Ten Ways to be the People of God in Suburbia

Some excellent thoughts here, on what living for God’s Kingdom rather than the Suburban American kingdom could look like. Here’s a link to the original post this came from, but I’ve pasted it all here because it’s just SO good. Check out the original post for the comments and conversation in response to it.

What do you think?

Ten Ways to be the People of God in Suburbia
by Chris Smith

In response, to Brian McLaren’s call for urban churches at the Mayhem gathering last weekend [in Cincinnati], my friend Mike Bishop has been stirring up some conversation on “suburban ministry.” Here’s my response to that conversation, ten ways for those called to suburban ministry to be in the people of God in radical ways in suburbia. This list is meant for people to chew on and not all of its points may be applicable for all suburban missional church communities.

1) Live with others from your church community

Whether you share your home with another person or family, or whether you have several families that have homes in close proximity or both, sharing life together is perhaps the most powerful (i.e., going against the grain of suburban culture) way to be the body of Christ in suburbia. If you can’t live together, at least find a way to share resources (power tools, lawn mowers, children’s clothes/toys, etc).

2) Work Less!

One of the major powers that enslaves suburbia is the idolization of the career. There are many ways to pay the bills that do not involve a 9-5 job, and even within a 9-5 job, there are ways to work less (turning down promotions, taking unpaid leave, etc.) Working less will free you to serve your church community, your family, your neighbors, etc. It will also spur creativity: finding a solution for working less, finding a way to “make ends meet” financially, etc.

3) Throw out the television

Another (and perhaps larger power) that enslaves suburbia is consumerism. You’ll be amazed at how your desire for things ebbs as you take the TV out of the picture. If you can’t bring yourself to kill the television, at least take steps to lessen its influence (get rid of cable, only use it for movies, put it on a cart that can be wheeled in and out of a closet, etc.) Throwing out the television will also stimulate your creativity.

4) Drive less

Suburban culture is also enslaved to the automobile. Find ways to loosen those bonds (much more difficult in suburbia than in urban areas). Share a vehicle with others in your church community (much easier if you are doing #1 above). Invest in a good bicycle. Walk. There was a segment on “60 minutes” a few weeks ago about how much we miss when we zip around in automobiles. Walking and/or biking will help you be more attentive to your surroundings

5) Have a garden / grow food

Suburban life is often very shut off from the food cycle (Food comes from the grocery store, of course!). Homegrown food is more healthy, it gives you a good excuse to be outside (see #7 below), and it provides you with a resource to share generously with your church community and your neighbors. Phil Kenneson outlines a number of horticultural lessons for the people of God in his intro to LIFE ON THE VINE that are additional benefits of this practice.

6) Get to know your neighbors / listen for their needs

To be human is to be poor. Or in other words, everyone has needs. The challenge of suburbia is that there are many more ways to conceal that poverty, and similarly that it will take more effort to get into a position where a neighbor can reveal their needs. Be intentional about building relationships. Share meals, play poker, have block parties, whatever it takes.

7) Be outside as much as possible.

Another temptation of suburbia – fueled by individualism – is that of the house as an impenetrable fortress. Dissolve this temptation by eating, playing, relaxing outside. This practice is also one avenue to interact with your neighbors.

8 ) Do not fence in your yard

All apologies to Robert Frost, but fences do not make good neighbors, and in fact they often keep us from making good human neighbors. This is a corollary to #7, the fence is a major component of the impenetrable fortress syndrome; it protects our privacy and keeps out our “evil” neighbors. It often is a statement of distrust. If you must have a fence (to corral a dog for instance) make it as low and as permeable (i.e., not blocking off the view) as you can get away with.

9) Take a stand against the greed of mega-corporations

Whenever possible, resist buying from domineering mega-corporations (e.g., Wal-mart, McDonalds, Starbucks, and others). These corporations destroy local economies and have little or no concern for the environment. Buy as much as you can from businesses that are as local as possible (family-owned businesses are preferable to local chains, local chains are preferable to regional chains, and regional chains are preferable to global corporations.)

10) Utilize and support non-commercial public spaces (parks, libraries, colleges, etc.)

This point is another corollary of #7 above. We must utilize and show our support for these public spaces, lest they be conquered by the powers of individualism (by becoming private property) or by consumerism (by becoming commercial or industrial property). This is also a wonderful way to foster relationships with our neighbors.

(HT: Emergent Village)

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3 thoughts on “Ten Ways to be the People of God in Suburbia

  1. Great post. After 16 years of ministry, I just moved to Suburbia and I’m slowly learning how to do ministry here. It’s encouraging that I follow 6 of these 10 suggestions. I’ve particularly found #4 – “Drive Less” to be helpful. My wife and I own only 1 car, so I primarily walk and take public transportation. Not only do we save money (which we can use for better purposes), but I meet people I would not otherwise meet.

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