“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” Jeremiah 29:7
Some may suggest—that was then, this is now!
There and then Judah had been uprooted from the comfort of their “homeland,” placed directly under the authority of a “heathen” king and commanded to live normal lives in every sense. Normal lives? Living en-mass as kidnapped exiles! Sure…
It could be argued—today is a different matter entirely. History, culture, conditions and the redemptive prelude are 2500 years far removed from present-day Christian witness. Some today suggest, the necessity to separate oneself from the world…”let not it’s evil ways entrap you.” Thus, in many cases we find people who live down the block or even next door, effectively withdrawing from the “public square” of life together. Or, they want to go to war against it.
While striving toward a right mind and heart before the Lord is certainly godly, it does seem though this waiting until the “end” IS a confused final mission.
In this work, which Imagine NW is about providing leadership in all sorts of communities with endless diversities and troubles, we find such fight or flight theologies less than Kingdom-building useful. Our work is to take the “old” call by God and see ourselves as still exiled. Yet this time, we cannot find a place or circumstance where we are NOT exiles…there is no escape…for now. Theologies built on fear, withdrawal, “against” attitudes, anger—effectively and quickly lose the sweet fragrance of the King’s Gospel. Absent the agape love of grace that comes to the world through unlikely messed up vessels like ourselves, “truth” statements simply ring hollow.
There is another block of Christians, dear to my heart, who do not view things so black and white. They, and this is much of our evangelical culture, do indeed go out and reach out. Bless them!
Yet we still find something out-of-balance, as Bob Lupton (FCS Urban Ministries-Atlanta) discovered.
Bob had challenged a church in Atlanta to send its members into a struggling urban community. This relocation effort, by its long-term nature, was designed to be “life together” with those who struggle with very basic life necessities.
Many years had passed where some 250 mostly white families had relocated. Yet Lupton found little evidence for positive change that brought about less crime, better literacy and health, increased ownership of homes, and more just political structures.
Bob was intensely baffled and began asking “WHY?” After looking deeper, he discovered that the mindset of the bulk of people who relocated was centrally one of trying to “get people into the church.” Getting people to come to church, had gotten in the way of the greater Kingdom impact. In this case, seeking the peace and prosperity of the community was reduced to church-centric activity.
My limited read on things today suggest people are not much interested in joining things (clubs or churches), so much as developing real relationships. Transferring people from one cultural box to another—is simply not the bridge people are much interested in anymore. The bridge we should be looking for are lifestyles bringing the whole Gospel (Word & Deed, Hope Now * Future Hope) to those living near us while in our exiled status.
Seeking the peace and prosperity of our communities, means Christians: engaging people and places, being with, sharing with, praying with, struggling—long-term—letting the results shake out according to our Lord’s plan.