A taster from Paul Keeble’s new book ‘Mission With‘.
If all Christians are actually living – or working – where God has ‘placed’ them, given the proportion in the inner city, that would seem to be a massive contradiction to God’s ‘preference’ for the poor. Can we speak of God ‘placing’ His people without any consideration of what factors were included or omitted in the decision to live or work in a particular location? If not, this would seem to imply that in every case where a job or promotion is offered or a house in a certain street comes on to the market it is down to the leading and blessing of God, who has guided the Christian to that place. Given that Christians are predominantly located in suburban areas, this is in fact saying that the calling of God is subject to and governed by human ambition and aspiration.
Sine puts it quite bluntly:
“Many of the popular Christian teachings on discipleship are extremely narrow. They tend to limit the call to follow Jesus Christ to one small spiritual compartment of life. In all the other compartments they unquestioningly let the culture call the shots. For example, in spite of all the popular Christian teaching about Jesus’ lordship, it’s commonly understood what comes first. Our careers come first. Getting our house in the suburbs comes first. Our upscale lifestyles come first. Then, with whatever time, energy, or resources are left, we can follow Christ.”
This is a long way from what Kraybill sees as the action of the kingdom of God – presented by Jesus as a ‘new order breaking in on old ways, old values, old assumptions’. It ‘shatters the assumptions which govern our lives’ so that we can no longer ‘assume that things are right just because “that’s the way they are”’.
Rather than ‘placed’, Gittins actually uses the term ‘displacement’:
“Those who are appropriately disturbed by the God of righteousness inevitably find their lives reoriented, redirected, and decentred: what we may call displaced. The life of a true disciple is no longer centred on self but on God. Disciples’ lives are a continual process of displacement because they are always trying to remain faithful to the movement of God’s grace and the inspiration of God’s Spirit.”
Vincent considers discipleship ‘the only true Christianity’, in which following Jesus ‘in his mission to people at the bottom of so-called society’ is integral. For those of us who come from a relatively privileged background, openness to such a ‘journey downward’ should be a mark of discipleship. This would involve considering a call to sacrifice some or all of the potential our background, education and social connections give us to aspire to in terms of finance, status or career, to move towards those who do not have such advantages. Not primarily so that we can bestow some sort of hand-up, but in order to be with God’s preferred ones and to gain real insight into the structures of sin and injustice that benefit us and disadvantage them, dynamics which work against the shalom of God.
The question not being asked
A constricting of discipleship teaching to exclude the ‘where’ of Christian service explains why there is not only a flow away from the inner city, but also little more than a trickle in the other direction. As an issue not addressed by most local churches, then it is perhaps not so much a question of disobedience as of not getting as far as being a part of the average Christian’s thinking. What is the modern equivalent of ‘they left their nets and followed him’? Even if it was decided that the answer to this question was that this was a sort of extreme discipleship just for a special elite, beginning with the original disciples and Paul and continuing today with rare heroes who become missionaries, the evidence seems to show that, for the most part, the question is not even being asked.