Abundant Community and the Kingdom of God

By: Shannon Youell with Karen Wilk

One of the key questions I believe the church should be asking during this time is “What are the opportunities God is opening up to us the church when our normalized ways of gathering as communities has been disrupted and evangelism seems paralyzed because of social distancing?

Many thoughtful, prayerful and reflective followers of Jesus are asking this, and through listening and discernment, are seeking to discover and participate in what the Spirit is up to in their neighbourhoods. They’re wondering if perhaps God is inviting God’s people to again be rooted in the local places where the Spirit has placed them to live, work, play and pray.  They’re wondering if this might be the way for the church to learn both to navigate the current crisis as well as the ever- changing landscape of our world in a post-pandemic, post-modern (or some say post-post-modern), post-Christian world.

Today we share with you a post by Karen Wilk who is a National Team Member for Forge Canada Missional Training Network, and a Missional Leader Developer for the Resonate Global Mission.  When Karen wrote this article it was pre-covid.  Recently CBWC Church Planting asked her to look at her article again against the backdrop of this shifted world we’re finding ourselves in, and share any new insights of engaging and living in a neighbourhood for the work of the Kingdom of God.  Karen’s response was there isn’t much she’d change even looking through our current lens.

That says a lot to me!  At a time when so many are feeling the void of community across the spectrum of whatever community may be for us, Karen is confident that community embedded in neighbourhoods is resilient to still flourish even during the strangest of circumstances and times.

This article by Karen Wilk was originally published on Forge Canada’s blog.

Lately, I have been learning a lot about what it means to be a healthy or abundant community and the importance of community for personal and communal well-being. How do you imagine an abundant, vibrant, healthy or competent – as some experts call it – community?

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I suspect many of us have nostalgic memories of neighbourhood.  For example, at a recent gathering numerous participants told stories about growing up on a street where, as kids, they roamed freely to the playground, to the corner store; where they ventured in and out of each other’s homes, played ‘hide and seek’ or ‘kick the can’ at night; never locking their doors and so on… One block connector told the story of how the neighbours would often say, when he got out of hand (which, from the sounds of it was quite often), ‘Remember, I know your Mom, now behave yourself!’  Now, they lamented, kids can’t even go to the playground half a block away on their own, and ‘the village’ isn’t ‘raising the child.’

We don’t even know the parents! We try to keep others out, rather than make connections with those around us.  We have somehow come to believe that our communal responsibility for the health, security, education, environment, economy, and vulnerable in our communities belongs to, or is better maintained and sustained by, social services, government agencies and/or the professionals.

What if a vibrant community is one which includes every resident and recognizes the abundance and care in its midst – the gifted people next door, the wise seniors a few houses down, the carpenter, electrician on the block one over, the gardener, the bicycle fanatic, the teen willing to shovel snow, the empty nesters willing to help the young parents on the other side of the alley…?

Sociologists and numerous studies are saying that neighbourhood community is the most effective means of addressing at least seven essentials that lead to personal and communal well-being and thus, an abundant community – an abundant community that, from the perspective of the Christian faith, reflects God’s Kingdom of Shalom, the Triune Communion of our God.

We all yearn – creation groans – for this kind of place: a place where we all belong, where all feel safe and secure, where all can grow and flourish, are cared for, work for the common good. In this kind of community, all contributions are welcomed and employed and the primary practice of inclusive hospitality pervades.

Perhaps an abundant community is exactly what God had in mind when he instructed the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah to seek the peace and the well-being of the city (29:4-7). Perhaps, the church – struggling to discern her role in post-modern post-Christendom – might begin to discern what God is up to by seeking to discover and join the Spirit on God’s mission in the neighbourhoods where He has sent her to remain.

Our society’s growing understanding of the significance of community seems to resonate with this text.  I think Jeremiah speaks a word not only to the people of God in Jeremiah’s day but in ours.  Both are called to nurture abundant communities!  We too are asked to seek the welfare and prosperity of the place God has sent us – to settle in, to stay, have families and gardens and do life together with our neighbours; to be faithfully present right where God has sent us and thereby declare that the Kingdom of God has come near!

