On mission in the neighbourhood – four spiritual practices
What does it look like to join with God on his mission in the neighbourhood? If we believe that the communities where God has put us are sacred ground, then we will be keen discerners of God’s activity in order to work for his kingdom there.
So what are some habits we can engage in to practice joining with God on his mission in the neighbourhood?
The habits are very simple yet today they seem hard because we have become accustomed to distancing ourselves from our neighbours. The habits will seem slow, unfruitful and painful because success is gauged these days through immediate results. Alternatively, building relationships and trust in the neighbourhood often takes a very long time.
This is a simple way of connecting with your neighbourhood and discerning God’s activity in a very grounded way in order to develop a love for the reality of the place rather than an idealization of your community. I’ve read a lot about prayer walking the neighbourhood, but I think Deb Sternke, in her article One Simple Practice when evangelism completely freaks you out, gives a most helpful step-by-step guide if prayer walking is new to you.
In the book The Art of Neighboring: Building genuine relationships right outside your door, Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon highlight that Jesus’ command to love our neighbour must be taken literally. They write “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 has the potential to change the world.”
To love our neighbors we must know them well enough to know their names. Learning someone’s name and remembering that name, is a sign of care. It is an act of humanizing someone in a world which can be incredibly dehumanizing. It means seeing the image of God in all people and especially those who live next door to us.
Be a faithful presence
In James Davison Hunter’s classic book To Change the World, he writes that God has shown his faithful presence to us in that he pursues us, identifies with us and shows us his sacrificial love. As a result, we need to be faithful to each other in the same way. God shows us a “commitment that is active not passive, intentional not accidental, covenantal not contractual. God is with us wholeheartedly.” We are to be intentional in showing our love and “wholehearted” towards our neighbours in the community where we live. Just as Jesus is Emmanuel, “God is with us”, we too must display a “God is with us spirituality” towards our neighbours.
Engage with those different to you.
Hunter continues and says that God’s faithfulness to us means that we must be especially present towards those who are not the same as us. So we “welcome the stranger. The stranger represents neither metaphysical darkness or danger. When one’s life is hidden in Christ the existence of the other neither threatens or diminishes us.” This is a true challenge for us today as we see our world being torn apart by divisions based on fear of those who are different to us. It takes effort to move outside of our comfort zones and authentically reach out to those who have values, religions, habits and cultures that are not the same as ours.
Practicing the spiritual discipline of discerning God’s activity means loving our neighbourhood. This keeps us accountable to embodying what we proclaim through our words. The neighbourhood is a place where cultures, divisions, tensions and hopes rub up against each other and rise to the surface to confront us. We are then faced with the challenge of reflecting on how to walk out our theology. I think this, more than anything, will be our apologetic and vehicle for our transformation today; embodying Christ-likeness through loving the people who live next door to us and on our streets.
“Whoever claims to abide in Him must walk as Jesus walked.” 1 John 2:6
Karina Kreminski, February 2017