One of the working assumptions of Living Local is that God is already out ahead of us, in the neighborhood. I once brought this up in a sermon, only months later to have a parishioner share the following reflections. “Last time you were hear, you preached about God being out ahead of us in the neighborhood. And if this is true, then we really need to be listening as a congregation. And if we aren’t listening, we’re actually missing God, and where God meet us.” I responded: “Yes, and AMEN!”
It would seem like a natural and simple process to get out into the neighborhood and start listening. Unfortunately, as we are learning in the Living Local process, the road from idea to execution is often bogged down with confusion, and discouragement around expected outcomes different than the story above. It is the slow pace of the work, as well as a misguided understanding for what counts as action.
One of the challenges is that we have all been conditioned in certain ways that can unknowingly co-opt, and impede the kind of learning necessary to join and discover God out ahead of us. We are stuck in assumptions that the reason we do this work is to either attract folks to our churches, or to assist them. It is not that these aren’t important, only that they are too narrow a focus. So while each have their place, both of these assumptions we refer to as either benefactor or attractional models are NOT what Living Local is first and foremost about.
Still, there are a number of challenges associated with engaging in the work of discovering and joining God. The way forward is to learn the wisdom of listening. Listening intentionally in the congregation and the neighborhood. The listening work also exposes the things we are resisting in our listening. In some instances, the resistance might be regarding our own expectations for outcomes to fix, while in other instances, we might just be anxious, afraid or uncertain how to make contact with neighbors. In other instances, we are so “family” oriented as congregations that, unbeknownst to us, we function tribally where, even if others would come, they may not be as welcome as we’d suspect that they should be.
Experimenting is one way forward in challenging and learning more about the missional challenges, and more deeply under the surface of what at first we’re able to notice, that exist in our community of faith. Experimenting is one way we begin chipping away at our challenges, creating an awareness of them, so that we are able to participate in God’s life ahead of us, and all the while being more responsive to the interest of others.
In order for us to move from listening to experimenting we need to take time to consider what our congregation’s missional adaptive challenges might be, and then, how we can design experiments to try out/test the challenges. All this, for the sake of learning what we don’t know we need to learn, but unless we learn it, we won’t have the kind of faithful future in God that we long to have.