Location, Location, Location

Eric Russ

People often wonder what is the difference between serving in an impoverished urban center versus an upwardly mobile one, not to mention a suburb?

Well, first the easy answers: There is more crime, more poverty, more illiteracy, more injustice, more pressure from believers and unbelievers to leave. Those were the easy answers. Those answers and many more like them can be jotted down in the matter of seconds.

The harder answer takes into account our sinful nature, accountability and our desire to preserve ourselves. Let’s set up a scenario: Think of the nice suburban areas in your city. In Detroit that would be places like Grosse Pointe, Birmingham, Royal Oak, etc. Now think of the up and coming areas where young people are flocking to (gentrified urban areas). In Detroit that would be midtown or maybe in the near future Corktown. Now think of the areas that are often neglected, the areas that many Christians visit to do missions and serve, the place where one might help another church proclaim the gospel and feed the poor and then return home. Think of the place where drugs are sold frequently, petty crime like robbery is so normal that it is often not reported, where homeless solicitation is normal and the fear of your wife being harmed is always in the back of your mind. In Detroit these are areas like Mack and Bewick, or Jefferson, West of Alter.

Now be a pastor for a moment and gather the people of God into a meeting space, proclaim with authority and clarity the gospel and at the end say “now go and be the gospel to people wherever you live.” Here is the question: Which area will people “happen” to go back to? Which area will people move to? What will compel them to? 

Here are some frequent questions we get at Mack Ave: “Why can’t I be in a discipleship group at your church and not live in the community? Why do you make involvement in this specific community such an issue?” To be clear, we don’t discourage people from coming to serve. We have many gracious partners around the city. We wouldn’t be a local body if it wasn’t for people coming and giving of their time. We don’t discourage people from coming to our services, outreaches or anything that makes much of Christ in our community. However, the question is fair because we do draw the line when discussing where we pour our energy and resources. We are very clear that we pour those resources into those who will pour them into this community. 

Hence, the issue we face that upwardly mobile areas don’t. A person doesn’t have to fight for suburban areas or gentrified urban centers because people already want to be there. Lawyers usually live near other lawyers, doctors, engineers and others in their social economic class. They all will “happen” to live in affluent areas with a plethora of resources. You won’t see people with economic resources or educational pedigree “happen” to live in impoverished, downtrodden areas. The reality is that people do not “happen” to live in dangerous and unsupportive areas. You find three groups of people in these areas: people who can’t get out (the vast majority), people who love their city and want to fight for it and the marginalized who live there, and people who want to make much of Christ and express this by fighting for the marginalized in the community and loving their city. 

I strongly suggest that people intentionally make a decision to serve in an area that the world tells them they are stupid for doing so; it will never just happen. I can give you many stories of people that have moved into our community being told they are silly and unwise (often by believers) for putting themselves in harms way. Sadly, many people in unthinkable areas serve courageously in spite of the people of God, versus with their blessing. 

We realize that for the sake of communities that would be “unintentionally” left to fight for themselves, intentionality is a must or the result will be at best quarterly field trips to enter into their pain. The default is always to do something for or to these people, not simply be their neighbor. We must make these communities an issue because unlike other areas we simply wont just “happen” to care for the impoverished but we need to setup accountability measures to ensure they are spoken for. This is why we say at this stage in our church’s history you need to be committed to this community to be discipled. It is done not for exclusivity sake but so that we are inclusive, including these kinds of communities, reminding them that they are worth much to God and his people. So why do you live where you live? Why don’t you live in the inner city or in another marginalized area? Why wont you move and fight for those who have a faint voice at best?