WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?

What if the solution to our society’s biggest issues has been right under our noses for the past two thousand years? When Jesus was asked to reduce everything in the Bible into one command he said:

Love God with everything you have and love your neighbor as yourself. What if he meant that we should love our actual neighbors? You know, the people who live right next door.

The problem is that we have turned this simple idea into a nice saying. We put it on bumper stickers and T-shirts and go on with our lives without actually putting it into practice.

But the fact is, Jesus has given us a practical plan that we can actually put into practice, a plan that has the potential to change the world. The reality is, though, that the majority of Christians don’t even know the names of most of their neighbors.

We know that getting to know your neighbors can sometimes be intimidating. If you’re like us, when you watch the news you can’t help but feel overwhelmed. There are endless stories of child abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, teen pregnancy, out-of-control debt, and a laundry list of other issues. Not only does it make you want to turn the channel and escape, but it also makes you wary of strangers, even the ones that live on your block.

We know this isn’t the way it is supposed to be. This isn’t what Jesus envisioned for us and for our world. We know we can do more. And we know that we can’t just sit around waiting for someone else to do it. But it’s hard to know where to start. Right?

Start by looking around your own neighborhood. What problems do you see? The yard across the street is full of knee-high weeds. You know the husband just got laid off from work. Should you call code enforcement? Maybe the local government will be the one to help. Next door there are teenagers, and the smell of pot seeps out the windows on a nightly basis. You wonder if you should call the police. That will take care of the problem.

Won’t it?

There’s a family a couple of doors down with several children. It’s clear that none of them speak English very well, and you wonder if the kids are even in school. Should you contact someone in the school district? Surely they are equipped to handle this sort of problem. Aren’t they?

These problems aren’t hypothetical; they likely exist just outside your front door. We can always hope that somebody else will handle them. But what if we could be part of the solution? And what if the solution is more attainable than we think? What if it all starts with getting to know the invisible neighbors that surround us?

Have you ever wondered about the invisible family that lives in your neighborhood? You’ve never actually met them but you know they exist because you’ve glimpsed signs of life around their house. There’s the dad. You know him by the sedan he drives. When his garage door opens at 7:30 each morning, he’s already inside his car. The motor starts. He backs out of the driveway and takes off down the street. Each evening he zooms straight into the garage again. The garage door opens and then shuts, and he’s inside the house without a trace. Then there’s the mom. All you’ve glimpsed of her recently is her minivan. She zips their kids around to a mass of activities, probably going to soccer, karate, violin lessons, and playdates. You know about these activities mostly because of the different uniforms that the kids are wearing as they pile into the car. The stick-figure decal on the window is also helpful, a kind of suburban map legend on the rear window that tells the neighbors how many kids the family has and what they like to do. Their kids always seem to hang out in the backseat. You can’t really see much of them because the windows are tinted. But you can see the glow of the dual DVD players as the van passes, so you know they’re in there.

And what about the three middle-aged adults who live in the house on the corner? What’s their relationship, and why do they share the same house? And who lives across the street? There never seem to be any grown-ups around—only teenagers coming and going at all hours and playing their music really loudly. And why do the folks catty-corner leave their garbage cans by the curb for days? Do they travel a lot?

It’s so easy to draw negative conclusions about the neighbors we’ve only glimpsed. An unkempt yard, a slew of tattoos, a weird haircut, or loud music. It can all cause us to make assumptions about the people who live around us. But it’s these very assumptions that keep us from befriending them.

What if things could be different, though? What if we took the time to get to know the people next to us and discovered that they aren’t so menacing after all? Perhaps we’d find that the people on our block are normal people just like us. They go to work, hang out with their kids, and put their pants on one leg at a time. At the end of the day, they long for a place to belong, a place to be accepted and cared for. They want to do something significant with their lives, something that really matters.

What good things might happen if you truly got to know the people in your neighborhood and they got to know you?

Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, The Art of Neighboring

Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2012. Used by permission.

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Neighbourhood Matters

By Karen Wilk

Commuter Church. As associations of commuters, North Americans churches have functioned and sought to achieve their purposes in “spaces”. Commuter congregations occupy a generic space once or twice a week under the assumption that what we do there will attract and bear witness, disciple and grow those who attend and those whom we want to attend. As a result, the church is not a stake holder in the neighbourhood and while perhaps able to be a service provider and “do outreach” there, she is not an incarnational presence. Consequently, for church members who “volunteer” in this space, there is no sense of personal ownership or commitment. As “outside Christian volunteers,” we can choose when to engage, and can opt in and out of caring at all because we feel no particular responsibility for the people or the place. In contrast, as one Neighbourhood Life (NL) member noted, “being a neighbour makes it more real and integrated, like church is supposed to be – an extension into all of life – and neighbours can reveal how God works, how the world works and [thus] the context in which we live.”

