Last week I got to have coffee with Danny and David.
I'd never met Danny before, but David, a mutual connection of ours, called us all together because he felt there was something we needed to explore together.
David was right.
It only took a few minutes of conversation to realize that God is stirring something important in Danny. He is one of those people whose sincerity and eagerness to grow make him a delight to be around. Danny has had a successful professional career, but he is at a place where he senses that God may be moving him out into less stable territory. That move would be a familiar experience for Danny.
A few years ago he and a team of 20 others responded to a call to plant a church in an urban neighborhood. The excitement and anticipation was palpable when they met to explore all the ways they could be on mission in their local context. There was a real sense that God had called them there and had equipped with with a vision to do great things for that community. Their list of possible ways to mission there almost hit the half-century mark! They were not short on ideas, passion, or commitment.
Here were a few of their ideas:
- Writers Circle - There were more than a few folks in the hip & trendy music crowd living in this context. They envisioned creating a space in their building to bring writers together to explore their passion for music and collaboratively create new things.
- A small concert venue – There were plenty of musicians in the community, it seemed an intimate space where they could play and the community could gather would be incredibly useful.
- Build a Skate Park - They were more than willing to think creatively and missionally about their own space. They didn't need to have all the trappings of church to have church. They were willing to make what they had a multi-purpose, community-centered location. Knowing there were a lot of skaters around, they had the idea of a skate park.
These were only THREE of their ideas! They had over three dozen more! Wouldn't it be compelling to build church with such a missionally-driven, creative group of people?!
Unfortunately these were not to materialize. Space in the community came at a significant cost, despite hard fundraising efforts they couldn’t raise quite enough money to rent a facility to do even one of these ideas. While trying to figure out what God was showing him and the new church, he had a realization about these missional experiments that profoundly altered the course of the church plant...and of his life.
Danny confessed, "As I began immersing myself in the community I discovered that a bar down the street already had a writers corner. Not long after that, I realized there were already 3 small concert venues right in the area. And, as you might guess, it didn't take long before I saw that the skate park - and most of our other really great ideas - were already happening."
That was when Danny began to discover an idea that could completely flip their paradigms for mission upside-down.
He realized that the best missional response to this community was not staring new things as the church, under the name of the church, from the church, at the church building, etc. The most faithful missional call would be for each person to participate in the work the community is already doing.
Danny wondered, "What would it look like to show up in the writers circle at the pub to just be present with people? What would it look like to volunteer as a follower of Jesus at the after school program someone else is running? What would it look like to hang out at the skate park to simply be with people as a friend?"
He knew their church name would not get any recognition. He knew there would be no way to report to donors/funders about the number of people that came to their events. He knew that this approach was not very marketable when you are building the brand of a church. It would just be Jesus's people out there loving, listening, learning, discovering, and being. This would be one of those ideas that was simple...just not easy.
Danny went back to his church planting team to talk about the change from doing outreach programs under the name of the church at the church property to simply joining in the natural flow of the neighborhood as followers of Jesus. He invited them to live deeply and intentionally with Jesus in the stuff already going on and let go of the big, long list of visions they wanted to launch, create, and build.
Half of them loved it.
Half of them walked away.
What if we began to embrace a vision like what Danny shared with him team? A vision to recognize that God is already working and moving in the world around us, and we, as God's people, need to find ways - as neighbors, friends, coworkers - to live out God's mission by participating in it?
What if outreach was no longer about what a church committee created for church members to come to as volunteers? What if it was about learning to live in ways where we are with Jesus among our neighbors discovering the good things they are doing and that God is doing?
MIssion/outreach for so long has been about programs that fall under the heading of what a church does. Pictures can be taken. Volunteer hours can be logged. Metrics can be measured.
But what this doesn't do, Danny realized, is invite people into close, authentic, everyday relationships.
Don't misunderstand. There is a place for innovation, for creating programs, etc. Danny simply is concerned that we are so quick to do our own thing that we don't give enough time to the kind of relationships that would allow us to discover if we even need to in the first place.
Spiritually and practically, this way of mission requires a different posture. He is seeking others to join in a way of life that is simple...but not easy.
Instead of "reaching out", which implies that we are "in" one place and others are elsewhere, Danny is inviting us to "live among."
"And God became flesh and moved into the neighborhood."