Recently my wife and I moved from Chicago’s western suburbs into the city. We lived in the suburbs for eight very good years. For five of those years I was an associate pastor at our church. While the church exhibited some socio-economic diversity, like most churches in the western suburbs it lacked noticeable ethnic diversity. Two years ago some friends of ours who pastor a church in Chicago asked if I would consider joining their pastoral staff. Their invitation was especially intriguing because New Community Covenant Church was founded six years ago as a multi-ethnic congregation.
I won’t bore you with the two years it took to finally accept their invitation. Suffice it to say that though we had never felt at home in the suburbs, leaving our community there was one of the most difficult things my wife or I have ever done.
I am now a few months into my new assignment as Pastor of Community Life at New Community and am convinced that the move into Chicago was the right thing. That is a great feeling! While transitioning into my new position I was reading Consuming Jesus. It was encouraging to read the book and notice all the ways that my new church was intentionally pursuing many of the things Paul Metzger articulates in the book. For example, for the past five weeks the church has gone through a sermon series called Race Matters. During this series the congregation has seen how reconciliation is at the very heart of the Gospel. We have been challenged in very practical ways to acknowledge the active or passive racism in our lives. In a couple of weeks we will offer breakout session for the black, white, Asian, Latino, and international folks in the congregation. Led by trusted facilitators, these sessions will be a time where people can be brutally honest as they confess, ask questions, and vent their frustrations.
In my role as Pastor of Community life I am responsible for the church’s small groups. One of the tricky things about New Community’s small groups is working towards diversity in our groups. I am finding that as new people wish to join groups I have to work closely with the small group leaders to find a group where the new person will experience the diversity that is so important to us.
Consuming Jesus addresses something that will be important for our church to continually be vigilant of: the affect of consumerism on racial reconciliation. Our church is mostly made up of young professionals, many who are making plenty of money. As we continually cast a vision for multi-ethnic and missional community that seeks to bless our city, we are aware that this regularly goes against the dominant paradigm of the city. We are currently raising money to lease a warehouse in the most troubled corner of our neighborhood. In addition to worshiping on Sunday mornings, this warehouse will allow us to have an incarnational presence in this neighborhood seven days a week. I am hopeful that as we ask the congregation to sacrificially give to this aspect of our mission we are also challenging patterns of consumption. Our presence in this under-resourced neighborhood will also make it clear how important socio-economic diversity is to the health of our church.
The type of reconciliation articulated by Paul Metzger is a lot of work! The divisions, skepticism, and complexities run deep. But after just a few months in a congregation who understands the significance of Gospel reconciliation I know there is nowhere I’d rather be.
David Swanson is the Pastor of Community Life at New Community Covenant Church and blogs regularly at http://davidswanson.wordpress.com.