Commuter church participation in a neighbourhood also fosters a certain response in the neighbourhood who is receiving the “volunteers and services”. The neighbours recognize that the church has its own agenda, and that it may, or may not, understand or have the best interests of the neighbourhood in mind. A number of NL/NEW participants told stories of such experiences, particularly of how difficult it was for them, “as the neighbourhood” to try to help the commuter congregation “get” what they were doing. For example, one NL couple awkwardly found themselves in the middle of a dispute between some neighbours and the commuter congregation who was planning to build a new facility in their neighbourhood. Indeed, a commuter congregation can engender negative responses from the residents as one church recently experienced. Their “community survey” revealed that residents were very frustrated with the parking habits of Sunday morning attendees.

Space Versus Place. The occupation of space as opposed to place however has deeper implications for the church than teaching commuter attendees where to park on Sunday mornings. It forces us to wrestle again with what it means to be the church. Can we fulfill our mandate as God’s people simply by doing good deeds somewhere/anywhere and going home? Might a church that operates in a space, a building which is not the “habitus” of its people, be missing something critical not only to its witness but to its identity and formation as the people of God? What did Jesus mean when He prayed for the church to be one? As the culture is rediscovering the importance of place; of “going local”, perhaps the Spirit is also nudging the church to re-examine what it means for her to be “the personal presence of Jesus by the Spirit in the world.”[1] “A disembodied church,” it has been quipped, “doesn’t have a leg to stand on!”

Contrarily, the good news in the Scriptures portrays a God who goes on mission in person and in place. The wonder of the Incarnation is the presence of the loving God in our ordinary, everyday lives. To this, the church is now made, empowered and called to bear witness in her very being – ”as an incarnational presence. If this be so, the postcommuter shift in our culture is an invitation from the Spirit for the church to think again about the implications of her formation in detached spaces around a myriad of affinities from doctrine to musical preference. Meanwhile, fresh expressions of church, such as Neighbourhood Life are seeking to do experiments as the Body of Christ in person and in place. In this new (old) paradigm, church is less about a space, a service and an organization and more about being a community of Jesus followers doing life together in a neighbourhood such that they alert others to His kingdom come near. “When we began to recognize the significance of neighbourhood, of place,” one NL Community participant–who is an elder in his commuter congregation– explained, “that’s when our congregation decided to be a community of communities and commit to this [neighbourhood life] but we were really the only ones who actually did it; measured and paid the cost.” Perhaps Michael W. Smith’s struggle to find his “place in this world” is actually the struggle of an ethereal church now stirred by the wind of the Spirit to reimagine what it means to be the people of God by finding her “place in this world.”[2]

Join Karen Wilk in Ontario Saturday May 27th!

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[1]. Craig Van Gelder, “Incarnating the Gospel in Culture” (DM 7613 Lectures, Northern Seminary, Chicago, IL, June 18-22, 2012). Emphasis mine.

[2]. Michael W, Smith, Go West Young Man, Album, 1990.

What if… by Karen Wilk

What if… every Christian in every neighbourhood in North America (and around the world?!) actually loved their neighbours, those with whom they live in proximity—

as Jesus loves?

What if…every Christian in every neighbourhood in North America (and around the world) sought Kingdom Shalom in word and deed for the community in which they lived?

What if…every Christian in every neighbourhood in North America (and around the world) joined together with every other Christian in their neighbourhood, and together manifested the tangible Presence of God in that place as the real flesh and blood Body of Jesus?

What if…as they were formed and transformed into the people of God in that place, others also participated and, together, they discovered more of who God is and what the Spirit is up to?

And what if…that formation became the determining factor for who they were and what they did?

And What if…as God did his work in, through and with them,

they became more like Jesus and less like consumers;

more like friends and less like service providers;

more like disciples and less like patrons;

more like radical followers and less like fans;

more like salt, light and a city on a hill

and less like an institution, a program and an event;

more like a community with a mission

and less like an organization with a strategic plan;

And WHAT IF…

God has moved into the neighbourhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. 

 —Revelation 21:3, The Message

 

 

Interested in learning how to neighbour better? Join Karen Wilk in Burlington May 27th.

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The Paradox of Evangelicalism

By Merv Budd

I am an evangelical. I am a minister of an evangelical church. I embrace evangelical theology. However, I am increasingly uncomfortable with the evangelical label. I am not referring to the narrow-minded, fundamentalist, right-leaning label given to us by the press; I am referring to the one that we have forged for ourselves.

What’s Evangelicalism Anyway?
We evangelicals are distinguished by four specific hallmarks: conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed; activism, the expression of the gospel in effort; biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible; and crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

As I have reflected upon my discomfort with the evangelical term I realize that it has less to do with the values themselves as much as it is the order in which we prioritize them, specifically, the crowning of activism as our first priority. We have become a people who are so busy, so active—arguably at an unhealthy, unsustainable pace—that we fail to properly reflect theologically on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

The tension within me comes as I recognize that as evangelicals we have compromised our biblicism because we are so busy. We have no time to think on God’s Word and spend time listening to the Christ we claim to be in a personal relationship with. The activism we have crowned as primary has undermined our evangelical commitment.

