Part of church planting is studying the community to which you are going. As I’ve gotten to know Culpeper by talking to it’s people, strolling it’s sidewalks, and pouring over its demographics one word keeps coming up: exurban. What is exurban? Wikipedia has it’s own decent definition (half way down the article). My working definition is that an exurb is an embryonic suburb. Suburbs have an uncanny way of metastasizing all over the American landscape. They simply sprawl. Exurban is a town that is caught between rural-quaint and suburban-sprawled.
A good friend recommended a book to help me understand the Exurb better. It is On Paradise Drive, by David Brooks. I’m just getting into it on my Kindle (and wishing I owned a Kindle 2). Here are some early quotes from Brooks.
We are living in the age of the great dispersal. As Witold Rybczynski has observed, the American population continues to decentralize faster than any other society in history. In 1950 only 23 percent of Americans lived in suburbia, but now most do, and today’s suburbs are sprawling out faster and faster and farther and farther, so in the past few years, many exurban places have broken free from the gravitational pull of the cities and now float in a new space far beyond them.
For an example of this, just think of the suburbs around Atlanta that have now grown to have identities all their own quite separate from urban Atlanta.
Brooks goes on to explain the unique lack of a societal center as compared to every other community in America.
This suburban supernova subtly affects every place in America. The cities and inner-ring suburbs are affected because only certain kinds of people get left behind. Quiete often the people who stay are either the very poor, because they can’t afford to move ; or the very rich, because they can afford to stay and live well in upscale enclaves. In the exploding exurbs, there are no centers, no recognizable borders and boundaries, and few of the conventional geographic forms — such as towns, villages, and squares — that people in older places take for granted. Up till now in human history, people have lived around some definable place — a tribal ring, an oasis, a river junction, a port, a town square. You could identify a certain personality type with a certain place. There was a New York personality, an L.A. personality. But in exurbia, each individual has his or her own polycentric nodes — the school, the church, the subdevelopments, the office park — and the relationship between those institutions is altered.
Not only is suburbia become the location of decentralized America it is also where office parks are housing the businesses that are making the advancements which are changing the face of our society. This produces tremendous power housed in seemingly disconnected societies. Brooks asks,
How do these bland-seeming places produce so much change, and how will they manage it? What happens when people acculturated in these sprawling suburban zones are given the power — through the biotech firms they are now starting amid the Fuddruckers — to remake human nature? What values will guide them?
Even from these few quotes you start to see the absolute necessity for church planting in suburban and especially exurban areas. People are moving to the exurbs. Businesses are moving to the exurbs. The pieces of our decentralizing societal core are moving to the exurbs. And so it is the privilege of the church to take the gospel to the exurbs.
This is one of the many reasons that I’m excited about the new work I’m a part of in Culpeper, VA. I get to be a missionary to this new America. I want to see Jesus glorified in the Exurbs. What a privilege.
I’m trying to read through John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion this year. Calvin is arguably the best Bible teacher since the times of the Apostles. The Institutes are not only a treasure of profound, devotional theology but are also classics of Western literature.
Today’s scheduled reading is on the topic of angels. Few biblical themes have been misconstrued more by common cultural notions than the study of angels. What struck me most about Calvin’s treatment of angels was the restrained manner in which he handled the topic. Never wanting to go beyond what the Bible says, Calvin is clear where the Bible is clear and intentionally vague where the Bible is vague. What a refreshing treatment of such a misunderstood topic.
If you want to read along, you should pick up the Ford Lewis Battles edition of The Institutes.
You can also check out Justin Taylor’s blog post on today’s selection on angels.
While I was reading Calvin I couldn’t help but think back to Dr. Kelly’s opening sermon at the Twin Lakes Fellowship last year on how angels are aids to us. Surprise, surprise, Dr. Kelly’s sermon was a preached version of this section of Calvin’s Institutes. You can find that sermon here.
One of the misconceptions I had about church planting before I became a church planter was that North America was already evangelized. The truth is that the American church has never kept up with population growth and is very much a mission field. To prove the point here are two different statistics from Ed Stetzer’s excellent book, Planting Missional Churches.
The church-to-population ratio based on statistics form the U.S. Census:
- In 1900, there were 28 churches for every 10,000 Americans.
- In 1950, there were 17 churches for every 10,000 Americans.
- In 2000, there were 12 churches for every 10,000 Americans.
- In 2004, there were 11 churches for every 10,000 Americans.
George Hunter’s research concludes that,
- There are 120 million secular undiscipled people in the United States.
- The U.S. is the largest mission field in the Western hemisphere.
- The U.S. is the fifth largest mission field on earth.
