As a church planter, I am responsible for organizing a new congregation. In fact, my actual title is “organizing pastor,” and that includes more than just preaching on Sundays.
One area in which I’ve had to pursue competency and skill is that of “understanding my context,” sometimes described as “knowing my mission field.” That is, knowing and understanding the place in which I have been called to organize a new congregation is an important skill.
My place is a classic expression of the suburbs. (In fact, I’ve been told that the entire state of New Jersey can be classified as suburban, though driving through some parts of the Pine Barrens would cause even the most rigid statistician to question that designation.)
Which raises the question: what are the suburbs?
Technically, and by that, I mean what the word itself suggests, is the place outside (or under) a city center: SUB URBAN.
In my case, this suburb is outside of center city Philadelphia.
Demographers call the place where I live metro Philadelphia, which I guess was a word coined around the time that area bridges were built: the Ben Franklin, the Walt Whitman, and the Commodore Barry, in the fifties, sixties, and seventies.
In that word metro are hidden all kinds of assumptions.
One of them is that we don’t live where we work; we live in one place and travel to another for employment.
Another is that we live with some space or distance between our homes. The density of my neighborhood (an area of about one square mile or so) is not as great as would be, for example, one square mile in center City Philly. There are more people who live there, in that area, than here, in an equivalent area.
Okay, so that’s what the suburbs are. But who really cares? I think it matters because many people seem to think that living in the suburbs is bad.
More and more these days, the bad-ness of the suburbs seems to fall at the feet of the automobile. Since the car is bad, and since the suburbs require cars to get around (being that we all drive somewhere else to work and to get our groceries), therefore the suburbs are bad, and the people who live in them (by foregoing logic) are also bad.
Bad, bad, bad.
But what if we change the terms? What if we think more generally?
Just because we live outside of one “area” which has higher density in another “area” which has lower density doesn’t mean we don’t live in a city. Just because we use cars doesn’t mean we don’t live in a city. Nor does it mean that where we live is bad.
We like where we live; we survive where we live; we are people where we live; we take care with where we live; we want to improve where we live.
This is our city. Deal with it.