I read this on my friend’s Facebook page yesterday. I asked him if I could share it on my blog and he graciously agreed. This is much different than what I talked about in Wanting a Seat in the Pew….but Austin is also wrestling with being a Christian. The Author of this is Austin Olive — we first met him when we discovered a web site about an Anglican Mission church. We weren’t Anglican. But that didn’t seem to matter. It was a gracious invitation to broken people. They were meeting in the choir room of a Lutheran Church around noon. We went to church there the next Sunday and heard the most amazing sermon on the gospel text. We talked about that sermon for weeks. Sometimes, years later, we still talk about it. The little mission church didn’t survive. I’ve been praying that Austin would try again to plant a mission church. It seems he has been nudged in other directions. What do you think? –AECRM
MISSIONAL MONASTICS IN THE OLD PUEBLO?
A few more thoughts on the call to mission and the moment in which we live:
Let’s take the city in which I live, Tucson, AZ. My attitude toward Tucson is perhaps analogous to that of Jonah’s toward Nineveh. I hate it here. I don’t want to live here. I want to go home, to Alabama. As I have reflected on my relationship to this place, the only Biblical character I relate to is the much-maligned missionary who’s tale nearly ended in the belly of the whale.
And, given God’s sense of humor — the sense of humor that makes prophetic resentment the prophet’s ministerial call — my relationship to Jonah makes me nervous. I’m stuck here. Does that mean He has something for me to do here? To stay? O Lord, anything but that…
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
When I was in college, lo these many years ago, I loved Tucson. It was quirky, gritty, and “real.” (Yes, I know, I’m an X-er…) There was both high culture (if you knew where to find it) and low culture. It was a place that sort of marked the intersection of a working class border town with middle class America. It was both a town of bookstores and it’s University as well as a town of Norteno music and its Old West heritage.
Today Tucson is very, very different. it’s a city where industry has departed, where hope goes to die, and where its 25% unemployment and 20% poverty rates are revealed in part by the long lines in front of the Department of Economic (in)Security offices every morning. (Sort of the 21st Century version of the Depression era soup lines.)
Beyond this, Tucson is a city of over 1 million people where only 7% of the population attends church 4 or more times per year. It is estimated that the churched population (not, notice, the converted population) is around 3%.
To put that in hard numbers, out of 1,000,000 people in the Tucson area, no more than 70,000 people darken the doors of any church even once a quarter. And no more than 30,000 are even somewhat regular churchgoers.
In other words, at best, Tucson has 930,000 100% unchurched people living in it.
930,000 COMPLETELY unchurched people live here. Nine hundred, thirty thousand. 930,000.
That’s more than the population of Luxembourg and Belize COMBINED. There are slightly more Christians in Tucson, percentage-wise, than there are in Algeria. ALGERIA.
And, if my discussions with Tucsonans is any measure, most of them are also almost entirely ignorant of Jesus, the Gospel, Scripture, or Christianity in general. But, if my discussions with Tucsonans is any measure, many of them are very interested in knowing more about those same things.
In other words, One needn’t go overseas to find the mission field. The mission field is right here.
But how does one reach such a population?
Poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, sexual immorality, crime, endemic unemployment, broken families, sexual and physical abuse, high levels of psychiatric disorders, functional illiteracy, useless schools… This is Tucson.
As I have observed these things, prayed over these things, discussed these things, ministered to these people, and worked in a variety of fields here, I have come to a tentative conclusion.
What is needed to redeem and to transform this city is the Church.
I don’t mean that we need more churches. What we need is the Church. What is needed is God’s people being God’s people among broken people living in a broken city. What we need is dedicated, missional Christians willing to set aside their rights and their preferences to sacrificially live as a missional community here in this place. What we need is people willing to serve the people of this city as slaves to Christ and to the 930,000 people Jesus wants to see enter into His rest and joy.
So here’s a part of what I’m thinking. It’s something of a ‘what if’ fairie tale. It’s something right out of the realm of fantasy. It’s something as well from the historical record of the world-changing efforts of the Irish monks of the post-Roman world.
What I’m thinking is this: Imagine the difference that could be made if even 100 people (50 couples) came here and lived distinctly and missionally as the Church. Imagine 5-10 ministry couples (that is, 5-10 pastors and their wives), plus another 40-45 lay couples moving into the very center of this place, finding work, living winsomely and faithfully as cross-cultural missionaries in the midst of this broken place.
In other words, imagine a modern monastic community, living not in seclusion, but in service, right here in one of the least evangelized places in the US, if not the world.
What would Jesus do here then?