10.14.2009

Church, Don't Be a Cul-de-Sac


This post at Desiring God Ministries caught my eye. The first paragraph tells you what this post is about: "Our mission at Desiring God is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. By turning a few things around, we can also see what our mission is not - and therefore more clearly what it is."

What follows is a list of 8 "nots." And, tellingly, here's the first: "Our mission is not to create cul-de-sacs, but to spread."

Cul-de-sacs, of course, are a suburban creation, the zenith of segregating residential use from anything else. Cul-de-sacs say, "Not only do we not want to be near other uses besides residential; we don't want anything near us nor do we want anyone but us to even pass through."

In this regard, cul-de-sacs are not unlike the Saratoga neighborhood near where I grew up, about which I once wrote, "the comfort of separateness also has a cost of isolation." These are places that may not be physically gated communities, but have been planned so as to achieve some of the same bufferedness from the rest of the world.

You see then why, when Desiring God Ministries is thinking about what it is not, the first image that comes to mind is of a cul-de-sac. The Christian faith is one that necessarily impels us outward and invites others in, rather than shutting itself from others and holing up with our own. We may not erect physical barriers to keep outsiders away from us, but if we allow ourselves to construct figurative ones that are no less effective, shame on us.

And yet, sadly, too many of our churches are cul-de-sacs. We focus our resources on comforting ourselves. We use jargon to baffle outsiders and signal to them that they are not part of us. We even consider "church" to be a physical structure rather than the constant activity of a group of people ever pushing outward in service and mercy and love.

Desiring God Ministries is correct in calling the modern church not to be a spiritual cul-de-sac. Rather, like more urban forms of land use and traffic flow, we are to be out amongst the world, circulating with others different from us, prominently situated in high-traffic intersections and crossroads. Even if your residential tastes lean more towards cul-de-sacs, Saratogas, and gated communities, your spiritual and congregational tastes should not.
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