These startling statistics point only in one direction. If we want people to hear the gospel then we must plant churches in the United States.
I’ve been studying Luke 7:36-50 all week. I taught it at a high school FCA meeting on Wednesday morning. I taught it at a youth group meeting on Wednesday night. Tomorrow morning I’ll teach it at a men’s breakfast. It is the story of two gospels — Simon the Pharisee’s gospel and the gospel of Jesus.
It is a story of contrast. Jesus has a meal at Simon’s house. This makes Simon one of the more friendly of Pharisees who interacted with Jesus. But it is apparent as the story proceeds that Simon, though intrigued by Jesus, isn’t convinced that he should be paid any special honor. An uninvited guest confirms his suspicion.
During the meal a woman walks in. She is known recognized publicly as a sinner. I don’t think times have changed much. If a woman is known publicly as a sinner only a few specific sins come to mind. But her sin is not the end of her “impropriety”. She bows at Jesus’s feet and washes them with her tears and hair. Now cleaned, she applies a costly ointment to the feet of this itinerant preacher.
It is at this point that the Luke interjects what Simon was thinking, “If Jesus only knew who and what sort of woman this was he certainly wouldn’t let her do this to him.”
Jesus goes on to challenge Simon’s view of God’s love with a parable. Two men owe different amounts of money — one a little and one a great sum. Both are forgiven their debts by their creditor. Jesus’s pointedly asks Simon, “Who will love the creditor more?” Simon answers correctly, “The one who was forgiven much.”
Here are two gospels in poignant contrast.
The gospel of Simon argues that God likes to be around religious people and shuns sinners. It’s motto is, “I’m moving closer to God by working hard at religion.” The gospel of Jesus is completely the opposite. Jesus shows Simon through his parable that God loves sinners and is offended by religious people. It’s motto is, “God is moving closer to me by his grace.”
In the end it is a question of how big of a sinner are you? The cross of Christ — where the redemption of Christians was accomplished — is the only basis on which a sinner can passionately love God with a tear-soaked-hair, empty-alabaster-flask kind of devotion.
I see a good deal of Simon-ish thinking in me. God has been challenging me this week to ask myself the question, “Just how much have you been forgiven?” It is only in answering that question that I clearly see God’s love for me in the gospel of Jesus.
I’m back from the GCA conference on church planting. I had a great time in Orlando but am glad to be back. All this traveling is beginning to wear on me. Here are a few updates since my last post that you might find interesting.
- The website for the church plant in Culpeper is now live. Go and check it out.
- I designed the Culpeper website with wordpress.com. While I was designing the site I thought I had shutdown access to it. I discovered however that I had shutdown mininggrace.com rather than culpepermission.org So if you haven’t been able to view Mining Grace for two weeks, now you know why. Oops.
- I just received this book and this book in the mail. Can’t wait to dive into them both.
- I saw some old friends and met some new ones while in Orlando. You should check out their work.
- Tony Giles discipled me while I was in college. I had no idea that he was going to be at GCA. Imagine my surprise and elation to catch up with such a dear friend. He is laboring in Nashville with Ian Sears.
- I got to catch up with some old friends from church planter assessment this past November. One of whom is McKay Caston who is planting a church north of Atlanta. Check out his work on the Dahlonega Church Plant. (facebook group)
- James Park is another one of my assessment alumni. We shared a room at GCA. He is planting a church north of Los Angeles. Check out his work on GracePoint Mission.
- One of the great things about going to conferences is meeting new friends. I got to spend some time with Tim Brister at GCA. Tim is one of the guys who I know from online social networks: twitter, facebook, and blogging. Virtual became tangible as we got together over chicken wings to discuss church planting, Puritans, and triathlons. Check out his blog, church planting work, and church.
Those are all of my updates for now.
We’re on the road this week. We worshiped at Redeemer, Lynchburg this morning. Hallie’s family attends there. It’s a great church. They’re about three months into their first foray as a mulit-site church. It was really exciting to worship with them this morning. My plan is to pattern our work in Culpeper after the Lynchburg model.
Tomorrow night we’ll be in Charlottesville for a fund raising dessert. It will be held at Grace Community Church and will comprise people from both Grace Community and Trinity. What makes it so profound is that Grace Community was a plant of Trinity. So tomorrow night will be a meeting with three generations of church plants: Trinity, Grace Community, and now Culpeper Mission. How amazing to be a part of God’s Kingdom extension throughout this portion of VA.
I keep telling people that we are claiming Jesus’ promise that when he is lifted up, all men will be drawn to him. Our goal is to lift Jesus up, to exalt him and his work. He accomplishes the rest.
Lift him up!