John 1:14 from the Message reads:
“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
There’s something significant, inspiring, and mysterious that the Creator of all things dwelt in a neighborhood.
That God would care to be known in a simple and tangible way to humanity is a powerful reflection of the incarnation. It makes God from “way out there” accessible, known, touchable even, to me right here.
This picture is a key window into the Christian faith. Incarnation means our God is a contextual God. Regardless of where you live in the world, your language, your color, your culture, even your century, the revelation of the Savior is translatable to your context. What are we to do with this reality? Our role is to participate and bear witness to the hope and dream God is presenting the world.Incarnation means our God is a contextual God. ~ Rohadi Click To Tweet
God is as a sending God who sent The Word to dwell among us. In the same way we as the church are sent. In what way? As the Word came to dwell in the neighborhood, we must determine how we are present in our own. Sometimes that’s easier said than done.
Centering presence in neighborhood was common for parish churches. When my grandma started attending a service decades ago this is how the church postured itself. A lot has changed since then. Today, many contemporary churches have moved away from a posture of presence in the neighborhood.
We have adopted an insular approach to church community built to match consumer comforts, entertainment, and network. The commuter church has replaced local parish community. Thankfully, while many existing pastoral leaders pine for mega-church growth, many other planters understand re-orienting church function to embody neighborhood presence is one of the strongest ways to build longevity in our changing culture.
That’s an important shift because be it grandma’s church from yesteryear, or contemporary churches, the church today can no longer assume inherited place in the day to day lives of Americans. We need to re-imagine more and new pathways to build relationships outside of the comforts of Christian culture. We can start with those who are literally close to us–our neighbors.
Moving into the neighborhood as Christ did is crucial to develop deeper roots in place. The revaluation of local presence is our tangible incarnate practice to embody.
How is your church plant faithfully present in your neighborhood? What are the challenges and impediments preventing faithful presence? Reflect on this for a moment.
Let’s overgeneralize and broadly put church planting into two basic categories or approaches. One is the plant whose nexus point is the church service, where the majority of money, effort, and focus goes into the production.
The next is the plant whose focal point is an affinity group or specific neighborhood. Both will undoubtedly have some interest connecting with their local neighborhood, but they won’t necessarily share the same level or approach.
The first plant may compartmentalize neighborhood connection as a subset of overall church function. We call this “outreach”.
With a central focus to embody mission in the neighborhood, the second will see relational connection as an integral component of community rhythm and life. The difference is the result.
The extent the first will connect with their neighborhood will be determined by the success of the outreach program carried about by volunteers.
The second will hopefully release a group of disciples who embody God’s mission throughout every activity. Another contemporary term for this approach is “missional living”.
Mission as the Lens
If the calling to live out the Great Commandment of loving thy neighbor is fundamental, we need something deeper than mere outreach. After all, mission isn’t a program of the church, it is the lens through which we describe the entire function of the church.
Let’s pause and ask again. How is your church faithfully present in your neighborhood?
We need to pray for eyes and ears to see and hear what is already happening in our midst. The next step is to merely join. For new plants moving into the neighborhood, this might look like listening to the stories of the neighbors and key third places in your midst. For a more traditional plant, consider what is already happening in the lives of the congregation and join.
In part two, I’ll go deeper to explore some pragmatic pathways used to unlock neighborhood presence.
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