But this is hard! I hear it all the time. In our culture, we don't live in proximity. This isn't practical. We commute to work. We commute to church. We commute to friends, and shopping and recreation. We live fragmented lives. Yes, I am well aware of this. We all collectively are battling these realities.
And yet in my previous paradigm of church, I found it was difficult to love my neighbor and to be present to those around me in my everyday life when I was always leaving it. For many good reasons I'm sure -- for church and for small group, for events and lots of other "good things". And yet, I struggled to feel like we were truly living into our vocation as followers of Jesus. So often our religious activity can actually lead us into some form of "escapism" from the world instead of a response to Jesus' commission to join in its renewal. I was busy. I was tired. But was I transformed? And was anyone around me experiencing the transforming love of God? Was there anything different or compelling about the way we were living out our faith? And was our community a better place to live because we were here?
This is why a million longings, thoughts and ideas landed and began to resonate deep within my soul as my paradigm began to shift. What if we could accept our own limitations and not run ourselves ragged, creating practices that were doable, communal and sustainable? What if we could step into the responsibility of caring for the people right around us in the places we live, work and play? What if we could participate in God's dream for our neighborhoods? What if our lives began to feel more whole as our work and church and social lives began to interweave and intersect? What if it was actually possible to share life, to bump into each other at the grocery store and the coffee shop, and to share in bringing God's shalom to our neighborhoods? What if we could begin to receive the richness of community as we slow down and partake in relationship and goodness right here under our noses?
Why do neighborhood? Because WE DESPERATELY NEED OUR NEIGHBORS. We, as human creatures, are wired to live in community. We need to be known and to know others. To give and to receive. To be a part of a larger whole. We cannot flourish nor will our communities flourish apart from this.
Why do church in the neighborhood? Because NO ONE GOES TO CHURCH ANYMORE. If you haven't noticed, that ship sailed a long time ago. Certainly in the context of a growing secular culture in Seattle, an invitation to church might be considered almost as outlandish as an invitation to an extra-terrestrial conference. Church today is simply irrelevant to most. But the story of God's renewal in the world is far from over. And the hunger for spirituality persists -- the longing for meaning and purpose and community. If we are to join God's healing work in the world, we must leave behind our comfortable, safe buildings and GO TO THE PEOPLE. Live among them. Build houses. Plant gardens. Settle down and work for the flourishing of our communities. [Jeremiah 29:5-7]
This is why I love the idea of church in the neighborhood. As a remedy to the fragmentation of our day. As the testing ground for our faith. As a way to live counter culturally into a new way of being the church. And as a sign and a witness to demonstrate what Jesus looks like in the context of our communities.
I know this is challenging. You probably live somewhere already. You most likely commute to church. You probably have a job already. You most likely commute to work. You might already have friends across town. You most likely commute to socialize. I get it. This was my life too. However, as I began to pray into the "what if's", slowly but surely I began to see God lead us into a new way of being the church. I would be lying to your face if I told you it has been easy or without cost. And there were many times along the way that I thought, "this is never going to work." And surely those times are still ahead. And yet four years later, we are beginning to taste the first fruits of being church in our neighborhood, and it is more compelling than ever.
So what if you prayed about moving intentionally into a neighborhood? What if you prayed about starting a business or finding a job in your local community? What if you began to ask God to connect you with other followers of Jesus in your own neighborhood so that you could begin to dream together? What if you changed just a few practices in your everyday lives - like putting your kids on the same soccer team as your neighbors? Or getting your cold brew at your locally owned neighborhood coffee shop? Or walking in your neighborhood? Or frequenting your local community concerts, events, and parks?
This is not easy. This is hard. This is what Jesus describes as the narrow road. And yet, as a faith community, we are going to lean into the discomfort. If we never get uncomfortable, we will never live beyond the status quo. And we will miss out on what God is doing. And we will certainly fail to innovate in a time when the church so desperately needs to innovate. And so yes, we are doing Neighborhood Sunday. And it is experimental. And clunky. And uncomfortable. And we will most likely fail and find new iterations. But we are going to try some things. And we are going to learn some things. And I believe that as we do so, we will continue to lean into God's dream for us and for our community.
Happy Neighborhood Sunday!
WANT TO DIG DEEPER? CHECK THESE OUT!
The New Parish
The Art of Neighboring
Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood
Five Hopeful Signs That Dare Us To Be The Church
RePlacing Church Podcast: The Innovative Church
by Jessica Ketola