Witness

Five Reasons Why Neighborhoods Matter

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Your neighborhood is a complex and messy place.

If you take a walk around you will see signs of life, hope, movement, change, and beauty. There are people working for good in various places and spaces, but you will also notice elements of despair and decay as evidenced by crime, loneliness, violence, and other forces that lead to dehumanization.

What is your neighborhood like and how would you describe it? What kind of relationship do you have with your neighborhood? Are neighborhoods simply places we move in and out of as pilgrims and consumers, or can we develop a deeper connection that will help lead to the flourishing of the community where we live?

Here are some reasons why we believe that neighborhoods matter.

The church can only exist if it orients outside of itself.

The church must not think of itself in isolation; instead, it exists in a local context to function as one part of the ecology of the neighborhood or community where it is placed. Once the church begins to think about itself primarily in isolation and designs its mission, programs, and structures for its own survival and self-glory, it loses its primary call to be a light in this world and an expression of the mission of God for the redemption of the world. Neighborhoods are places where we can live out this mission in pursuit of beauty, justice, mercy, and truth. In fact, radical things happen when we make a shift from asking “God, what are you up to in my church?” to “God, what are you up to in my neighborhood?”

Radical things happen when we make a shift from asking 'God, what are you up to in my church?' to 'God, what are you up to in my neighborhood?' Click To Tweet

God’s Spirit is active outside the church.

Often we can be suspicious of the Spirit’s work outside the church in God’s creation. We can be more comfortable in discerning the presence and guidance of God’s Spirit in the church, but we become paralyzed thinking about how to discern the Spirit in our neighborhoods. Writer Kathleen Norris says, “The Christian religion asks us to put our trust not in ideas, and certainly not theologies, but in a God who was vulnerable enough to become human and die, and who desires to be present to us in our ordinary circumstances.” The neighborhood is a place where we live out the “ordinary.” Too often we get caught up in big ideas and causes, and we fail to notice that God is usually at work in the daily joys and frustrations of life that we experience as a community in close proximity to the places where we live. God’s Spirit moves in the church. The Spirit also moves, creates, and recreates outside the church.

Neighborhoods provide opportunities to live out the values that we talk about.

We are living in an age when more than ever our words can be separated from our actions. For instance, we can create a curated online presence on social media that reflects only a small sliver of who we are. Our words are easy to display in a public forum, but actually it’s how we follow through with our embodied presence, love, and action that matters. If we think about this from a Christian perspective, we know that the gospel is not primarily a creed or theological system full of words, but it must be embodied in a local community and function as a witness to the love and mercy of God. The neighborhood is a place where we can daily be held accountable to fleshing out the gospel, the values of justice, truth, and beauty. We can’t simply talk about the values that lead to a flourishing community; we must live them out, but this is far harder to do.

Our words are easy to display in a public forum, but actually it's following through with embodied presence, love, and action that matters. Click To Tweet

The neighborhood provides an opportunity to practice hospitality and humanity in a world that can dehumanize us.

In a world that is increasingly fragmented, where people suffer from isolation and loneliness, connecting in the neighborhood has a healing effect.

In Plunging into the Kingdom Way: Practicing the Shared Strokes of Community, Hospitality, Justice, and Confession author Tim Dickau writes:

“Living, working, shopping, using services, engaging in recreation, hanging out and participating in a common neighborhood all bring a new level of integration into our fragmented lives. Interconnections emerge which give people a greater sense of being known and rooted, reweaving isolated, fragmented lives into a healthier whole. These interconnections—unplanned, serendipitous and transforming—lead to stability and fraternity.”

Knowing and connecting in a place intricately creates a depth in the web of relationships we are a part of in the neighborhood. The richness and intimacy that comes with choosing to connect in the neighborhood is something that can bring such a deep satisfaction. It’s a type of grounded, earthy, and humane “spiritual discipline” that helps us to flourish.

Places matter to God.

From the moment that God named the first garden, place has been important. God created the world and planted a garden, but it was not just any garden: he named it Eden. In scripture we see over and over that particular places are important. Physical space matters to God. When we name places they become significant to us, they become unique. They become places where we live, work, play, tend gardens, build things, eat, engage in new friendships, debate issues, and share life together. All these actions happen in physical spaces that become places we remember fondly. We tell stories about those places. This is what it means to be human. To be placed.

What matters is that we commit to practicing the values of justice, mercy, hope, and love in our daily lives in local ways. That’s what changes our world and nothing can stop that force for good when it happens. Click To Tweet

What matters is that we commit to practicing the values of justice, mercy, hope, and love in our daily lives in local ways. That’s what changes our world, and nothing can stop that force for good when it happens. Everyday if we look we can find ordinary people working for good in unseen ways, bringing about change little by little in their neighborhoods.

I find that deeply encouraging.

The neighborhood matters.

Can you think of reasons why your neighborhood matters to you?

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For more on this topic, make sure to check out the upcoming Missio webinar with José Humphreys: What Happens When Churches Show Up and Stay Put

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