“Birger Nygaard once commented that he found the expression ‘missional church’ redundant. It sounds, he said, like ‘female women’. If it isn’t female, it isn’t a woman. Likewise, if it isn’t missional, it isn’t church. It may be a bunch of people doing religious things together, but if they aren’t committed to God’s mission in the world, they have (quite literally) lost the plot.” – Chris Wright, Five Marks of Mission: making God’s mission ours, 2015, Micah Global, Im:press, p33.
The Message paraphrase of John 1:14 reads; The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood, and in its simplicity, captures the beauty of the incarnation. At Rivers Baptist as we seek to follow Jesus, we believe we are called to incarnational mission; to being present in our local neighbourhood. So that’s the idea that stands very simply behind the way we do community engagement – find ways to move into the neighbourhood.
Sometimes this looks like church programs – for example mentoring in the local primary school and running a soccer club. Other times it looks like running ‘Open Church’ in a local café once a month instead of our usual Sunday night service. One of our newest experiments is simply to hang out at our local craft beer bar on a Thursday night to chat about life, faith and everything in between. It’s a place where we hope our friends who don’t feel comfortable walking into a church on a Sunday might find a welcoming community to do life together.
For us at Rivers, being present in our neighbourhood is more than just ‘turning up’, otherwise being present in the neighbourhood can end up as just another way we fill up our already overcrowded calendars. We need to be intentional in our presence. Being intentional means we don’t just run programs or hang out in places for the sake of it or because we are angling for a way to invite people to church. As we are present, we build relationships with people in our neighbourhood. This means we look for the opportunities to be Jesus to people, we take an interest in their lives, and we share about how our faith impacts how we live our lives. And this really isn’t that hard – actively pursue your own relationship with Jesus, be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, and it will just overflow into your conversations with others.
And maybe we also need to add be flexible and be inclusive to that….Jesus moved into the neighbourhood – he didn’t invite the neighbourhood into the temple. We need to be willing to be where people are….and many of them are at the local craft beer bar on a Thursday night or at Park Run on a Saturday morning. And we need to find like minded people who are also hanging out in the neighbourhood and do this with them, even if they’re not from our denomination or church!
So when asked if we have a theory of community engagement at Rivers, I would say that it is just something we do….we are present, intentional, flexible and inclusive about being in the neighbourhood.
Michael Trafford, Rivers Baptist Church, QLD