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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How do you get to know the city youu2019re in? In recent posts Iu2019ve been exploring a number of areas every church should examine in order to understand their neighbors better. Iu2019ve referred to it as listening to your city in the same way as a doctor uses a stethoscope to listen to a patient. n So far weu2019ve looked at what the structures of your city tell you about its inhabitants (<a href=

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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What if you could listen to your neighborhood like scientists listen to trees?

What if you could listen to your neighborhood like scientists listen to trees?

Take a walk through a forest and it seems the trees stand still like silent sentinels . A tree is the ultimate individualist, right? Each one appears totally independent of the others. That is, until you realize that trees talk to each other. Yep. They talk to each other. Underground! Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver did experiments that proved that trees pass information between themselves in a silent underground network. And not just between members of the same species. She found that Douglas fir and paper birch trees can transfer information across species’ lines. It’s all a bit technical and sciencey, as she explains here, but, bottom line, she found the underground life of trees is alive with the transfer of information. Basically their root systems can transfer stuff like carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus via something called mycelia. What’s mycelia, you ask? Well, it’s all a bit technical and sciencey, but essentially it’s fungus. Fungal bodies are made up of a mass of thin threads, known as a mycelium. These threads act as a kind of underground internet, linking the roots of different plants, and passing nutrients and elements between them.  If you cover one tree in a forest with a huge plastic bag, like Suzanne Simard did, and pump it full of radioactive gas, like

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We don’t need better politicians; we need better voters

We don’t need better politicians; we need better voters

Bishop Will Willimon of the United Methodist Church recently participated in a political demonstration in his home state of North Carolina. He even managed to drag several of his conservative parishioners along too. They were standing up to the Governor’s recent decisions regarding voting rights, cuts to social programs, and the repeal of the Racial Justice Act. Maybe the good bishop and his flock imagined they had struck a blow for truth and justice, and made a difference in the lives of those affected by the policy changes. Well, that was until Governor Pat McCrory dismissed the protests as “just a bunch of aging hippies from the sixties.” McCrory was completely unmoved. And unbowed. That was when one of Willimon’s parishioners said this, “Preacher, we don’t need better politicians; we need a better class of voters. Maybe you should stay home and work on your Sunday sermon rather than protesting in Raleigh.”   Think about that. We don’t need a better grade of politician. We need a better class of voter. And according to Willimon’s friend, in order to enhance the class of voters, preachers need to work as hard on their sermons as they do on their public demonstrations. We need voters who’ve been shaped by God’s word and who cast their ballots to reflect the biblical values of

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