As I approach the four year anniversary of the launch of my book 6 Radical Decisions, I am taking some time to reflect on the process of trying to implement what I was writing about in the context of a local church.
The central thesis of the book is that there are 6 core characteristics of the church whenever it is at its best, all of which are profound decisions to step out of the way that the world normally works.
The first decision is really the main one, that Jesus is central to everything. The second decision is the one that occupied the most of my attention in the book, and most of my attention in life. The second Radical Decision is the choice to step into the mission that God has specifically for you as an individual. In part three of this series of reflections, I wrote about how we have been building this understanding of vocational calling into our church.
In part four I acknowledged that mission is more than vocation, and in fact our Short school of mission course has a module on vocation, but also a module on cross-cultural engagement. We are called to engage with people who think, talk and act differently to us.
Mission, though, is greater still than simply vocation or cross cultural engagement. The third module of our Short School of Mission is called Waking up the Neighbourhood.
This is probably not news, but when Jesus said “Love your Neighbour as yourself,” he was not just talking about a religious metaphor. We actually have to learn to love our neighbours.
As I arrived at the church I thought that my main strategy in this task would be Open Crowd Festivals which I had experienced so often as part of Fusion. These indeed have proved to be an important part of the strategy, which I will talk more about in coming reflections, however it was something that was already happening in St. Albert that has proved to be most strategic.
In the first few months of being at the church I made an appointment to visit the community development department at local council, something that was a normal part of my previous work with Fusion. As I sat down with the manager of Family and Community Services and the Neighbourhood Development officer, Angie, it quickly became clear that they were working at a very different level to any council I had engaged with in Australia. They were working from a model called “Asset Based Community Development” and had developed a strategic plan which was light years ahead of anything I had seen in Oz.
One of the centrepieces of their strategic plan was the promotion of “Block Parties.” After talking at Churches and Service clubs for years and year about the importance of Social Capital, I found myself engaging with a council that was being pro-active in building it… And it was working. St. Albert has been voted the fourth best place to live in Canada.
A few months later Angie asked to see a fellow pastor and I. She had come across a book called “The Art of Neighbouring,” which told the story of a bunch of churches learning how to take a lead in building neighbouring in a community. She asked whether the churches here would be open to doing the same thing. After a number of conversations The Good Neighbour Project was born.
The reason the Good Neighbour Project was so strategic is that it gave us an excuse and a way to help our people do what Jesus commanded us to do. For three weeks we preached, we told stories and we encouraged our people to get involved in block parties.
Block parties are extremely simple, but they work. They are not a program. They are not organized by any central body. Block parties are simply an excuse for neighbours to get to know one another… And that really matters.
We got some traction. The church’s involvement saw a 30% increase in block parties across the city. Most of all though, we raised the profile of neighbouring as being central to the heart of Christianity.
The job isn’t done, we intend to continue this thrust towards living out the great commandment, and we know that as we do, the church will continue to be shaped by the effort.