Our Master has established by clear example and plain teaching that we are to “take up our cross and follow Him.”39 Jesus did not shy away from the coming crucifixion, but simply asked for God’s will to be done. Even in simpler matters, Jesus did not pursue a life of comfort, but rather suffered the hardships of life amongst the poor, manual labor, even homelessness; not to mention the constant interruption by crowds, the annoying and constant pestering of the authorities, and the heartache of identifying with the broken. As it imitated His example, the early Church was also well acquainted with suffering and persecution, poverty and discomfort.
Life in the suburbs is certainly not without problems, but the suburbs exist as a monument to the Western quest to eradicate discomfort. It is in the pursuit of the consumerist vision of a better life that we have left the Cities to build strip malls and sub-divisions. Individually our fear of poverty and violence, and our discomfort with laborious cross-cultural exchange, has pushed us out of the neighborhoods where we might encounter them. Corporately our desire for Church Growth has led us to endorse these cultural trends as a way of welcoming larger numbers of people into our buildings; we are offering them the upwardly mobile life they are seeking.
The unfortunate situation in the Evangelical Church today is that many have seen the upward mobility of suburban culture as something to imitate, and the church has often baptized such a mindset. Our Master, on the other hand, modeled for us a downward mobility that we were intended to imitate; a life in close proximity and service amongst the least and lost; living in intimate community with those suffering, fatherless, divorced, diseased, addicted, paroled, or simply just incompetent, ugly, smelly, stupid, and boring. A mature Christian is one who understands this and lives accordingly. Too often in our churches we insulate and isolate ourselves in ever bigger homes, ever safer neighborhoods, and send kids to ever better schools yet are still considered ‘mature disciples.’ This is a failure in the discipleship process. As we learn to live under Jesus tutelage, we should find, welling up within us, an attraction to those places where we might encounter hunger, danger, injustice, addiction, oppression, or poverty.
All four of these discipleship implications could actually be summed up in St. Paul’s words, “in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”40 The above are four battlefields where the Kingdom is waging war against the demonic powers at work in Western society, and the evangelical church. These powers have manipulated our minds, our behaviors, and even our political, economic, and social systems, to bend human action toward the pursuit of self. A disciple of Jesus contends with that unholy trinity of materialism, consumerism, and individualism; no longer acting on the belief that accumulating stuff, fulfilling desire, or looking out for number one, are methods of gaining a blessed life. Our ultimate aim and purpose here is not to neglect the suburbs, as we have the City, but rather to point out the radical implications for discipleship that our theology of Church Growth has brought about. Our commitment to suburbia is simply the vehicle for discovering those implications.