Before moving to Niagara Falls, Ontario my wife and I considered and pondered and prayed whether we were being called back into church planting. We were driven to go deep within ourselves, our passions and overall concern for the church. Something unsettling, that had been lingering for quite some time, came to the surface. Both my wife and I realized that we hurt that many many churches had lost a “sense of place” and some perhaps never had it to begin with.
What do I mean by a “Sense of Place”?
We all live in a particular place: in urban centres and communities, the suburbs or in the country side. And the church you attend is in a specific place surrounded by people living close by. That is the place where God helped begin the ministry of the church you attend. I believe God calls us to have a particular ministry in the place where he puts us whether the church or as individuals. In fact, both the individual Christ follower and the collective body of Christ have a call to minister in a place. Some would call it a parish — a rekindling of an old word.
The first century churches were birthed in “place”. Even Jesus pointed to the ministry of “place” in Acts 1:8. The disciples of Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit would begin witnessing — being his ambassadors — beginning first where they lived. Jesus clarifies first they will reach people right where they were in Jerusalem, then a litter farther out in the area of Judea, then Samaria — just a bit further out, and then to the rest of the world. They started right where they were, where they found themselves. This became very evident in Acts 2 following Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Thousands came to believe in Jesus through Spirit empowered people just going about their everyday in the marketplace and amongst their neighbours (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35).
The local church community is called to embrace the community where they are directly situated. Even though we are far more mobile today, if you have a building you call “Suchandsuch Church” it has a place in the community. What place does it hold? Do people outside the church experience the church body as loving and intricately woven into the fabric of that local community? Do the people around the church that takes up that prime piece of real-estate, see it as essential to the health of that community? Peter Wagner and many other church growth gurus used to suggest the question, “If your church ceased to exist would anyone living there notice or care?” Let’s hope they would.
A church community has to love the place they are in — the community, the city, the suburb, the local rural folks. They are called to love those whose house next to the building is left unkempt, dirty or rundown. They are called to love the atheist, agnostic, gay, straight, weird, tattooed and pierced, the homeless and the poor, the prostitute, pedophile, ex-con, banker, lawyer, politician, far right-wing or far left-wing and everyone in between. There isn’t one person we lock eyes with that Jesus does’t ask us, “How will you love this person? How will you be my ambassador and show them me in the light of grace and compassion?”
The gospel becomes so much more tangible and compelling when the local church is actually a part of the community, connected to the struggles of the people and even the land itself (1)
Your church’s prayer should be asking for a heart of love for the parish they are in. That is potentially a scary prayer. A “sense of place” for the church is a recognition and embracing of the love and concern for the people in the place God has put them. This sense of place should be a driving force as the church considers its missional call into that community.
’til next time
1. Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens, Dwight J. Friesen, The New Parish:How Neighbourhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community, Inter varsity Press, 2014 p. 22Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens, Dwight J. Friesen, The New Parish:How Neighbourhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community, Inter varsity Press, 2014 p. 22