A picnic in the park. Flying a kite and running around in a field with the kids. Playing on the playground and stopping off at the local community garden. You might call this a typical Saturday with the family, but we call it mission. Let me explain. For the majority of my life I grew up with the notion that mission was one of two things. Either, it was going out on the street, the beach or the mall with a religious tract and survey to have forced conversations about Jesus, or it was going on a trip somewhere to do some sort of service work.
But recently I have been challenged to re-imagine this paradigm of mission and see if there is a more effective and more natural way to reach out to people that simply flows out of our everyday life. Currently, our family is experimenting with this idea with a group of other families. Our experiment is based on a few assumptions.
1. We are all called to be missionaries. Christians often think that missionaries are “professional christians.” They are the ones who raise support, get special training and live in a third world country. But in reading the New Testament, it’s clear to see that ALL christians viewed themselves as participants in the mission of God, not simply supporters of the mission. Maybe we aren’t all called to go over seas, but we are all called to be local missionaries right where we are.
2. Mission as incarnation. Being a local missionary means incarnating the presence and Spirit of Jesus on our local context. Incarnate is a fancy word that means bringing together both word and deed. Mission isn’t just preaching to people, telling them what they need to hear and accept to be ‘saved.’ Nor is it just acts of service. Incarnation is putting your words and action together to bring the Kingdom of God to bear on the places where our community hurts the most.
3. We were created to live in community. God created us to live not in isolation (either as an individual or family), but to live in the context of others, in order to share resources, raise each other’s kids and help meet each other’s needs. In a sense, to share a collective life together.
When you put all of this together what you get is an ‘extended family’ like group that seeks to order the rhythm of their collective life to intersect with the lives of those in their neighborhood and community. Here is what this looks like for our group.
(This post comes as part two in a series and you can read the first part here. The first post focused on IN, hopefully you can see this one focuses on OUT. Not sure what that means, read the first post.)
About two months ago, our small group felt led to reach out beyond ourselves into the community. As we began to discuss what this might look like, one of the first things that we discussed was consistency. Everyone was in agreement that doing service projects at random wasn’t going to be as effective as investing in a specific place or group of people. We felt the need to narrow and specify the focus of our outreach. With endless options of places and people in which we could invest we were a little overwhelmed, one, with the enormity of options and two, the thought of trying to fit “another thing” into our already busy lives.
We decided that in order for this to be most effective and sustainable it shouldn’t be something that we add to our lives, but it should come out of what we were already doing in our lives. That meant taking something ordinary (like going to the park) and infusing it with a missional focus. So for one week we all took inventory of the places where we were already regularly going in our lives. Then we came together to share our lists and find what places we had in common. Our lists consisted of things like the grocery store, coffee shop, gym, the library, etc… But one of the places that we all shared in common was the local park, Brook Run. When we realized this, it simply made sense. We all have small kids and already go there weekly, even multiple times per week. We also all have dogs and there is a dog park at Brook Run. There is even a community garden and one guy in our group loves to grow vegetables.
So the decision to have the local park be our mission context was easy. But if we aren’t passing out tracts or doing service projects, what would it look like to be on mission at the park?
In our philosophy of reaching out to people, our primary concern isn’t converting them. Yes, that’s right. We aren’t ultimately worried about their conversion. Why? We believe that’s God’s job. If your iffy about that read 1 Cor. 3. We believe that our job is to live life in such a way that, one, intersects with non-Christians and two, shows why following Jesus is a compelling way to live. Please note, this doesn’t mean we shy away from talking about Jesus. We talk about Jesus all the time. It simply happens in a natural way, not a forced way.
But what are the nuts and bolts of this? How does this practically work out?
Well, we start by simply going to the park, the dog park and community garden whenever we normally would. And when we go we call other people in the group to see if they want to join. As we go we ask God to helps us see the park and the people in the park as He sees them. We go open to the Spirit and those at the park. But also we have intentional outings where the whole group goes together. Twice a month on Saturdays we all meet at the park for an hour or so to play with our kids and each others kids. Then, we have a picnic together. We may also stop by the dog park or the community garden while we are there. The point is that we go at a consistent time each time we go as a group with the hope of running into other people who also constantly go at that same time. The idea is to live as a community OUT in the community, so that we can invite people IN to our extended family. The hope is that over time (and it’s important to keep in mind that this strategy hinges on constancy and longevity. Not just a few weeks or months, but much, much longer than that) our group will have a known presence at the park. And the more we go we’ll get to know other people and their kids. And that their kids will want to play with our kids and vice versa. Hopefully we’ll get to invite them to join us for lunch. “Oh, you didn’t bring any food? That’s okay we always have extra.” “Oh, you can’t make it today? That’s okay we’ll be back here next week doing the same thing again. Join us then.”
There is a lot more that could be said on this, but this is a start. The whole idea is to live our lives as a community OUT in the community, so that we can invite people IN to our extended ‘spiritual’ family with the hopes that by being compelled by our love for them, they will eventually get to know the greater love of our spiritual Father.
Questions? Comments? Thoughts? Be assured there is more to come…