By Cam Roxburgh
Move in. That was it. The sentence was probably a little longer but that was the greatest advice that I was given as a church planter.
I had just finished seminary and made a decision to plant a church for the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada. That was a great decision. But we needed a place to live and because of housing costs, began to look at homes 20 minutes away from the building we inherited from the Canadian Baptists. But as we walked the streets of the neighbourhood around the building, I began to feel that place in my soul. It was during one of those walks that a friend in the neighbourhood gave me the piece of advice that became so formative for me and Southside: “Cam, in order to make a difference in this place, you need to move in.” So I did. So we did. The whole core team of us. And it has made all of the difference.
In those early days we continued to walk the streets prayerfully attentive to what God was doing in the neighbourhood. After meeting with leaders from five other churches within a couple miles from our building, I discovered that only a few members of these congregations lived in the immediate area. In each of these congregations, something like ninety percent of the members had to drive into the neighbourhood for the worship gathering. They did not seem to engage this place. I knew that we needed to be different.
At the time, I was unaware of the magnitude of this decision. I think God led us in this and set us up to have both a great impact on our neighbourhood and a significant influence on churches across Canada. God has used our experience to help encourage others to move in as well. In every situation where we have been fortunate to speak into the plans of other church plants, we emphasize that moving in is of theological importance, and it is also good strategy.
In reflecting on how God led us into the neighbourhood, we have become convinced of the theological importance of place, for moving in reflects the nature and action of God. As Eugene Peterson translates John 1:14 in The Message, Christ “moved in to the neighbourhood” to dwell among us. We demonstrate the very nature of God by doing likewise. Strategically, moving in has also made us stakeholders in this place. The issues of the neighbourhood are now our issues as well. We are not just solving the problems of others, but we are entering into life with others and participating in the development of this place. When we started, it was an older neighbourhood undergoing rapid change. Moving in gave us the opportunity to participate with social service agencies and the local government to work toward solutions. We were able to demonstrate and bear witness to the fact that the Reign of God has come near.
Additionally, moving in has shaped and deepened our sense of God’s calling in profound ways. Being a part of the neighbourhood helped us to identify our calling as local missionaries. We believe that the church has drifted in its understanding of discipleship, and focused too narrowly on issues of holiness and worship. In no way should these be diminished, but by moving into the neighbourhood and encouraging all of our people to do so, we have discovered the reality that being a disciple means that we follow Jesus on mission into the very neighbourhoods where we live. Helping one another recognize the call of Christ to join Him in mission in the neighbourhood is an essential part of discipleship.Whether in this first neighbourhood, or in all of the subsequent neighbourhoods where we have planted, moving in remains an essential discipleship vehicle for understanding what it means to follow Christ.
When we planted 22 years ago, it seems that God had a vision for what He wanted to do with His people all across North America. Communities all across the continent are moving into the neighbourhood and discovering many similar things. We are only now learning to articulate the value and importance of this single comment from a neighbour, which has turned out to be the best advice I received in those early days.
Cam Roxburgh is the National Director for Forge Canada, the VP of Missional Initiatives for the North American Baptists, and the Team Leader at Southside Community Church in Vancouver, Canada. He lives in Surrey, British Columbia with his wife and four children.