This is Part 2 of reflections on the Ministry of Place or more aptly, a Theology of Place. Starting a new church community is not an easy task. While some denominations and church planting organizations begin with a model they all ascent to, there is no fail safe method. We discovered that when we planted previously. As I alluded to in the last post on this topic, we can get so caught up in our methodology that we miss the mission of the church. We can so easily miss loving and serving the community we’re in and, in turn, arrogantly think ourselves superior expecting people from the neighbourhood and from hither and yon to come to our “programs”. I don’t know how often I’ve heard, “Well, they should just come to church.” To some people reading this, you’re thinking, what’s wrong with that?
Alan Hirsch, missiologist,author and founding director of Forge Mission Training Network International (FORGE) states our call as Christians quite simply, “Every Christian is a sent one. There is no such thing as an unsent Christian.” Of course he is referring to the interpretation of John 20:21,22 where Jesus says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Some would argue that followers of Jesus are called to be incarnational in that they bring the presence of Christ, acting, thinking and living like Jesus being in a community, planting the gospel not churches. We bring Jesus into the community we live, we love, we work in, we invest in, the schools in our communities we send our children to, the banks and shops we frequent, the neighbours we engage and invite into our lives. We plant ourselves deep into the life of the “place” we live and the people we are surrounded by — the people God brings into our lives.
In our recent core team meeting for The Bridge community, we discussed what is more important, the gospel or mission. As Jeff Vanderstelt pointed out in one of his SOMA online training videos, a focus on mission makes it about what we DO not about the transforming work of Christ. If it was merely about what the people of God “do” for the community, we could just join the local Rotary club.
I often think about the “sent-ness” of the church, the body of Christ, this way: If we are getting Jesus into our bones, “Clothing ourselves in Christ” as the apostle Paul would state it (Col 3) — getting the gospel clearly in our understanding and realizing and embracing that our story of transformation is directly tied into it and is an ongoing transformation based on what Christ has done — then we naturally become ambassadors and desire to be such, bringing to the world the message of reconciliation (2 For 5:14-6:2).
Living on mission only comes through first embracing the gospel — the full depth and breadth of it. We are first of all worshippers of this amazing gracious God which, in turn, informs our mission and drives us toward loving and caring for and serving those in our community where we invest our lives. If you’re trying to create a religion, a Christianity that does not include you being sent, but rather, a comfortable place, then you have missed the truth of the gospel and what it means to follow Jesus. Then you’ve made “church” about you and what you want, not about being a disciple who goes where they are sent (Matt 10, Luke 10) to bring a resemblance of Jesus to a world that has a very distorted view of him, of themselves and the necessary life-changing relationship we all need with God.
In a nutshell, the theology of place is about BEING Jesus where you live. So read, read, read and reread the gospels so you really know who Jesus is and you can get his character into your bones, putting on the character of Christ (Col 3:1-17). Then you will see your world and your sent-ness in a whole new way right where you live.