Jared-Rarick

Part of the irony is that our tradition as evangelical Protestants owes its identity to a reflective biblicism that realized that we are saved by faith and not by works. Sometimes when I grow cynical late at night I think that by becoming more evangelical we are becoming less Christian; less like Jesus. This post is not at all intended to be critical of us being doers of the Word; it’s just that I don’t think that much of our activity is primarily birthed from reflection upon God’s Word as much as an addiction to activity.

Running Backwards
What if the frenetic pace of activism that we have embraced is unattractive to those we desire to reach?

What if all of our evangelistic activism is ultimately undermining the goal of the activity by turning people away?

What if people really are looking for a life that is sustainable, and meditative, a life that is not so goal driven, that has time for people? This life is far less complicated: a life like Jesus lived.

Paul’s advice for an evangelistic strategy to the Thessalonians was to lead a quiet life so that they would win the respect of those who observed them (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). Peter urged wives to use the apologetic of a quiet spirit to show the attractiveness of their faith (1 Peter 3:1-4).

As evangelicals we need to be active, but perhaps we need to be actively engaged in study, mediation, prayer, and listening to God and teaching others to do the same. We also need to embrace the refueling principles of Sabbath rest and Jubilee celebration. My hunch is that our pragmatic aspirations that justify and drive our busyness will be satisfied far more deeply as we realize a renewed strength and a power from on high as we wait upon the Lord and reflect upon His Word.

Practices don’t always make perfection.

By Merv Budd

I recently picked up Lee Beach’s book, The Church in Exile: Loving in Hope After Christendom, and found my imagination grabbed by an observation he made regarding the call to holiness for God’s people. He said this:

Within the textual response to exile there is a call for the community to distinguish itself as a set-apart people through practices of holiness designed to bring a renewed sense of communal identity, specifically as a people separate from the practices of the larger culture.

I began to wonder, what are the practices of the larger culture that has shaped it into its present consumeristic, individualistic, secular-leaning orientation? And what, therefore, should be the practices of the church which will help to guard our hearts from the prevalent cultural currents?

It was while I was thinking about this that I happened to come across a statistic: according to the research of the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the average attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to just 8.25 in 2015. Just to put that into perspective, scientists believe that the average goldfish has a 9-second attention span.

CC Alexandra Rust

Consider the restlessness and activity addictions of the average Canadian. Watch how often teenagers reach for their cell phones whenever there is a spare second or pause in a conversation. People are training themselves to be distracted. The practice of being still, the discipline of mindful meditation, and the habits of pausing, thinking and reflecting are becoming increasingly rare.

I believe this agitation-driven need to do something, rather than simply be present, is one of the practices of the larger community that drives the consumer spirit of our age. It is destructive to the soul. For a people who reflect the nature of the God they serve, spending time (or is it investing time) in quiet and stillness is an essential practice in our quest to be a content, missional people.

Psalm 131:2 says it best:

But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.

What other “practices of the larger culture” do you think are contributing to the way things are? And what practices do you think are essential to helping form the church’s missional identity?

Welcome to the Missional Canuck

By Merv Budd

The Church in Canada has had a varied relationship with its host country. The stories of martyrs like Jean de Brébeuf, who was martyred in the 1600s, was part of costly witness the Church bore. The Parliament building has many Biblical verses etched into its walls and arches, and our national anthem is a prayer to God. The often unknown fourth verse says as much:

Ruler supreme, who hearest humble prayer,
Hold our Dominion, in thy loving care.

And yet, these are remnants of another time. Abuse, scandals, and an attitude of entitlement has eroded the favour and, dare I say, tolerance that Christians once held. The Church has become once more an exiled people. But perhaps we were always meant to have understood Canada as a foreign land. Perhaps the Church had grown too comfortable, too familiar and had neglected the mission she was meant to be on.

canada-flag

Of course we as the Canadian Church are not the only ones who have found ourselves relegated from the centre to the margins of society. Western Europe has led the way into post-Christendom, and America is not far behind us. But while their stories of exile are similar, and are appreciated, they are not ours.

The Missional Canuck is the blog of the Forge Missional Training Network in Canada: theologians and practitioners who are seeking to express the unique Canadian voice within the missional conversation.

We’re glad you’ve stumbled upon us and we hope that you will join us. Your comments and engagement with our content will help us all to navigate this new reality for the Canadian Church. We hope you sign up to get updates, but more than that, we hope that you join us in the journey.

Let us together reconsider how we can express love for God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, as well as loving our neighbours who are far from God and showing love for one another within the Kingdom of God—not only as citizens of the Kingdom, but as fellow exiles who reside in Canada.