Friday, January 25, 2008

Saving the world, but not our neighorhood?

I live in a quiet middle-class neighborhood. There are lots of kids. Most people mind their business. I have connected with a few of the neighbors. Dave and Kathy are evangelical Christians. Jenn is a single mom. Her son, Sal, is so cute. Dave and Beth and their crew live across the street. Tom is Jenn's dad and lives behind us. We live in the community with the number one rated school district in our state.

I have exchanged pleasantries with all those in my neighborhood at least two to three houses down on either side of my home. They seem like really nice people. In fact, they are. We rarely see each other this time of year. It is freezing here. Janet and I find ourselves on the road often and we work long hours in the downtown some 25 miles away. Our contact is often less than we like with those in our neighborhood.

We work in downtown Cleveland. It is one of the poorest and most violent cities in our nation. Those things go hand-in-hand, most times. We have found homeless addicts sleeping on our office stairs. They have often refused my help. We have had cars broken into in our parking lot. People have been assaulted on our block in the apartment complex in our back yard. It can be a place of fear if you let it become so.

I have often wondered why we would live in cushy suburbs when the city needs transformation so badly. The poverty is numbing in Cleveland. There are 16,000 abandoned homes in the city. There is a shooting almost every night. The schools although improving, are still in disarray.

When I have thought aloud about why we live where we do, it is often shared that we have to think of the children in people's families. What kind of schools would they go to? It is unsafe for them to live in the city. There are so many bad neighborhoods. Often that last phrase is used by us fairer skinned people when referring to minority neighborhoods. I have been a crusader for the city. I think, for the most part, we live too well.

When someone has suggested that we move our office out of downtown to the suburbs to save the cost of commuting, I have insisted we need to be in the city.

I have also committed to supporting overseas mission and developing countries with my own resources. We need to transform the world. I am a busy crusader for transforming the world.

Janet and I were away last weekend. Tim, who is staying with us while attending college, said there was "some" police activity around while we were gone. As we heard more in the media, we discovered that "the police activity" was in response to some domestic violence at a home located diagonally across the street from us. That is sad. We had heard that this was the case. We had some "hi and how ya doin'" conversation with the people who live in that house. I understood the dad was a pharmacist. We had no idea that he was making crystal meth in his basement.

I have been out crusading to save the world, but had missed a connection and opportunity to transform my own neighborhood, because of my busy schedule and my own crusade.

The issue of our cities is still incredibly important. I want to see systematic discrimination against the poor and minorities eliminated. I want us to create a sense of safety and peace for our children. I want us to create educational opportunities. Our cities are so important because they are the hubs for the world. In my opinion, our movement needs a stronger presence in our cities.

Personally, I need to be more cognizant of my own neighborhood. I am going to try to reach out to the family across the street. I want to help them in their hurt and shame. I want to do that for others in our neighborhood, I barely know, but now need to invest in. I don't want another notch in my evangelism belt. That is such a disingenuous way to live. I need to help make community and transformation happen right where I live. I don't want to be guilty of saving the world, but not our neighborhood.

If you are like me, you see the need for a big vision. We need to think globally, because the world is shrinking. We need to get outside our world. We can be so self-absorbed. Our pet projects can take our vision off the immediate world around us.

So can we often be so vision-driven that we can be mission-challenged in our neighborhood? Who is called to be Jesus to suburbia? By the way, did you know that crime rates are growing in the suburbs at an alarming rate? Do you really know the people where you live? Do we live too well in our middle-class neighborhoods?

I wonder what would Jesus do in this case.

What do you think?

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Today I had a discussion with a few colleagues regarding the "bottom line." We are worried about the financial situation of our ministries. We talked regarding how we are often more concerned with the bottom line than we are people. Theocapitalism is worshiping the god of the bottom line.

I learned this term while reading Brian McLaren's new book "Everything Must Change." I understand the need for us to be concerned with good stewardship. Yet, at the same time we as the church in the West, I believe, have bought into the idea that what is good for the bottom line is what must drive our decisions. This means even personnel decisions. Those at the top, don't begin to take into account their own heavy cost for salary etc. Often, what happens is that those on the lower level of management are cut in hours or let go, when none of the leaders offer to give up some of their benefits.

It happens in business all of the time in the business world. It is estimated by some studies that the salary ratio for most Fortune 500 executives is 312:1 compared to the average worker. Wow. While this is not the case in the Church as far as salaries go, by and large, many of us live very comfortably, sometimes at very high standards. It is obvious that we often don't treat some of our employees with benefits that we would have as leaders. The money we pay is often not quite a living wage. In many ways, we do have a catch 22 situation. We want to fund the ministry, but sometimes I am afraid at the expense of people. We just don't have the funding to pay people.

I know that it could be argued that those who are not in leadership positions are not as important to the mission or do not carry as much responsibility as those who are leaders. I tend to disagree. I think that in the Kingdom's values even the most menial tasks are important. Like Brother Andrew, I believe, whatever is done by the disciple of Jesus is done unto Jesus. Paul even echoed that. He exhorts us to do whatever we do "unto the glory of God."

I am not sure the bottom line affects us when it comes to giving more benefits days. I am not sure why people who work so hard for us only get two weeks vacation. Again, some would argue that is the way the world does it. So, why does that matter? I also look at the application of FMLA laws in our land and the distribution of health benefits in many church organization, which often favor the corporation (church) more than the worker.

In many respects, it goes back to our idea of salvation. Maybe we don't only need personal salvation, but also salvation from the worship of the bottom line. In my position, I am trying to make a difference. But the culture into which I believe the Church in general has bought is this idea of expanding our budget and our mission often at the cost of those who help build our mission. It is incredibly hard to change culture in the short term.

I am not for abandoning rules or accountability. I am for a more worker friendly, team approach, which flattens the organizational chart.

Do you believe we are driven in the Church, much the way the world is when it comes not only these decisions, but to many others like service to people and building ministries?

Maybe I am wrong. I wonder though if the Church in the West is driven by theocapitalism.

What do you think?