Jesus Posture: Can the Church Move into the Neighborhood?

Thessaloniki was the capital of and largest city in Macedonia, a Greek metropolis. When Paul, Silas and Timothy arrived, they immersed themselves into this pagan community’s life and culture. They were imitating what their Lord and Savior did “God became flesh and moved into the neighborhood (John 1:14 MSG).”

These disciples settled, got jobs and got to know the people. They went going with them to the synagogue on the Sabbath. According to Luke (Acts 17), a number of people believed the good news, including some Jews, lots of Greeks and not a few prominent women.

Posture

There were those who didn’t weren’t too happy about this. They tried different ways to squelch this new community, including discrediting Paul and his companions. In several of his letters, Paul addresses those accusations. He encourages the new believers by reminding them of the hope they have in Jesus and the promise of His return. As he does, Paul reveals to us an awful lot about how the Thessalonians came to receive the message and believe it. He reveals the posture that he, Silas and Timothy had taken up in that neighborhood. Paul’s posture helps us understand how to be bearers of good news in our neighborhoods today.

Indeed this text seems to resonate with our current context in many ways. I encourage you to dwell in 1 Thessalonians 2 — what were these sent ones up to and how? I listed at least 20 things as I read and reread this chapter. Over the next few months, I would like to explore some of the postures and practices of these first disciples/missionaries in this community and how we might similarly bear witness in our neighborhoods today.

… we were like children among you. Or we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children. We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.

Don’t you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how hard we worked among you? Night and day we toiled to earn a living so that we would not be a burden to any of you as we preached God’s Good News to you. You yourselves are our witnesses—and so is God—that we were devout and honest and faultless toward all of you believers. 11And you know that we treated each of you as a father treats his own children. We pleaded with you, encouraged you, and urged you to live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:7-12)

So Much

How much love are we talking about?

“We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.”

Imagine loving your neighbors so much…

  • As much as good parents love their children (verses 7b and 11)
  • So much so that you are open and vulnerable with them, like children, (verse7a)
  • So much so that you do life together, verses 9 and 10 and aren’t afraid to urge and encourage in love, (verse 12)
  • We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.  (verse 8)

What would it look like if followers of Jesus shared life with their neighbors, loving so much? How significant a shift would it be for the church to let go of its modern assumptions and actually live among their neighbors and learn to share life together.

What if we could “love them so much?”

Shifts

This posture would mean a shift from…

I could go on and I suspect so could you! The implications of the church becoming just a fellowship of Christ followers living amongst and loving their neighbors are staggering.

Just Loving

Did I say “just?” Just loving Jesus and loving our neighbors? Just sharing our lives and the Gospel in so doing.

If the church could do just that…imagine….

Imagine what sharing our lives might look like….

  • A couple of times a week, neighbor kids come and play on your backyard swing set and you visit….
  • You share a few meals together with those on your block each week too- one brings the ham, the other the salad and potatoes…
  • Sunday afternoon you and a neighbor go to a concert together….
  • Monday night the next door neighbor comes over with flowers and asks if you can keep an eye on her home while she is away…
  • Wednesday mornings a number of the women walk dogs together for an hour…
  • Thursday after school, a neighbor tween rings the doorbell for their house key because he and his little sister are locked out and you have a key to their home for just such an ‘emergency’…
  • Thursday evenings once a month its the neighborhood book club… Friday mornings there’s yak’n snack…
  • Friday afternoon it’s a PD day and your neighbor and her kids are baking and ask if you have any cupcake liners handy….
  • Saturday morning some neighbor guys go mountain biking. Then you rent a wood splitter together and work for hours going from yard to yard splitting wood. All ages are welcome, 11-year-olds alongside 65-year-olds and a few in-between!
  • Another neighbor couple who want to contribute to the neighborhood park you have been helping organize. They come for tea to share their ideas….
  • Every other Monday the “Love Your neighbor” group gets together to eat, pray, attend to Scripture and the neighborhood. They are meeting to ask “what is God up to and how can we partner with Him?” Then they make plans to do it!
  • And God is present and at work in all things. God is present as you love and live among, sharing your lives together. Others experience the Kingdom of God come near because you are near! You, the followers of Jesus in the midst are embodying that good news.

Who Jesus Says You are

Jesus says “you are.” He does not say ‘you will be’ or ‘when you…’ or ‘if you…–

You are…

…flavour enhancing salt;

…warm, inviting light;

…the sweet aroma of Christ as irresistible as the smell of fresh baking or roast turkey!

But let’s be honest: if we remain in our buildings and programs and Christendom modes of being, how will they taste and see, smell and hear?

The Kingdom of God will not be near.

May I suggest three ways to get started?

  1. Make space for moments…to share life.. to do life as a neighbor.
  2. Pay prayerful attention to your neighbors and your neighborhood.
  3. Come alongside and participate in what God is already doing right where you live.

A “Life Together” Story

A story from one of our neighborhood ‘Life Together’ gatherings will serve to illustrate.

Most of our neighbors would agree that Jesus was a good teacher so, ‘what did he teach and does it still apply today?’ is a conversation they are willing to have. We gather over appetizers from 4:30-6 PM once a week, and then share a great potluck dinner.

One Sunday, one of our neighbors led us in what she called a ‘ritual.’ She had learned it at a contemplative listening retreat. She asked us to be silent and still for one minute (which is a long time for kids-and some adults!) We were then invited to share whatever ‘spirit’ was on our heart after she ‘awakened’ us with the gentle ringing of a bell.

Each person was to express the word that described what had come to mind and heart for them, saying, “To the spirit of….” And then the rest of us would respond together, “awaken us.” We were all quiet, and a calm settled over all but the blue jays (who refused to cooperate!).

The bell tolled, and after a moment, a neighbor said “to the spirit of love”, “AWAKEN US.”  A seven-year-old said, to the spirit of happiness…”awaken us”… “to the spirit of gratitude”, chimed in the retired gentleman next to her…”Awaken us,” we responded; to the spirit of forgiveness… to the spirit of fellowship… community… redemption…peace… neighborliness…awaken us!

Round and round we went until the leader explained, “Normally you just go around once, but I didn’t tell you that. I’m kind of glad I forgot to, because that was beautiful.” And it was.

Later another participant was so excited about the experience she could hardly express herself as she tried to describe it to her husband who had come in late. We all agreed we would do it again.

Sharing our lives begins with making space for moments amongst our neighbors.

“Loving our neighbors is preceded by becoming a neighbor” (Robert Lupton).

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Image credit Lindsey Turner

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Dr. Karen Wilk
Dr. Karen Wilk is a National Team Member of Forge Canada’s Missional Training Network, and a Missional Leader Developer for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Karen is the Lead Catalyser of Neighbourhood Life/NEW (Neighbourhood Engagement Workers) Community in Alberta, where she actively engages church leadership in moving their congregations out into neighborhoods. She has been a pastor in Edmonton for almost 28 years and completed a Doctorate in Missional Leadership at Northern Seminary in Chicago. Karen is the author of Don’t Invite Them To Church: Moving From a Come and See to a Go and Be Church. She is also a neighbor, wife, mom, and minister who is leading her own neighborhood community.
Dr. Karen Wilk

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