Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Threading Needles with Two Humped Camels

Most church planting enterprise is focused in areas of higher education, income and status. One can speculate why that is. Perhaps it is because we need to find self-support for the church planter and the ministry quickly. Another reason could be that the church planter who chooses the location wants to raise his/her family in a nice neighborhood with good schools. It could be because we are trying to reach people that are most like us and the majority of church planting groups are white middle-class Christians.

I am not calling these motives into question in this post, but I do wish to question the strategy itself. You see, I believe that we focus a good deal of our resources and efforts to reach the least reachable, rather than the least reached. I believe that the self-sufficient nature of people in wealthy neighborhoods works directly against the influence of the gospel to spread from life to life.

One of the sayings in our movement is: Bad people make good soil...there's a lot of fertilizer in their lives. It is proven time and again that those who are hurting and broken are more receptive than those who are well off. It is also a whole lot cheaper to start churches in lower income areas.

Jesus said that it is harder for a camel (and he meant a literal camel) to fit through the eye of a needle (yes, he meant a literal needle too) than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Why then do we continue to spend billions of dollars trying to thread that needle with yet another two humped camel instead of bringing the gospel to people who know they need it?

I suggest that we should stop trying to force camels through needles and just look for those who actually need the redemptive atonement of Jesus. The gospel is always meant to be a choice. Jesus said "It is not the well who call a physician but the sick, I did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."

Can wealthy people come to Christ? Yes, of course...with God all things are possible. But the response will be less frequent and less contagious in wealthy neighborhoods. This is just a fact folks. You will be hard pressed to find any fast spreading movement among the wealthy. You will be equally hard pressed to find a fast spreading movement that didn't start with lower income people.

Is it wrong for some to reach out to wealthier neighborhoods? No I am not saying that. You will also find wealthy people involved with most of the movements in history. Often times, they are even the catalyst to get it rolling. There is indication that Paul and Barnabas were wealthy in the early days of Christianity, not the end. Count Zinzendorf, who is the apostolic leader that ignited the Moravian missional movement, was certainly well off, at the start. It is common to find wealthy people in the start of a movement, but not a lot of them. They may start wealthy, they usually do not die wealthy.

If you are called to the nice suburbs, is it possible to find good soil there? Yes it is. Believe it or not there is sin in the suburbs. Here are some practical ideas to find good soil for the seed of the gospel even in the suburbs:

  • Go for a ride-along with the local law enforcement officer...they are paid by your tax dollars to know where the good soil is. They know which homes have the domestic abuse cases, where the drugs are dealt, which bars have the most fights and which corner the disgruntled youth tend to hang out at.
  • Look for the signs of good soil. Yes there are signs...literally. A Going out of Business Sale sign may mean a good deal for you, but its a shattered dream for someone else. A foreclosure on a home is also some one's nightmare come true. A bankruptcy is a sign of some one's life turned upside down. If you pay attention you can find people that are hurting everywhere. 
  • Twelve step recovery groups are filled with people who recognize they are enslaved to sin and are powerless to overcome it. They are asking a higher power for help. If you are an addict yourself, this is a great place to find people that are responsive to the good news of Jesus. You are welcome and considered family and you are encouraged to share your story with the group. If you are not an addict, this idea is not open for you.

Now an important word is necessary at this point. I am not advocating any sort of manipulative maneuver to take advantage of weak people. If that is what you are looking for I STRONGLY suggest you repent and change your whole outlook (Okay, now I am addressing motives).

What then am I suggesting? I am simply suggesting that you look for people that are in pain and love them as you would want others to love you. Sound familiar? That's Jesus. Don't go looking for a project for your church outreach program, look for someone who needs love...and love them. Even if they never attend your church–love them!

You see the idea is that we bring the powerful, life-saving presence of Christ to the very places where it is most needed. Does that sound like a radical strategy? Well, it shouldn't, it should be an obvious conclusion. Jesus died and rose again so that the hopeless can find hope and the helpless can find help. "If you love those who are like you, what reward do you have?" Find someone who needs help and love them the way you would want to be loved. Simple.


Anthony Delaney said...

Check out the amazing work of Eden in the UK

Awake Nations with Glenn Bleakney said...

Great article Neil. I totally agree!

Timothy Wright said...

Thanks Neil,

Important thoughts for me and my family in a time of transition. I needed to have this thought brought to me right now. Bless you.


Chris Kirk said...

Our house relationship based house church is growing with NA members. I have been clean for 32 years and NA is a Spiritual, not religious program. I always affirm Jesus as my Higher Power and now others, due in part to our influence, are seeking Him too.

Neil Cole said...

Chris, yes we have found these practical ideas very effective. We have many that have been part of NA and AA, even SA that are in our churches and reaching peers in the program.

Anonymous said...

I found myself nodding in agreement to your words before I'd even reached the end of the first paragraph. I could not have said it better! Great blog post!