Two questions that people often ask me about how to engage in the neighborhood where they live are; “What are some things I can do to engage in my neighborhood?” and “How do you ever find the time to get involved in the place where you live?”
Those questions, as simple and honest as they are, concern me.
What is Behind the Question
They are questions that can come from a place of weariness, compartmentalization and activity-based ministry. In my view this posture is not helpful if we want to truly engage with our community, authentically empowered by God’s love as disciples of Jesus.
Sometimes when I see the way that we Christians engage in the “work of being Christian”, I sense a kind of effort, striving and labor that seems to me to be out of kilter with the God who says “Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest.” Service in Christ is supposed to be restful and holistic yet we have turned service into another program to manage, an activity to drive and a process to control.
The Process of Formation
Our discipleship processes for instance are more about programs than a way of life. Our processes for formation and discipleship in Christian culture have been too programatic, event-oriented and have sadly sucked the life out of the adventure that living in union with Christ should be. That’s why the question “How do you have time to get involved in the place you live?” is concerning. This question comes from an exhaustion, a sense of hopelessness that engagement in the neighborhood is yet another thing that Christians must do and add into their already busy schedules.
We have compartmentalized our lives into “ministry” and “life” and so serving God becomes a chore. Instead of resting in the love of God and doing his mission from that place of trust, we push God into the religious spaces of our lives and strive to do God’s mission for him.
Joy and Desire
So Christianity becomes a bit like some kind of straightjacket or a girdle. It’s something stifling that we put on in order to help us manage our lives so that we might become better. But the problem is that our desires are left untouched. We desire to spend a comfortable evening at home yet the straightjacket says “Go and invite your neighbors over for a meal.” We desire to walk past the hungry homeless person yet the straightjacket says “Go and talk to her”. We desire to go and eat with our Christian friends and the straightjacket says “Go and turn up to that neighborhood meeting.” We sigh that this is the burden of ministry and what we must suffer as Christians in our duty for God.
But there is no joy in this. Instead, we need to see Jesus as the one who wants us to rest in him and wants to empower us for service as we absorb and live in his love. This may mean moving more slowly in service for God and perhaps even doing things more radically, creatively. It also may be more surprising than we thought.We need to see Jesus as the one who wants us to rest in him and wants to empower us for service as we absorb and live in his love. - Karina Kreminski Click To Tweet
The Spirit Leads
It then means that we don’t need to ask others what they are doing in their neighborhoods in order to mimic their strategies because the Spirit will be guiding us to do very particular and unique things in our own context. We won’t need to ask that question “What are some things that I can do to engage in my neighborhood?” We will be compelled to go to the places where those far away from God live and we will show up to their gatherings. Then the Spirit who is already at work there will tell us what to do next.
Sometimes I wonder if we have lost the courage and confidence to discern the Spirit for ourselves so we put into place programs that will tell us what to do. This feels safer to us. This produces the results we long for and gives us the control that we delude ourselves into thinking that we have.
There is nothing wrong with programs and learning from others in the way they uniquely engage with people in their local contexts. However, sometimes I feel as though there is a fear in people to listen for God’s Spirit themselves. When we take the time to listen, God does “show up” and he guides us into the next step of service for him. We can have confidence that God wants to speak to us.
So next time you ask “How will I find the time to engage with my neighborhood?” or “What can I do in my neighborhood?” have the courage to take yourself to your local café or park, sit down and pray “God speak to me and show me your heart for this place” You might be surprised at the result.
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