When I head south on Amtrak from Providence, I usually choose the south/east side of the train. That way I can see the beautiful coastline of CT, often as the sun is rising. Today I found a seat on the other side. Much more of my view today has been looking into the ugly side of each city we go through: New London, New Haven, Bridgeport, Stamford.
This is the side of the tracks that doesn’t get hipster church planters. No offense, brothers, I love and appreciate what you are doing. We need urban churches that are full of the arts and people who know good coffee. But we need churches for the ugly side of the tracks too. Churches full of people who drink Dunkin at best. People who live in homes with felt art. Houses that don’t see the CT coastline, just the train, from 30 feet away.
I did not grow up in a poor urban community; maybe you didn’t either. By worldly reasoning, why would we be interested in these places? Our natural desire is to climb up the socio-economic ladder, not down it. We are drawn to the cool, the smart, the aesthetically pleasing, the sophisticated. And these inclinations can influence our thinking about church planting too.
But when Jesus left heaven and came to earth, the contrast was far more than swapping one side of the tracks for another. He was radically impoverished: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).
Why did he do it? Because, of course, we were all on the wrong side of the tracks, regardless of our zip code. We were not making ends meet. We were spiritually homeless, on spiritual food stamps, spiritually bankrupt. We had nothing but debt: we were sinners. So he came to save us. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).
The magnitude of this exchange is beyond our comprehension. Heaven-rich Jesus leaving it for this? Sinless Jesus swallowing up our moral filth for us? Amazing grace, how can it be.
The captain of our faith set our direction. Knowing what he has done for us, we who come from relative comfort must be willing to climb down the worldly ladder and enter into another culture. We must humble ourselves to have eyes to see what God is already doing in these hard places — the richness of the people in these communities. We the church at large must be willing to figure out how to sustain local congregations that are, on their own, financially unsustainable—where three years of startup funds won’t cut it. But we can figure this out, can’t we? Mustn’t we?
We can. Christ is the head of the church, and he is building his church—in the poor neighborhoods too. Sure it’s hard. For those who didn’t grow up in poverty, it’s counter-cultural. And it will require financial ingenuity. But these are not insurmountable barriers. Jesus is with us, he himself has crossed from riches into rags, and he knows how to provide for all our needs. He loves this side of the tracks. Let’s follow him.