A not-really-so-long time ago, I was trying to figure out what my next ministry step would be. I had spent two years teaching religion at a school in one of Chicago’s not so affluent neighborhoods, and I was finishing up a year working at a big (affluent) urban church. I was considering taking a position that, by church standards, was extremely cushy: associate pastor at a medium to large suburban church in great financial shape. I needed to take that job. My husband was in grad school. I was pregnant. We were up to our ears in student loan debt (still are!).
I felt like a sell-out. I loved living in the city. I grew up living either in cities or semi-rural areas. Mile after mile of uninterrupted suburb was not exactly familiar to me. And I loved city ministry. When the principal at the school interviewed me and asked why I wanted the job, I said, “The Bible begins in a garden and ends in a city. God loves cities. I love cities.” (She liked that. I got the job.) (By the way: anyone know where that quote is from? Because I know it’s not original.)
In the middle of that internal debate, a good and wise mentor said to me, “Suburban people need Jesus, too.”
I took the suburban job.
Eight years later, I am a blonde, thirty-something mother of two, who lives in the suburbs and doesn’t work. I don’t have a minivan or an SUV (actually, we only have one car in our family, which I feel ups our hipster quotient a bit). And we don’t own a house. And my husband works in the tech industry so at least we’re a little cutting edge that way. Money is tight for us, but in the grand scheme of things, we’re affluent. I’m mostly your conventional suburban mom at this point.
And I’m never sure how comfortable I should be with that. Urban ministers are the cutting edge people, right? I kind of want to be an urban hipster pastor. But I have a dreadful fear of needles (I pass out when given a shot) and so there are no tattoos in my future. I am too exhausted in my role as a mother of two to tack on even the relatively short commute to one of the urban areas near where I live. Sometimes this makes me wonder if there’s a future for me in the church. Am I just too conventional for where the (I hope) church is headed?
(And, then, of course, there’s the fact that I am simply unmotivated to get my D.Min. Apparently, this is what all the cool kid ministers are doing. I don’t have the money right now, nor a church position, which is often a pre-req for the program. And everyone around here who’s the least bit Reverend seems to have one. But that’s another issue all together.)
But here’s the thing: suburban people need Jesus, too. Affluent people need Jesus, too. (Just as much as those who are poor need Jesus, right?) And culture in the suburbs, while it might not be as cutting edge as the city, is going to catch up.
A few months ago, I met a pastor in my new town who pointed out: I am exactly the demographic she’s trying to figure out. The young, over worked, exhausted parents of children. Hanging on for dear life in our affluent suburb, sometimes both spiritually and financially.
I hope we see more and more church innovation not just in cities, but in suburbs. I don’t know what that innovation is going to be, or what’s going to work.
But I can’t wait to find out…