Do I Make Plans or Share Stories?

I need to make plans!

I confess that my first inclination when asked to articulate our ‘plans’ for a Neighborhood Life (that is, living missionally in my own neighborhood) it is to come up with a list of concrete action steps.

But why? Who’s going to follow them? Who’s going to take them and make them live?

The truth is my best laid plans, goals and outcomes with perfect rationales have NOT motivated congregants to participate in God’s missional-incarnational journey in their neighbourhoods. They just haven’t.

This observation has led to my second—contrary— confession.

I’m Not Making Plans…

Because they don’t motivate. In fact, I have a growing aversion to anyone/anything that tells me they have “Six Easy Steps…” or “Ten Sure Fire Ways…” or “The Five Things You Need to Know or Do…” to be missional.

While I may be tempted to believe them, they never seem to be live up to their promises and they rarely motivate me or others to drop everything and actually do anything more than read them.

Instead, it has been our stories and experiences that have driven us to participate in God’s mission right where we live. That is true whether where we live is an upper-middle class tree lined street, a downtown apartment or a condo in a low income immigrant neighborhood. Its stories of an “entire way of life” in our place– that inspire and encourage us and in so doing, “point to and embody the reality of kingdom in the world.”[1]

It’s the stories that form and transform us; and provoke us to continue to do the ongoing work of a constructing a local theology- renewing our beliefs and practices–as ‘communities of witness’ or ‘communitas’ in our neighbourhoods.

So next time I’m asked about our plans, perhaps I won’t be tempted to present a checklist of next steps and concrete strategies. Perhaps I will tell stories. Instead of presenting a checklist of next steps and strategies, perhaps I will tell stories. Click To Tweet

Stories Inspire, Motivate and Empower Us

They make concepts and ideas tangible, personal and plausible. They “connect us with the wind of the Spirit as we live in gratefulness and engage such imaginative futures.”[2] As we listen and receive one another’s stories as gifts testifying to God’s Presence, power and love. These stories, as Gary Nelson notes, help us to “discover and imagine what it means to be the church in the particular neighbourhood and context to which we have been called.”[3]

When we listen and tell together, we are affirmed as coworkers with Christ and one another. We shift from an intellectual to a relational approach; from prescriptive to descriptive; from participating in programs/events/services to participating in the maturing process; from focusing on knowing to experiencing and doing; and from scripting to shaping and being shaped.[4]

As NEW Community (Neighborhood Engagement Workers’ Community) has shared stories together, “listening one another into free speech,” [5] our stories have led us “inside God’s story, [where] we are shaped into habits of life that empower us to be the sign, witness and foretaste of God’s dream.”[6]

Thus, my plan is to keep sharing our stories about how and what we are discovering, trying and experiencing as we respond to what God is doing in our midst. How do we do that? How are you doing that? (I’d love to know.) How could we do that better?

By Making Time and Space for More Story-Telling

For us, that could mean more intentional ‘set aside time’ for feature households or individuals from a particular neighbourhood to share their stories at our monthly gatherings. We would then want to have some discussion and reflection on what we heard such that we discern more fully what God is doing, and how we are, and can, respond to the Spirit’s presence and activity in our lives and neighbourhoods. This Action-Reflection-Theology, A.R.T. work, as I like to call it, will then be “one easy step” through which we come to imagine new ways to live in Christ, among and with our neighbors.

I guess I do have a plan after all!

Or perhaps a confession to make: In fact, I do have one easy step…start with this reading list! [1] Fitch and Geoffrey Holsclaw, Prodigal Christianity: Ten Signposts into the Missional Frontier (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2013), 59.
[2] Branson, Memories, Hopes and Conversations, 124.
[3] Gary Nelson, Borderland Churches: A Congregation’s Introduction to Missional Living, (Atlanta, GA: Chalice Press, 2008), 57.
[4] McNeal, Missional Renaissance, 97-106.
[5] Roxburgh, “Missional Leadership” 2012; Roxburgh, Alan J., and M. Scott Boren, Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How To Become One (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009), 105.
[6] Dudley and Ammerman, Congregations in Transition, 173.

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