Faithfully Present

By Shannon Youell

My inbox is overflowing with emails from every business, organization, missional group and thinker around our changed pace during the current world crisis we have found ourselves in. Each one has methods and helpful guidelines on how we will make it through this by working together and thoughts about where opportunities lie in potentially changing how we work, live, play and pray. 

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I’ve heard people saying the church will never be the same and others saying here are the five (or seven or twelve) things to do to grow your church during this time through online presence. Where some are lamenting, others are seeing potential and opportunity to tell the Jesus storyall good things to be considering. 

Yet, from the beginning, I have been praying for God’s discernment to see what He is doing in the midst of this. Rather than being fearful, or making plans to ‘grow’ a Sunday gathering, I’ve been very aware of God’s presence and work in the neighbourhoods around us. I live on a steep mountain road that I punish myself by walking down regularly (the punishment is never the going down part….). I usually pray, think, reflect while on these walks, at the same time as observing the neighbourhoods that branch off this road where many new subdivisions have gone in over the last 10 years. I rarely, and I mean rarely, encounter another human on these walks (unless they are in cars passing me by). No neighbours chatting over driveways and, amazingly, no children playing in the cul de sacs and roads. Lately that has changed dramatically.  

People are out and about. Children are riding bikes or playing hockey with siblings and parents on the driveways. People are walking more and so I get to have safedistanced conversations with those who have been nameless and faceless people in my community. What I have seen is life erupting out of the desert of houses with empty faces staring out at the world. There is life in the neighbourhoods and people are discovering it, perhaps for the first time for some in the current consume/produce culture we are all enslaved to.  

The Gospel has always been about relationships, with God, with self, with others and neighbours. Here, in this time, is the opportunity to actually build some of those relationships, to discover there is indeed life in the neighbourhood, that God is present and working in neighbourhoods. The question, then, is how do I, how do you, lean into being faithfully present there as well. Here, I ponder, are where we can find the opportunities for the church to grow – growing into the places where there is not always access to building relationships that can lead to sharing life, faith, hope, lament, grief and joy together.  

Here are a couple of blog articles, both by David Fitch, as he muses on the same things:

There are some interesting ideas of things he and his family have been doing in their neighbourhood at this time. One warning, the first was written prior to the total safe-distancing orders. Keep in mind, as you will see in the second blog, that he is not advocating gathering in homes whilst ignoring the order.  

 

Shared Practices in the Midst of Self Isolation

By Shannon Youell

How then, shall we, the church, respond? 

Over the last few weeks weve been taking a look at Mike Frost’s BELLS approach to Shared Practices: Bless, Eat, Learn, Listen, Be Sent. However, in our present global reality, how do we engage shared practices? As Bruxy Cavey reminds us, love is wise and it is nimble...We may, in certain situations, love well by actually keeping our distance from people, by staying away. So what now?

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We’ve taken another look at these 5 shared practices and want to share some stories and resources with you about how we can continue to show God’s love to each other and the world even in the midst of self-isolation: 

Bless 

Times of crisis can turn even the most kind of us into Mr. Hyde! We’ve seen this in the buying out of common needed items and groceries in our stores in the past weeks – empty shelves facing those who only were buying what they needed for that week and for those who lack the resources to buy a months worth of food/products at a time.   

I faced those empty shelves for the sixth day in a row, looking for just one package of toilet paper as we were down to our last couple of rolls (yes this is, sadly, a toilet paper story – but it has a good ending!) 

On day six, four 8roll packages remained on the shelf of the local grocery store. And it was only eight in the morning!  I bought one, praying that three more people could buy the others. I also discovered that there were a dozen or so containers of disinfecting wipes miraculously on an otherwise empty shelf, so I bought two of those.  

The next morning, one of my sons dropped by to leave his young child here so as to get his shopping for the week.  Same store.  No toilet paper, no wipes, no soup, no pasta.  So I gave him my package of toilet paper and a package of wipes.  All will be well, I thought.  

