This morning I read a post from Dan White Jr detailing a way of journeying back into our post quarantine neighborhoods. It is very insightful and empowering, especially if you have little or no experience living into your place. It inspired me to reconnect with a project that I had been working on prior to our extended timeout. Despite my best efforts I always seem to come down on the side of being an instigator or, as some would classify it, pain in the ass. I’m choosing to spiritualize my role and use the biblical term of prophet. What it means is that I have this inner burning to call the church to something beyond it’s current state. For most of this past decade I have been relentlessly pushing, prodding, taunting, encouraging, begging, and whatever else you might see it as, the community affectionately known as the Church to follow its leader into a life giving and redemptive posture in the places we find ourselves. Call it missional, parish, or neighborhood expression. Call it whatever you like … just call it beyond the attractional “come to our building this Sunday” lane that we’ve been in for generations. For years, as I’ve been coaching and encouraging anyone who has an interest in establishing a neighborhood presence for their church, my wife and I have led one of these expressions in Seattle neighborhoods. I don’t want to be one of those leaders calling people to something they’d never do themselves. I think I learned that from Jesus.
One of the most useful and helpful practices we have developed for ourselves over the years is a method for spiritually mapping the neighborhood we are seeking to be present in. Like most of our practices, they develop over years of use and at some point I step back and put language to it. The photo above is recording of the moments when this method, in a matter of 5 minutes, mysteriously became coherent words on a white board. In this short span of time, everything we had been practicing for the past decade found a language that I could translate. Over these past months, as I and many of my colleagues have been wrestling with this moment in history and how we might adapt in the emergence of a new era, this picture has been pushing at the back of my mind. Even as I have recently used this site to plead for a new imagination from church leaders, this image has been knocking annoyingly in the background. I have finally concluded that this language might actually be useful in giving some practical “how to” practices for church leaders interested in leaning in to a brave new world of opportunity. I have been so encouraged, these past weeks, to see the creative ways in which churches have sought to meet some practical and physical needs of their neighbors. During the same time I’ve been discouraged by how many churches are simply, uncomfortably, awkwardly, selfishly, focused on enduring and biding their time until they can get back to their comfortable role of spiritual dispensaries. Maybe it’s the prolonged effects of quarantine speaking, but today I’m going to choose optimism and place my bets that, for some of those biding their time, they really long to be a loving presence in their place. They just don’t have any idea where to begin.
I’m beginning a series of posts that follow this assumption and sharing how we, and others like us, have been able to establish life giving, redemptive presence in our neighborhoods. In the rest of this and the following four posts I will give you a place that each one of us can find in our communities. I will then give you the purpose of your group entering in to that space as well as some practical ways in which partnerships are formed, people are served, and Jesus is seen.
These places come in many shapes and sizes in a given community. Think Chamber of Commerce or Community Council. Think neighborhood action committee, business leaders, parks department.
- Collaborative – Frequently I get asked the question, “How do we get involved in my neighborhood?”. My answer is always the same. Just show up. All a group needs in order to know if you value your place is your presence at one of their gatherings, one of their events, one of their projects. All you need to do is show up with a willingness to help. Gifts are not just to be exercised in your church … offer your talents in ways that serve these organizations. Partner with them. Be an enthusiastic collaborator in the good things that happen. This communicates shared value. One other thing … when you show up, shut up … about your faith I mean, or your church, or anything else for that matter that communicates ulterior motives beyond your desire to be constructively helping to be about goodness in your shared community. Put your church flag away. Since this is not a “one and done” type of effort, over time you will have plenty of time for your faith to be shown and even shared. I cannot tell you how much more powerful your Christian witness becomes when partners see it in action long before they hear it. I live in a very skeptical neighborhood when it comes to churches and people who attend them. My former evangelical lens of seeing every opportunity as a place to verbally proclaim the gospel would have led me to believe that the only way to bring about goodness in the neighborhood would be to get as many as possible into the church building and baptized. This is a dead end here. Groups that had pursued this were never invited to a seat of influence. Because of our obvious love for our community, demonstrated simply by our continual presence, we’ve been invited in to the best and most life giving opportunities that this neighborhood presents.
Look for Part 2 … Cultural spaces and an opportunity for creativity