Partiality in Church Planting
The second chapter of the book of James is one most of us are familiar with. We've heard countless sermons and have probably given countless talks on this very chapter, particularly related the devastating effects of showing partiality. Youth pastors burrow down on this message giving credence and credibility to the "uncool" kids in the youth group. Pastors talk about welcoming all who come into a worship gathering. While these are all applicable and true, I wonder how else we show partiality.
An obvious way is in the realm of church planting. How else do we explain that the vast majority of planters locate and land in more desirable parts of the city? Do we gloss this over by talking about such topics as "planting among people like us" or "moving to a place my wife likes?" Those must be a lot of the reasons because that explains why most planters go there and very little go over there.
Obviously it's more complicated than that and if you're a planter I know your initial reaction would be to push back. I'm not saying that your entire motive is to plant in livable communities, but I know beneath the veneer if you were brutally honest (which is painful) you'd recognize that it's at least part of your motives. It's like with any sin. It's easy to spot it there in someone else. But it's more difficult to see it within our our hearts.
Last week I was in east Portland teaching a class. I had a 1/2 hour class break, didn't pack any food, and so around dinner time I was starving. With not much time and a Taco Bell near(ish) I opted for there. Now mind you, I love Taco Ball (TB). Honest confession ... faux meat and everything. I also love people-watching at TB. Not in some sickened way, but I always enjoy playing armchair sociologist or demographer as I discern who lives there and why. This TB was abuzz with all kinds of drama. Parents yelling at their kids. One teenager yelled at her Mom telling her she need to get a job at TB because they're hiring. And that was only the tip of the iceberg.
Being located in a lower-income part of the city I wondered to myself what life was like. I certainly felt out of place with my blazer, slacks, and dress shoes. My mind immediately went to church planting. You see, I know of no church planters in this part of the city. Who would want to go there? Poverty, high crime, underperforming schools, lack of infrastructure and amenities, and this was a true hinterland. From city to city or small town to small town these hinterlands are looked over in terms of planting. They're not sexy, cool, nor appealing.
Are we running the risk of showing partiality by continuing to bypass these hinterlands to plant churches in more livable places?
I'd be the first to confess I have my own blindspots that as time goes on I become more and more acutely aware of. I'm not above this conversation and certainly have my own share of the ugliness of partiality lurking within my own heart. How do we wade through this conversation in terms of church planting to ensure we loving everyone in the city?