Wednesday, February 10, 2010
For Missional Living.
One of the first questions I asked in my interview with Littleton was, "If Littleton was to close its doors, would your immediate neighborhood be impacted at all?"
This question haunts me at night. We're mainly a regional church. So much of our growth over the years has come from transfer growth from the South. But what kind of impact are we making on our neighborhood?
The Message (Eugene Peterson's translation of the Bible) says it so well in John 1:14 - "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood." God, himself, who created all things moved into a specific location on the earth. He lived, moved, and ministered in a neighborhood. God understood, in Jesus Christ, that no ministry is one-size-fits-all. It's specific to culture, language, and location. So, Jesus was born a poor Jew in the first century during the reign of Herod and Caesar, which should be important to us.
For years, ministers have gone to conferences and tried to implement the next great fad to help their church grow. We've thought, "If one church (Saddleback, Willow Creek, etc.) grew in this way, then we, too, can grow in the same way. So, ministers tirelessly go to conferences to stay current on the next great "church growth" strategy. And I believe churches have grown tired of following fad after fad trying to grow.
But God has called us, as the body of Christ, to move into the neighborhood again. We're not looking for the next great parcel of land in the spreading suburbs that will multiply our numbers and make us look great. At the Littleton Church, we're committed to our neighborhood and seeing that God's kingdom will come and his will be done in this neighborhood as it is in heaven. We've moved into the neighborhood and we're not going anywhere.
Now, that decision means that we will have to get to know our neighborhood better. Demographic studies aren't going to help us impact our neighborhood. What will change our neighborhood is when our people get to know our neighbors. Change will happen when we enter our neighbor's lives, sit at their tables, and listen to the way the Spirit is inviting a new imagination about being church in this context.
In their book "Introducing the Missional Church," Alan Roxburgh and Scott Boren, have talked about the church's mission like this:
"The task of the local church in our present situation is to reenter our neighborhoods, to dwell with and to listen to the narratives and the stories of the people. We are to do this not as a strategy for getting people to church but because that is how God comes to us in Jesus, loving us without putting strings on the relationship. It will be in these kinds of relationships that we will hear all the clues about what the Spirit is calling us to do as the church in that place. But this is not a strategy we take to a context; it is a way of life we cultivate in a place where we belong."
Now, wouldn't that change your church! Imagine that! What if the church stopped worrying about growth at any cost and starting thinking about impacting the neighborhood.
Have you ever thought about Jesus' impact on the earth. He could have had a greater impact by traveling all over the world in a jet sharing his message of good news with those in the Western Roman Empire and the Far East, but instead, he chose to stay in an area about the size of New Jersey. It's not the large-scale mission plan we might have thought up.
Christ moved into the neighborhood and eventually changed the world. Perhaps the church needs to take its cues from Jesus. It's time for us to move into the neighborhood and perhaps God will change the world again!