Moving into the Neighborhood
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
The biggest conversation I have had with my colleagues the past couple years has centered on God’s mission and the role of the local church. Fitch and Holsclaw describe in Prodigal Christianity how the baptism of Jesus announces the arrival of the reign of God as “The time is now! The place is here!” This demonstrates that “God is always going, coming, sending in mission.” The Message version of John 1:14 puts it like this, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” God took the first great risk when he moved into the neighborhood.
The reality that God is always “going, coming, sending in mission” and that God moves into neighborhoods has had a powerful impact on my family. Like many in our culture, our family became involved in a church far from our home. Based on God’s incarnate presence, we believe God desires our faith community and our place of residence to be in the same geographical area. If God moved into the neighborhood for ministry, so should we. But that has not been true of us since we live in another town than where we worship. We are active in our congregation. My wife works in the office; I often preach; my children attend Sunday school; we participate in ministry and have made friends.
At the same time, we have done our best to be the presence of Christ in our current neighborhood. We have gotten to know our neighbors. We build relationships. We eat together. We share our faith. When our neighbors ask, “What church do you go to?” we explain that our church is twenty miles away. We recommend churches closer to our neighbors, but few of our neighbors take us up on these recommendations. Their relationship is with us, but twenty miles each way is a big commitment.
The way we see it, there are three options to bring a Christ-centered resolution to our problem. We can plant a neighborhood church, but that is unnecessary because there are several churches already in the area. We can join an existing church in our neighborhood, but what about the church family we already have? We could move to the neighborhood where our current church is located, but what of the neighborhood ministry and relationships we developed? Each option is filled with risk and pain.
This past month we made our decision. It was not easy. We prayed, had others pray for us, and continued to dwell in the scriptures. We have decided to move to the neighborhood where our church is located and fully commit ourselves to that community. This is a scary decision for us. We have no promises of a new home or even financial security. It will mean new schools, stores, and networks. But if God is truly about risk and “always coming, going, sending in mission,” then we must also be willing to join God in this great adventure.
Author update: God did provide for our transition. We listed and sold our home in a single day! We then were able to purchase a home in the neighborhood of our church three days later. God is coming, going, and sending in our lives. It is time for us to do the same in our new community.
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What risky leap of faith is God asking you to take to better serve him? What other examples of “God moving into the neighborhood” might change how we engage our neighbors? What risks do we avoid so we don’t have to relocate or disrupt our comfort zones?
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, you moved into the neighborhood when you came to dwell among us. Help us to learn just how big a deal this is and how we are to respond to your example. May we become more like you and live, eat, and fellowship with those around us. May our tables be open, our homes places of hospitality, and our relationships lasting and rooted in you. Amen.