The Idol Hath Fallen – the Financial Crisis and the Reshaping of the Landscape for Mission

I recently sat with a couple at our church discussing church planting. I pointed to the immediate neighborhoods, many of which have 4-5 bedroom homes and 2 cars. I said “do you realize, if you have no debt, you are now richer than 25% of the people who live in these neighborhoods, because 25% of these people are underwater on their homes, cars, credit cards etc. They have no equity and are working 70 hours a week to keep from going further in the hole.” The change in the financial landscape of our country in just the last two years is staggering and it has changed the focus of millions of people over night. I contend it could be changing the culture for a new openness to Mission as well. As a result – for those who can live simply, beneath their means, with no debt -the opportunity for Mission is unparalleled.Let me explain the shift in culture as I see it. In the post World War 2 period, people looked at jobs, money, houses in terms of the necessities of life. We went to a job to earn an income to support our families and if we were Christians to contribute to the Kingdom of God. We bought a house (we could afford) in order to live in it. We were not obsessed with having a large sum of money for retirement that would enable us “to maintain our lifestyle” (insurance salesman lingo that became canonized in American life as part of what every person should do if he/she is responsible). Starting in the 80’s however, our jobs became “careers” for personal fulfilment, our homes became idols of excess pouring thousands of dollars into upgrades, our money became a scorecard of our success. Each of these things became identity shaping idols. And these idols squeezed out community, Mission and even family from everyday American life. The obsessive focus on these idols emptied American life of depth, meaning and purpose beyond the thin veneers of American consumerism. The zenith of this excess reached its peak in these last 5-10 years. Today we are seeing the leveling of these idols. The idol hath fallen.I have argued that vast swaths of the American church has accommodated itself in some of the worst of ways to the values inherent in these idols. I believe the missional church movement has emphasized a different response to this culture: that we should live more simply, live beneath our means, reject these idols of career, house and money. We must come together to cultivate communal life, communal sharing, transformational practices that resist consumerism and above all the everyday participation in the Mission of God. Our jobs, our homes and our money each in turn become captive to God’s Mission.It is my opinion that the current financial crisis, its pure magnitude, is revealing the emptiness and falsity of the idols of the past thirty years of American life. I intend no gloating over this. Much pain is sure to follow. Yet amidst the crumbling home values, the new emptiness of work and the loss of community in our society, I believe Missional living (Acts 2.42ff) becomes compelling in new ways as it calls us to be a community of the redeemed, sharing one another’s burdens, offering each other housing when in need, sharing housing if need be, living simply beneath our means (even in the rich suburbs), offering help to the struggling (even those with a foreclosure sign on their front lawn). As the crisis unfolds, this could create a whole new openness for church as a Missional way of life. Could God be preparing the new fertile ground for His Mission in the United States? What do you think?

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