategic church planting.

And yet I’m telling you those dear people need the gospel as much as anyone. They need good pastors and good churches. They need expositional teaching like anyone else. Sure, many things are easier in a town like Orange City. It’s safe. The public schools are practically Christian schools. You don’t have to fight traffic (only two stop lights). Everyone knows everyone and helps everyone. Pastors are put on a pedestal. I was honored more than I deserved. Life revolves around the church (ok, and marching band and sports and lawn-mowing not on Sundays). You aren’t going to win martyr of the church award for living in a friendly, prosperous town like Orange City.

But little towns have big problems too. There’s no anonymity. Everyone is into everyone else’s business. (As I like to remind idealistic twentysomethings, community is a wonderful ideal until you have it.) It’s easy for Christianity to be nothing but cultural wallpaper in the Bible belt. Sins go under cover for years and sometimes generations. The gospel can devolve into family values, moralism, or Republicanism. The idolatry of sports, children, ethnic heritage (if you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much), and property up-keep are more respectable than the idols of sex, power, and liberalism.

Now I live in a town that feels like Gotham compared to Orange City and the boonies compared to Chicago or L.A. Lansing is a rustbelt town, kept afloat by state government, MSU, and GM. We are known for four things: the state capitol, the Spartans, the only GM plant in the country not to drop any of its three shifts, and being an hour and a half from everywhere in the state you want to be. They need good churches here too.

And we feel extremely blessed to be here, so please don’t think I’m a model for doing hard things. The OC was great. Lansing is great, most affordable housing in the country I’m told. Our church is mostly white collar, middle class, very educated, and full of some of the best Christians anywhere. There’s nothing heroic about ministering in the stix, the burbs, the university, the average city, or the cultural centers. We are all unworthy servants doing our duty (Luke 17:10).

And yet, no matter where you live, what you do, or how you minister, faithfulness is heroic (see Hebrews 11). Preaching the gospel week after week is heroic. Loving influential people, in word and in deed, in grace and in truth, in your hugely influential city is heroic. Loving the “least of these” and the “lost of these,”  far from notoriety, family, and convenience, strikes me as especially heroic. But I can also spot heroes loving their podunk hamlet, strip mall suburb, underemployed manufacturing town, or urban ghetto.

Lord, save us from making locale the measure of Christian commitment. God gifts us, nurtures us, and calls us to different places and different kinds of ministry. All matter to God because all people matter to God.

Be willing to suffer, but don’t feel guilty for pleasure. Be strategic, but don’t think our strategies are always God’s strategies. Be willing to do anything, go anywhere, and minister to anyone. It matters more who you are than where you are. City, suburb, or country, if we are growing in godliness we will not be unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:8).

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