Getting Missional In The Suburbs
Why missional Christians should be neighbourhood leaders.
When Jesus told us to love our neighbours, he really meant it. Love, by all counts, is primarily an action. It should come then as no surprise to grasp that what marks true Christ followers is not right theology, modest speech or a moral lifestyle. Rather, it’s the measure of our love for one another that shows the world we are disciples of Jesus (John 13:35).
Being missional is a really basic concept. It simply means that wherever we are and whatever we do, we adopt the posture of a missionary. Missionaries are sent to a certain people in a certain context. Missional living, then, is about being sent to the people around you—your neighbours, your work colleagues—the people you do life with day in, day out. It's not about adding something else to your already busy schedule. It's about seeing where you're already deployed and thinking intentionally about how you can be a blessing to those in your sphere of influence. In this vein, life happens and you get to display and proclaim the Gospel (good news of Jesus) in the context of genuine relationships.
Missional Christians should pastor their streets, bless their neighbours, welcome the foreigner and engage their community with the good news. We are called to love, to serve and to bless others. Love, as Jay Pathan and Dave Runyon explain in their book Art of Neighboring, is an end to itself. Regardless of how people respond, our mission is to remain steadfast in reaching out and shining the light of God’s kingdom wherever we are.
We need not look on this as a burden but as a joy because the missio dei (Latin for God's mission) has already begun. We don't go out and start our own mission, as if God is somehow waiting for us to get our stuff together first. Rather, God invites us to partner with him in His story of redemption by joining him in His mission. We are His instruments; His ambassadors sent into a foreign land to represent the King.
Here are six simple ways to help you become a neighbourhood leader.
1. Throw a neighbourhood party
The hardest part about this is getting past the awkwardness of meeting people for the very first time. My wife and I have made an annual tradition out of a neighbourhood Christmas BBQ party. We are always pleasantly surprised with the high amount of interest coming from people who were totally unknown to us. We walk our street handing out invitations and talking to people we either hadn't had a conversation with yet, or those we have gotten to know quite well. Many came, even those who we thought wouldn't. It was a good time to celebrate (over food), to connect with people and to listen to their stories. We see this as an opportunity for our family to be a beacon of light in our street and to see the people living closest to us get to know each other better.
2. Invite people into your home
I genuinely believe the apologetic of our day is authenticity. And one of the best ways to show hospitality is to be vulnerable enough with your personal space by inviting people to “enter in” to your life. Being generous in this area helps us imitate Jesus and humbles our hearts to see the kingdom come right in our very homes. Don't make your abode such a place that only you get to enjoy it. Get out of the comfort zone and enter the faith zone so that your place of residence becomes a place for ministry.
3. Join a local group
Connecting with people who share a common interest is a great starting point for meaningful relationships. This could be a health and fitness group, a sporting team, or some other kind of thing that draws people together. You’ll be surprise what you can find through a simple online search if you do a little research in your local area. The Greater Springfield area is dotted with all kinds of groups just waiting to be accessed. And if there isn't a local group for what you're into, why not start one yourself. People will generally show up to stuff if it is well organised and decent enough for there to be a sense of meaning and people to connect with.
4. Hang out at the same places
This practice can have great benefit if you do it consistently well. Slow down, observe, listen. Who are the same people you tend to see day in, day out? Learn their names. Learn their story. Weave yourself into the fabric of your local neighbourhood so that people recognise you as being an integral part of it. This could be a park you regularly take your kids to, a cafe you’re often at or even a public transit stop. Wherever people congregate, it is an opportunity to know and be known to people.
5. Survey your street
By this I don't mean going door to door selling the Gospel. Sure, people need it but as messengers we do not want to make our methods a stumbling block to anyone. Instead, simply be present in your street. Be in the front yard. Walk along your footpath at different times during the day. Begin to notice things. What kind of people live near you? Where do they work? Where are they going? All this information helps you understand the needs of the people you intend to reach.
6. Leave room for margin
This mightn't sound like much, but it could make all the difference in being available for the Holy Spirit to use you. The Good Samaritan was no doubt on his way somewhere else, but the details that made him famous was the story of his interruption. Don't cram your life so tight that you’re bursting at the seams, but leave time especially for interruptions - to lend a hand to people in need, to talk to your neighbours out front.
I’ve found the BLESS acronym incredibly helpful as a way of thinking about how I can normalise mission in my own life. I hope it helps you to be a blessing to others (Genesis 12:2-3).
B - Begin with prayer
L - Listen
E - Eat
S - Service
S - Story
First, talk to God about your neighbour, before you talk to your neighbour about God. Be praying for your neighbours, often. Pray for them by name. Ask God to open pathways into their lives. Introduce yourself to them. Invite them into your house and listen to their story over a meal. Work out how you can best meet their current needs; their daily struggles. And as you develop a genuine relationship with them, through love and compassion, show them how their story fits into God's story and point them to the main person in that story—Jesus. At all times, we’re either proclaiming or displaying the Good News about Jesus.
Jesus saves us, changes us and calls us into his mission. It will cost you a good deal of vulnerability but the results are totally worth it! So go on, be a leader in your neighbourhood. Get amongst the lost people around you and see Jesus show up!