Scary stories from a lovely place
They’re hip. And sexy. And cool.
What am I talking about? Let me explain. Pandas, and other such cool animals, like jaguars or baby seals are usually used as the face of animal rights campaigns. But such work is usually focussed on improving the rights of battery hens or dipped sheep which are much, much less lovable than a panda. To use a dirty sheep’s face to promote animal rights wouldn’t be as alluring as a sleek jaguar.
Such is the case with church planting. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good stuff. New churches need to be started just as the rights of seals need to be protected. But all this focus on church planting is a little distracting.
Church planting has had somewhat of a resurgence in the last few years. Christianity and church life is like that. Fads come and go. Again, let me stress that I’m glad these things come into popularity. But why can’t just good old fashioned faithfulness reign? I’m sad that people need cool stuff like church planting to take seriously the New Testament’s edict to practically and emotionally commit to love and serve the church family.
My other beef with the coolness of church planting is that it seems to often reinvent the wheel. From my observation new churches are sometimes started in areas where there are already fine churches who teach God’s word, believe the gospel and have members. But maybe the minister isn’t that cool. Or maybe the music isn’t up to scratch. Or maybe the people aren’t similar enough to the individual. Too many people want to do their own thing. Why can’t they just serve an existing church family – put aside elements of style or demographic that they don’t love and get on with it. Because that’s not very cool. That doesn’t sound good in a conversation or look trendy on a poster. It’s too sheep and not enough panda.
Church planting proponents often bring along with their message the need to love the city. The theory goes that x number of years ago in a particular city the people (and the Christians) left the increasingly nasty city for the safe and friendly suburbs. That’s perhaps more true here in Joburg than a lot of cities in the world. Lately some pastors are encouraging Christians to come back to the city and start churches. Again, all good stuff.
But it’s usually the nice parts of the city that these churches are planted in. Recently in Joburg we had lots of A-list pastors visiting for the Lausanne conference in Capetown. While here they offered themselves to lots of different churches or para-church organisations to teach at conferences. One of these had a church planting flavour and carried the slogan ‘loving the city’. I wanted to graffiti the poster slightly so that it read ‘loving the (nice parts of the) city’ because that’s the way it seems to be.
I live about 5 minutes drive from the Joburg CBD. Along the way I travel through a suburb called Vrededorp, previously known as Fietas. Fietas was originally a fairly poor, but very multicultural and bustling, interesting area. In the 1970’s and 80’s the land and houses were reclaimed by the government under the Apartheid Government’s ‘Group Areas Act’. Most of the exisiting houses and buildings, imbued with history and meaning, were bulldozed and new dwellings built for poor white Afrikaaners who came to Joburg from the drought stricken rural farm lands.
Now Vrededorp is rundown, multicultural again, and a very poor inner city area of wonderful Joburg. There are low blocks of flats that are in terrible condition and packed full of people trying to get by. I see these people walking in Brixton all the time and I’ve spoken to some of them at the mall. Their poverty is unmistakeable. There’s one sick looking balding kid I’ve seen around a lot. The other day I was driving down Caroline St and saw this kid being knocked around by an older brother. Malnutrition, rape, abuse of every kind and other effects of poverty must be rife throughout that community. It upsets me if I think about it too much.
I’d love to see someone who speaks Afrikaans start an appropriate church or gathering of Christians there in those flats. It would be so hard. There’d be nothing panda about it, but rather it would be gritty and painful and time consuming and probably little ‘result’ would be seen. It would be sheep – faithful old love and service of Joburg and all it’s people.