Thursday, November 19, 2009

eccleastical greed: a lack of ethos in urban space

As promised, I am going to blog following the TIME Detroit blog. I want to provide some 
theological and missiological reflection on their Detroit restoration project. Part of what is
amping me up on this post is my two previous posts {here and here} so you might want to 
briefly check those out before proceeding.

I don't know of any churches whose express purpose is to live for self. I don't know of a church
website, brochure, pastor, etc who would not say that they are not interested in helping their 
community and reaching the world. Yet, this is the exact impression most people under the 
age of 30 think of churches. Most churches state quite the opposite. Most will say that they 
are there to help their community. Why is there this disconnect? Perhaps it is because there 
is a Grand Canyon sized chasm between what churches say they are interested in doing and 
how they actually behave. When walk and talk are perceived to be this far apart, it presents a 
problem in a church's ethos.

Darrell Dawsey recently posted an article titled, "Ditchin' Religion."  He says

we put too much faith in these ministers, their big churches and the feel-good rhetoric they sell on Sundays.
While his cry to ditch religion is a bit premature, he says what many are probably thinking:
I can't help but wonder how much better our communities could be if we put even half the energy that we invest in keeping these pastors well-heeled into our public schools, politics, finances or businesses. 
I do not profess to know the situation on the ground in Detroit (at least beyond what is online and in print).  Their church situation is probably similar to the church situation around then country.  

In most pioneer missions contexts, missionaries are not allowed in as missionaries.  They must have a legitimate purpose for being in that country.  I believe the time has come in our own country that we need a specific purpose and reason for being in our communities.  Our role should never be to merely take up space in the city which only gets used once a week and provides little more than a meeting space.  We need to use the space more than once (and for more than just believers) and carry our own weight.  

Churches are religious organizations.  As such they are exempt from taxation.  This means that they use space which requires utilities and public services such, as fire and police, but they don't pay into the system.  Currently there are large census tracts with vacancy rates of 30-50% and higher!  At the city level, this makes maintaining adequate police and fire services difficult since they must still patrol and protect the same area but with fewer tax dollars to help them.  

This has been a problem for a Houston suburb as well.  There are so many churches moving in {because land is cheap} who are not paying into the system that the city is struggling to provide adequate services.  A barrier is growing slowly  between the city and the churches since the city knows that they will never win a fight to tax the churches and since the churches will never actually pay into the system.  Would it be so hard to pay for services that they are using?

Churches all over Detroit are struggling to keep things running cutting staff and services and charging for things like funerals.  But what if each minister were bi-vocational?  There would not be the stigma of "freeloading" in a sinking society.  It is time to abandon church as a purely Sunday function.  Why should everyone go through such sacrifice for the sake of one building?  Why not sell the building and give back to the community?  We have nothing to loose and much to gain by giving it all away and living like we truly believe this world is not our home rather than building kingdoms to ourselves. 

The urban crisis facing Detroit demonstrates the divide between church life and city life and how out of touch we  are with the problems in the world.  The church all over America is in the same boat but, since there is no crisis at hand, we do not realize that we are dragging our communities down rather than being a blessing to them.  In my previous post I recounted how Gallery Furniture has been a beneficial fixture of the community.  When it burned down, the community rose up to help it rebuild.  I can't imagine that happening for most churches were they to find themselves in similar circumstances.  

There is a lesson here if we are listening.


rick said...

When I was a bi-vo church planter, I was talking with a colleague at my paying job. He told me that preachers are in it for the money and that if we stopped paying our preacher he would leave. I never told him that I was the preacher and that I was doing it sans salary, but his accusation still resonates with me today.

I wonder how many preachers would stand up on Sunday for no money at all or if they had to fund their own ministries. While I may never find the answer to that question, I have great respect for those who do follow this path.

Rastis said...

I fear that unless we start weaning ourselves off of buildings and budgets that we will not be able to reverse the trend...