What if God is inviting us to let go of some of our defaults in order to join the Spirit in our neighborhoods?
As those on the Neighbourhood Life (NL) journey in Edmonton attempting to do just that, we are discovering, among other things, a number of shifts in our thinking and doing that illustrates for us the new ways God is calling us to be a place-based church and participate in God’s mission right where we live. Here are five tips to become a plant-based church.
I. Not Focusing on the Event
We are learning through experience that it isn’t about what we are doing—the event, gathering or project—as much as it is about the being: being there, being ourselves, being available and attentive amongst our neighbors.
Neighborhood get-togethers are opportunities for connection and for nurturing relationships. Participants share how freeing it is to just hang out, and not worry about inviting people to church or making a Gospel presentation.
One participant with evident enthusiasm, amazement, and gratitude relayed how it felt so good just to walk down their street as a family and enjoy numerous chats and spontaneous visits with neighbors. They talked about how often the Spirit led them into deeper conversations.
II. Following a God Who has Left the Building
Participants in NL are amazed, motivated, and intent on discovering what God is doing beyond the church building.
Stories are about God at work in their neighborhoods and their neighbors. They talk about how every neighbor bears God’s image. They share stories about neighbors ministering to them and exhibiting Kingdom character and care. There is a profound recognition that God is so much bigger and better “than we have made Him.”
As one participant often responds, “Yeah God!”
III. Recognizing It’s Not About Being Volunteers or Service Providers
The question is, “Are we good neighbors and how can we be better ones?”
NL participants recognize that what our neighbors and our churches want and need in each other are allies, citizens, and authentic relationships that enhance the social fabric of the community and the well-being of all.
Conversations emphasize the incarnational, coming alongside nature of the Gospel and its significance in our neighborhoods.
IV. Appreciating the Small and Slow
We lament how ingrained the cultural assumption is that more, bigger and faster are better.
And we find it liberating to trust and embody small and slow, letting go of the need to prove ourselves, get results, and make it count on the church success or growth chart. We celebrate ordinary conversations over the fence, families helping other families and kids setting up lemonade stands while figuring out the next small steps to which God might be calling us.
Stories about the spiritual interest and engagement of neighbors remind us that the Spirit is leading us into deeper conversations and insights into the lives of our neighbors without feeling any pressure to “seal the deal.”
V. Involving children as necessary members
Our children seem to naturally and imaginatively live into neighborhood life. They, as one parent exclaimed, “love it!” Another family told of how their boys were frequently having difficulty at “regular” Sunday school but were eager to participate in new Community.
These same boys recently explained to their parents that they needed to have a spring party so that everybody (that is their neighbors) could be together again. Another parent told of how their daughter decided that she and her family would host a front lawn neighborhood tea party one afternoon and they did!
One Mom confessed that it was their child who pushed them to “do something” for the neighbor down the street who was not well. My own daughter too feels a part of our communitas, shares her musical gifts, and participates in the community life.
A New Set of ‘P’s for the Place-Based Church
It seems that, as “out there” as this Neighbourhood Life sometimes seems to be, God is at work in us! We are making a shift to a new set of ‘P’s as we engage in our neighborhoods.
We are moving from ordering our lives around pews, programs and professionals to postures and practices shaped by place, proximity, presence, particularity, people, and of course—pubs! We are more and more aware that our conversations, which prompt and surround and shape our common life, are connecting us with the wind of the Spirit as we live in gratefulness and engage such imaginative futures.
Won’t you join us in catching the wind of the Spirit right where you live? We’d love to hear what God is teaching you/your community as you step out and into life in the neighborhood.
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