If you want to shape your city’s future, learn its past

If you want to shape your city’s future, learn its past

Recently, I’ve been blogging about how to “read” your context, to understand your neighborhood and to join God in what is going on there. I’ve been exploring the work of Michael Mata, professor of Transformational Urban Leadership at Azusa Pacific University in Los Angeles, and his five S’s for studying your place (structures, signs, spatial dynamics, social interaction and spirituality). You can start reading those articles here. But now I want to add a sixth S. I think you also need to learn your neighborhood’s story. The story of a place has a lasting impact on its personality and general culture, its strengths and weaknesses. Without knowing its story we fall prey to the possibility of misjudging a place for what it is not. Good missionaries will take the time to excavate and retell the history of their city. The study of place informs the way we pray for our neighbors, the way we extend love, and the way we can contend for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.   It’s like falling in love with your place – the more you discover, the more you can love with sincerity and wisdom. This process can lead us to accept what we don’t know, while still choosing to love in the everyday simplicity of what we’ve discovered.

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Taking the spiritual temperature of your neighborhood

Taking the spiritual temperature of your neighborhood

I was chatting to a young(ish) Baptist minister recently who was trying to recruit me to support a particular campaign he was developing (that’s not important right now). What intrigued me was that, as he was pitching his idea to me, he casually mentioned that he just met the local Catholic priest who had shown some interest in his campaign as well. I stopped him. “Earlier you told me you’ve ministered in that neighborhood for 10 years. And you only just met your local parish priest? Is he a new priest?” “No,” came the reply. “He’s been the local priest for nearly the same length of time as I’ve been there.” I lost all interest in his campaign proposal and started wondering how a Baptist minister and a Catholic priest could both be serving their congregations in such proximity, but have never met. If the Baptist hasn’t even met the Catholic – or the Pentecostal, or the Seventh Day Adventist – what hope is there that he’s met the local imam or Buddhist monk? I’m often hearing evangelical church leaders telling me they love their city or neighborhood, but I find myself wondering how well they even know the city they say they love. If you’re not even familiar with your fellow Christian leaders, there’s little chance you know any of

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We build our cities, and then our cities build us

We build our cities, and then our cities build us

How do you get to know the city you’re in? In recent posts I’ve been exploring a number of areas every church should examine in order to understand their neighbors better. I’ve referred to it as listening to your city in the same way as a doctor uses a stethoscope to listen to a patient. So far we’ve looked at what the structures of your city tell you about its inhabitants (here), and how to read the signs in your community (here).  In this post, I want to encourage you to examine space and social interaction. City planners give huge amount of time and energy trying to figure out what kinds of public spaces their city needs and how they shape healthy social interaction. You need to do the same. SPACE The spatial layout of any environment can foster relational interaction or snuff it out. Consider airport gate lounges, with their fixed lines of seating all facing the same direction, the lack of tables, or group spaces, and the dominance of screens. Their spatial layout makes them unconducive to interaction. They’re designed in a way that assumes you’re not here to stay, you’re just passing through. Likewise, for most neighborhoods there has been some degree of planning that has gone into creating the environment in which people live, work and

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Please Lord, send me a sign

Please Lord, send me a sign

Recently, I’ve been writing about ways we can listen to our neighborhoods. I’ve been saying we need to lean in closely and hear the deep yearnings of those around us. Only then can we create bespoke ministry responses, not the off-the-shelf, prefabricated religious goods and services available in so many churches. This process of digging deep into the soil in which we’re planted and designing truly contextual practices is called cultural exegesis. And it’s an essential part of the work of missional leaders. Last week I introduced Michael Mata’s work on social research and began exploring how we can read the five S’s of any town or neighborhood – structures (which I looked at here), signs, spaces, social interactions, and spirituality. Later I want to add a sixth S of my own. In this post I want to look at the second S in the list – signs. Remember that scene in Bruce Almighty, when Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) is at the end of his emotional rope, driving through the darkness, begging God to send him a sign? He passes a flashing caution sign, but ignores it. Then a truck loaded with road signs reading Wrong Way, Dead End, and Stop veers in front of him. Still no reaction from Bruce. Caught up in his own worries and feeling sorry for himself,

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Listening deeply to your city

Listening deeply to your city

In my previous post I encouraged Christian leaders to consider ways they could listen deeply to the yearnings, desires, hopes and disappointments of their community. My reason for encouraging such deep listening is that I believe all mission is contextual. All mission. We’ve been buying ministry ideas off the shelf for too long, dishing up the same old tired suite of products currently on offer in every church right across the country. Mission is provincial. It’s local. It’s indigenous. It grows in the peculiar eco-systems in which its planted, and so it will taste and smell different in different settings.   So, how are you to know how to respond to the needs of your community, or how to collaborate with the things God is already doing there, unless you can listen? Truly listen. One of the world’s most revolutionary listening devices is the stethoscope. It was invented in 1816 by the impressively named René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laennec. He pioneered its use in diagnosing various chest conditions (stethos derives from the Greek word for chest). In commending his new instrument, Laennec was noted for saying, “Listen to your patients. They’re telling you how to heal them.”   Get that? The patient’s sick body knows what it needs to be healed. You just have to listen carefully enough. I think deep down your

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