Next morning someone in our community stuck her head in my driveway gate to drop off a piece of frozen salmon she wanted me to have.  Standing at a safe distance from one another, I asked why it took two bags to hold one piece of fish.  “Other stuff.” she said.  Looking in one of the bags I laughed out loud. There was an 8roll pack of toilet paper and a baggie of wipes that she packed from her container of wipes she has at home.  She had no idea I had just given mine away to someone else!  She said it must have been some kind of “God radar. 

Can we all put up our “God Radar” on how we can bless those in our neighbourhood and extended communities during this time?  Take the time to look out your window and see who you can be a blessing to.  

Eat
It’s difficult these days—but not impossible—to make mealtimes a hospitable activity. One family in Cailey’s Mission Group gathers together daily at 3:30pm for coffee and snacks. This routine was in place long before COVID-19 came on the scene, but has become an even more important connect point for them in these times.   

This family—comprising parents, two adult kids living at home and a third in high school—has even taken “Coffee Time” to the next level in the past couple of weeks by inviting other families “over” via FaceTime. For 30 minutes to an hour, the two families share in conversation online while enjoying hot drinks in their own homes. Why not try to share your meal or snack time with another person or family, even once a week? 

Learn
In some ways, this one’s easy—has there ever been a season with more educational resources available at our fingertips? However, when Michael Frost says “Learn,” what he’s saying is learn Jesus for the sake of becoming like Jesus. This practice means more than buzzing in and out of webinars and Reddit.

Frost goes as far as calling us to “marinate our minds and souls in the story of Jesus Through biblical study, theological reading and even the viewing of films (no matter how limited each of them might be), we slowly but surely orient our lives toward the things of Christ, and we become deeply familiar with His story so we can share it whenever anyone asks us for the reason for the hope we have in Him” (Five Habits of Highly Missional People p34).

Listen 
Remember, it’s still Lent! It might look different with kids around or your spouse trying to work from home in the living room, but try to find a way for fasting, solitude, and meditating on Scripture to help you hear what the Holy Spirit wants to say to you and your community.  

Be Sent
I was talking with another pastor yesterday of the minute by minute evolution of our ‘new notnormalsin the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.  He, like so many of us is scrambling to figure out how to keep the congregation connected when we can no longer gather in our buildings and homes.  He mentioned how this seems to be dominating the minds of every pastor he has also been speaking with.  He is also self-isolating and is unwell, so he’s been stressed about that as well. 

In his accounting, yesterday morning, after being confined to home and having his every waking moment dominated by getting the church service online and his own health concerns, he looked out his window to the neighbourhood outside his walls.   

That’s when it hit him – he had been so focused on ensuring his own safety and well-being and that of the congregation that he forgot about his neighbours – in fact, he realized, he hadn’t seen any movement whatsoever in the home across the street where an older couple lived.  

Many churches have adopted the missional language of “being church.” Here, then is an opportunity to do just that, though in ways we haven’t even thought of as we navigate our way back to ‘normal’.   For my pastor friend, the Spirit reminded him of the calling of the church is both to be gathered and scattered.   

Here is the time, scattered as we are in the confines of our homes, to shine.  

David Fitch offers this simple but open-postured example of a note they’ve been leaving in their neighbours’ mailboxes: 

Hi neighbors, 

It’s Dave and Rae Ann Fitch. In light of the fact that some of us are likely to get sick from COVID-19 in the next little while and will need to stay home in isolation, we just wanted you to have our number and email address. If you run out of supplies like toilet paper or need someone to pick up groceries and drop them off at your door—we’re happy to help out as much as we can. 

Sincerely, 

The Fitchs” 

You can check out his whole blog article Faithful Presence During a Pandemic here.

 As I was praying the other day, I was prompted by the Spirit to move from prayers of “God, where are you?” to “God, where are you at work right now and how can I join you?” We pray that all of us in this time will be able to notice and join the good work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, homes and communities.