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I’ve spent the last 10 years serving a church in the big, bad, beautiful city of Johannesburg, South Africa. That’s not an entirely true statement, because our church is in the leafy suburbs to the north of the city, beyond the city limits. But that doesn’t sound exciting, or missionally hip, and it doesn’t fit the mold of urban church planting we’ve all been espousing for the last decade or so.
The suburbs are a bit embarrassing, it seems, yet statistically most of us live and minister in a suburban context. More than 53 percent of the U.S. population lives in the suburbs, and it’s the fastest-growing population migration in the West. I know lots of people are moving back into the city, with their ironic moustaches and alarmingly tight trousers, but re-inhabiting urban spaces is a complex and costly exercise that doesn’t appeal to people just trying to get to the suburbs for some peace and quiet.
Justification - Desire - Thessalonians - Ambition - Life
We have a biblical justification for that desire in 1 Thessalonians 4:11: “Make it your ambition to live a quiet life, minding your own business, and scooping up after your dog” (that last bit has translators perplexed, because it actually tells us to work with our hands, but we have no idea how to translate that into a suburban context). But while we have a verse that seems to justify suburban retreat, suburban living can feel structurally anti-gospel. Here’s how Jared Wilson strikingly puts it:
I think the spirit at work in the suburbs tends to smother the Christian spirit. The message of the suburbs, in a nutshell, is self-empowerment. Self-enhancement. Self-fulfillment. Self is at the center, and all things serve the self. The primary values of suburbia are convenience, abundance, and comfort. In suburbia you can have it all—and you can get it made...
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When will they ever learn?