Part of the fallout from modern Christianity confusing following Christ with pursuing the American dream is the rise of ‘Suburban Christianity’. This is the expression of our faith that is steeped in the illusion of serving others while really hiding behind a veil of safety and selfishness. Having spent the past ten years living in suburbia, I have found myself leaning into this mentality from time to time. We convince ourselves that we are the part of the body that supplies the funds for those working closer to the real problems. I am not disputing there may be some truth in that way of thinking, but at the same time we must be careful to not use that as an excuse to remain sheltered in our safe, comfortable, and predictable worlds.
I am writing this post during the Christmas season when there is no shortage of opportunities within our church fellowships to do something for the less fortunate. We wrap gifts, participate in toy drives, and maybe even spend a couple of hours serving meals in a soup kitchen. These activities are needed and worthwhile. They allow us to demonstrate the love of God to people who might not otherwise ever hear the good news of Jesus or feel His love. However, I see two potential problems with our activity.
First, all of these activities are incredibly safe, aren’t they? We don’t have to get our hands dirty, and in most cases never even have to look into the eyes of the person in need. We simply spend some cash or a little time and call it good. Jesus never helped people from afar. He planted Himself right in the middle of the sick and the outcast. He physically touched them, feeling their pain and taking it on Himself.
The second problem that possibly arises from these kinds of activities lies in the fact that for many, this is the only way they get involved with the poor, hungry, and homeless all year. If that is true, it means that that a typical suburban Christian spends a couple hours a year carrying out the mission of Jesus. Is that demonstrative of a life totally and radically committed to God? Yet we do these things and feel holy and justified in our faith.
This isn’t a message to everyone. There are many for whom these activities are just a small part of the way they serve Christ throughout the year. God bless them. This message is instead for the all too typical ‘Suburban Christian’ I have observed. A commitment to Jesus is more than a couple of hours a year around major holidays. It’s more than writing a check. Following Jesus is supposed to be messy; it’s supposed to cause a little discomfort in our lives. Every relationship with Jesus is personal, so if we are never engaging with people, how are we demonstrating the love of our relational God? Don’t play it safe. Don’t keep people at arms’ length. Love God. Love people. Live your faith.