Where is Jesus?
Well I heard Jesus Christ was there, He had a car that’s bullet-proof
And that way everyone was safe from the Man who tells the truth11
A disciple is one who is consistently placing herself under the influence of Jesus for the purpose of learning how to obey Him, and ultimately to be like Him. A fully-formed disciple will think like Jesus, act like Jesus, reason like Jesus, love what He loves, and hate what He hates; this is true for theology and personal finances, prayer and sexuality, spiritual gifts and relationships; but it is also true regarding ethnicity, poverty, and systems of power. Whenever we set aside the values of Jesus to pursue Church Growth, we do serious violence to the discipleship process for ourselves and for others. We are providing incentive for ourselves to love what Jesus hates and to hate what He loves.
There are four specific areas where our enactment of the Kingdom creates serious deficiencies in the discipleship process. Diversity: by chasing a narrowly defined success in the suburbs we have missed out on the glorious calling to be the “one new humanity out of the two;”12 the unique people of God called out from all nations, tribes and tongues. Community: in pursuing suburbia we have missed out on the natural network of relationships that arises when people live, work, and play, in close proximity. Systems: we have blinded ourselves to the powers at work in our world; systems of power that often promote our own well-being at the expense of others. Brokenness: finally, in ignoring the urban call, we have missed out on the opportunity to embrace the Cross of Christ in our own poverty and the poverty of others.
From Genesis13 to Isaiah,14 and Psalms15 to Revelation,16 the Scriptural tradition is replete with hopes and promises of a multi-cultural paradise. While Jesus was primarily focused on the nation of Israel, He nevertheless gave clear indication that the Kingdom was for the whole world. All four gospel-writers record some version of His Great Commission,18 19 20 21 and His action in the Temple was in some way motivated by this multicultural vision;23 24 Jesus even makes the hero of one of His best-known parables a repugnant, half-breed, foreigner.25 Jesus regularly violated the boundaries that divide groups of people, gender,26 religion,27 morality,28 and class,29 as well as ethnicity.30
The very birth of the Church was the beginning of this vision. As Peter preached the good sermon, the Holy Spirit fell and peoples of all nations became disciples. It was the first fruits of the coming Kingdom; “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”31 It is this promise of the blessing of all nations, spoken first to Abram, that St. Paul fought so hard to defend, even to the point of castigating Peter when he would not share a table with the Gentiles.32
While not all suburban neighborhoods are homogenous, and not all urban neighborhoods heterogeneous, the general trend remains; urban neighborhoods are vastly more diverse than suburban ones. The future is more of the same: the cultural trend in most major US Cities is an increase in languages spoken, countries of origin, and ethnic makeup. If the church is to go to the nations, then we do not have very far to go, for the nations have always come to American Cities.
Unfortunately our desire for numerical growth has forced us to abandon what is clearly so important to God; it is a rare Evangelical Church that makes multiculturalism an explicit goal. On the contrary, the explicit goals of the Evangelical Church usually have numbers attached to them. Our theology has compelled us to leave diverse neighborhoods in pursuit of greener pastures. Even were this not the case, our theological framework still gives us an incentive to maintain the status quo of de facto segregation; we must do whatever it takes to get as many people in the door, and people do not want to do the unsettling work of cultural integration and the sharing of power that it necessitates. We will do nothing to rock the boat if it hurts the Church Growth bottom line.