Can a pastor be prophetic in the suburbs?
You know, the suburbs, that magical place, where everything is perfect. Where are there are no problems – at least not real ones, not ones that matter. Where there is no injustice – at least none that people want to recognize.
I heard a sermon a few days ago that convicted me to my knees. I loved it. I was with the preacher with every point she made, until she made one point that me blanche. In many ways she made me look at what I am doing, how I am doing it, and what I could do better. She held me accountable to my silence.
The preacher said to new Master of Divinity students, as they were about to begin ministry and start serving in churches, that they shouldn’t expect to get cushy calls in the suburbs. And then suggested that if they did serve in the suburbs they would be less likely to have an impact on justice and spreading the Gospel, because, here’s the kicker, those churches would never call a prophet.
I sat there thinking about the suburb in which I live and serve as a pastor. It’s the Suburb of all Suburbs. People all over the country know about it. They know about the huge high school, the huge music programs, athletic programs, the ginormous houses and expensive cars. Yes, people know it and there are huge assumptions that every kid gets a car at sixteen, that people fly to Paris for Spring Break, and everyone has a Lake Home.
Many of those stereotypes are true, but the reality is deeper than what is seen on the surface. I confess I felt and still feel defensive after hearing the preachers remarks. Defensive for the community I have come to know. Defensive for their struggles with illness, job loss, death, alcoholism, divorce, and pressure to succeed. Defensive for their passion to serve, teach, grow, and live an authentic faith. Defensive for the truth that not every house in the suburbs has a picket fence. Defensive for the truth that even the houses with the picket fence has pain, loss, and a poverty of the soul at some level. Defensive for their struggles with pornography and infidelity. Defensive to say, to cry, and to argue that you can be a prophet in the suburbs, that we need prophets in the suburbs and that people need to hear the prophetic voice.
If the prophets do not speak, who will?
I believe all people want someone to challenge them to live a radical faith in which they truly love God and their neighbor. They want someone to move them into the difficult places of their souls where they are challenged to confront their own racism and bigotry. They want to grow in their faith and love for Jesus Christ. So, don’t tell me, people don’t want a prophet in the suburbs. All the world needs a prophet, even the places that seem to have it all together.
And so I left the sermon with a tear-stained cheeks and a convicted heart. I left feeling moved to defend a culture and a community that is often judged as not wanting to hear the truth, when indeed there are truth seekers everywhere. There are justice minded people everywhere. There are people who pray on their knees every morning for their children and all children everywhere. There are people who fight for hunger, clean air, clean water, peace and unity, everywhere. There are people who need to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ everywhere.
There is more than one prophet in the suburbs.
Come and see.