I had lunch with a trusted colleague in ministry the other day. We were talking about our churches, their ministries and reach in the neighborhood. I truly value my colleague and our collaboration. But what I most valued this day was, of all things, the prepositions....
In, for, with. Three little words that speak volumes about churches and our communities. Some churches, the best that can be said is that they are in the neighborhood. Like gas stations, schools and movie theaters, churches are located in the neighborhood on our blocks. If it is convenient and you like the service and price you're likely to go there.
There are some churches, though, that are for the neighborhood. These churches go out into the neighborhood and asked the question, "what do you need and how can we be of service?" Then, after hearing their responses, these churches seek to be what the neighborhood wants them to be. And if the services that the church meet your needs, you're likely to go there.
And then there are churches that are with the neighborhood. These churches embrace the issues that affect the neighborhood. Safe streets, happy children, decent housing, employment opportunities: Take your pick. When the church goes from looking at the neighborhood to walking with the neighborhood, there is a collective move from "them" and "us" to "we."
In these churches the church becomes part of the fabric of the neighborhood.
Interestingly, all three prepositions are needed to function as an effective church. Our city is littered with churches who, once great communities of faith, are now simply buildings in the neighborhood that has changed around them. Many churches have forsaken their evangelical mission in an attempt to be for the neighborhood and now function as social service agencies. And some well-meaning churches, in an attempt to walk in solidarity with their neighborhoods, find what they share most in common is a helpless frustration to make meaningful change in the neighborhood. But the church located in the neighborhood, providing for the needs of the neighborhood and walking together to repair trust and fight for the vision of God's world- this combination of prepositions becomes the catalyst of transformation on our blocks.
In, for, with...... Which prepositions do we think Gethsemane uses?
Community in spades...
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2 42-47
What an amazing party we had last Wednesday! A pig and a goat. Ribs and corn. Hamburgers and cake. And of course, cornbread and greens! Food enough for an army and the mountain of volunteers who served it up.
And boy did we have an army! 500+ by anyone's reckoning. Neighbors from across the street and the blocks around our church. People whom we have gotten to know over the past few years.
Folks who were strangers but now have become our friends.
We shared everything with our neighbors, from the food to the company, the bouncy castle to the bags of produce. We broke bread together and ate together at the tables. We watched our children play basketball and smiled at how much they have grown this past year. Some of us even broke out our moves to some of the best blues and back-in-the-day music buffet!
I was struck by three things on this wonderful evening and gathering. The first was that folks who had been visiting neighbors at last year's block party had become volunteers and leaders at it this year. What a treat and a blessing to see so many new faces engaging our community from within, serving up food and smiles. It made perfect sense for these neighbors to connect in a natural way in service with the community that grounds and identifies us!
The second thing was to hear from our neighbors what a blessing the church had become for them. A spiritual home. A community of neighbors. A gathering of friends. A welcoming and safe space. An oasis of peace in the wasteland of violence in North Minneapolis this summer.
The third thing was a sense of awe. Awe at how amazing God is. Awe at how God grows community. Awe at how simple and natural connections between God's people produce leadership, vision and service. Awe at the amazing giftedness and assets of our growing family of neighbors. And awe at witnessing joy in the hearts of all who felt called to serve, lead and walk along side this outpouring of God's spirit and love.
Praise God for this community in spades!