What can the church, especially the suburban or "out of the city" church, do to address the reality of inner city communities? It's a question that people ask me continually.
The list continues.
9) Churches should stress the spirituality of simplicity.
Over twenty years ago Richard Foster gave us his significant Celebration of Discipline, followed by Freedom of Simplicity. Revisiting these resources would be helpful for most congregations today. Materialism and the extension of a consumer culture and mindset into the everyday life and work of the church no doubt affects decisions made about the city and the relevance of its pain for the church's mission.
A commitment to simplicity in today's American culture is both a counter-cultural action and a matter of spiritual discipline.
When coupled with a strategy to off-load material resources to people living daily in situations of pressing need, simplicity can be powerful and life-changing all around.
10) Churches should consider supporting public policy changes that would require them to begin paying property taxes in their communities or voluntarily "tax" themselves with clear, justice-oriented priorities.
I know, I know. At this point you are questioning my sanity. Some may even be considering more drastic actions! But hear me out.
Most likely the political leaders of your community and mine will never propose this on their own. This one fact makes clear how much under-utilized influence churches have politically.
I read recently of a large church that set aside an amount of funding equal to what their local property tax bill would be if they had one. Every dollar of this fund was used in the congregation's community development work.
Interesting paradigm, huh?
Just last week I read an article in a local suburban newspaper that reported the taxable value of the real estate owned by several larger churches in the area. It was amazing to realize that the funds lost to the community totals in the millions, and that at a time when community need is clearly on the rise.
Several of the churches were avoiding annual tax bills of well over $100,000.
Churches and non-profits are tax-exempt because government assumes that these organizations are making an invaluable contribution to the good of the larger community.
Now there is an assumption that every church in America should prove up internally.
In other words, if church leaders had to justify their tax status in court based on the measurable good they performed in the community, would they pass the test?
What if taxing authorities imposed this burden of proof on faith communities?
What in fact are communities receiving in return for such tax abatements?
What if cities required churches and other communities of faith to devote a set percentage of their operations budgets to economic development, compassion ministries and consistent outreach to the poor? Such requirements would be nothing new to people who read the Bible with a view to establishing organizational agendas. The only difference would be that local government would expect the church to live up to its own teachings.
Churches can make a significant impact on urban reality. The question is seldom one of capacity, but almost always a matter of will.