Comment: It's All About the Neighborhood
Q is coming to Portland in April. What's Q? It's an annual gathering of culture shapers who happen to be Christians. Thinkers. Innovators. Artists. Community Developers. Pastors. Theologians. Media & Technology leaders. The conference is an interactive dialogue among big names and unknowns, attemping to cultivate "ideas that create a better world." You can find more here.
On their blog recently Aaron Fortner posted an article entitled It's All About the Neighborhood. A pretty good read. The Second Stories family has been thinking a lot about neighborhood and placemaking. So after reading a few of the comments at the end of the article I had to throw in my bits. I'm reposting them here in case anyone wants to continue the discussion. You don't need to read Aaron's artcle and the comments under it to get what I'm saying but I recommend it.
Here's my comment:
Interesting discussion started here. I'm thinking and learning about these ideas so I’ll throw in a couple thoughts.
I agree in large part with the article. “The hope for the city is the neighborhood.” But the answer to the follow up question does come off a bit triumphal and separatist. Thanks to Elliot and Caleb for your comments to balance here.
Neighborhood or place-based missiology is not new as someone else pointed out, but it needs to be returned to a central focus of the local church (not to the neglect of global). We have some great historical examples in the Anglican and Catholic churches who have consistently taken responsibility to shepherd the neighborhood in which the local church gathers. Think Parish. On this topic you can go back to the formation of the church by looking at the etymology of the word “parish.” The word, pariokos, is often rendered “neighbor”. But I love the break down of the word: para = “near” and oikos = “house”. "House" elevates the significance of geography. It’s not just the bloody Samaritan lying on the highway, but our neighbor is also the single parent next door, at 9214 SE Harold.
Our mobile culture has presented significant challenge to the parish (or good neighboring) understanding of ecclesial responsibility. In Portland, with our well-defined neighborhood system, I can travel 15 minutes down the freeway to go to church and pass through 5 distinct neighborhoods on the way. Mobility creates a centrifugal force out of neighborhood engagement and into a consumerist modality. It also feeds attractional (or church growth) models.
As a pastor and community developer training churches and community organizations in ABCD strategies, I am excited to hear people musing on these themes. Elliot said it well; “The church doesn’t bring the good news to the neighborhood. The Word is already there (which is why the ABCD model is helpful). The good news is that the neighborhood can force us to see Christ in new ways and constantly unpack our notion of “we the church” as heroes. We are merely participants that have experienced a level of freedom.” Love it!
Place becomes, well, the place where the good news is discovered, demonstrated and explained. And in a neighborhood it’s more unavoidably done in relationships of mutuality; each player is simply neighbor. Rather than one is the elevated minister and one is the needy “ministee” we get to play more equitable roles. (Now we’re into Trinitarian theology)
I'm hopeful as church leaders, planters, and theologians take up a rigorous and thoughtful examination of our theology of place (or lack thereof). We should ask some dangerous questions. How would Jesus have us love well, the people in this place? How could we express a greater value toward this place? How can we inhabit (incarnate) our neighborhood more and travel out of it less? Can we discover the existing beauty of the Kingdom of God in this place? Can we participate with what God is already doing in this neighborhood? How can we lead our congregants to inhabit the church’s neighborhood more? Is there a theology of place that could help us with a sustainable neighborhood engagement?
Maybe you need to move. Maybe your church needs to move. Maybe the church needs to refocus it’s missional thrust. A good starting point is John Inge’s book A Christian Theology of Place. And we could learn a lot from Intentional Communities such as those being made noticeable by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, David Fitch, and other new monastics.
Finally, I’d encourage any left-coasters, to check out a developing network of people in the Northwest (Seattle, Tacoma, Portland) who are really wrestling with these questions. We call ourselves the Parish Collective. (You should check out that wesite too - special additional sentence for this post! Special)