I’m 16 years old. Wanting to ride a rush of All-Ontario-Youth-Convention enthusiasm for service and the potential for youth to make a difference, we combine Teen Club and Young Peoples and rebrand the new super-group as YouthWorks. We hand out flyers at church, address council, speak from the pulpit and wait for our numbers to climb.
We organize helper days and volunteer to do any task, no matter how small or menial, for needy people. We encourage congregation members to ask their neighbours. There’s a lot of raking and yard cleanup around freehold homes in far-flung suburbs; a lot of waiting for rides, not imagining that rakes and brooms and garbage bags can be carried on public transit. Not imagining that we can walk to the housing projects in the church’s own neighbourhood.
In three years I’ll join the army, go off to college and travel, and forget about missions for a while.
In 15 years, while teaching at a Christian high school, I’ll take the students on a service trip into the downtown of a nearby city to sleep in a church, help out at a street mission and fill bags with sundries at a foodbank. Well, of course that’s what we do, I’ll think, thinking about drop-in, drop-out aid, SERVE, short-term missions trips, all the effort we spend away from our churches and communities. Away from ourselves.
Back to my childhood. As I grow up, aside from the pastor and his family in the parsonage next door, I don’t know anyone from the congregation who lives in the church’s neighbourhood. All of my friends from the church are friends from the Christian school, and we come from all over the place. While a handful live close enough to walk to school, everyone drives to church, filling the large parking lot and most of the gravel extension every Sunday with shiny, late-model cars.
We run inside for service, drink coffee and eat boterkoek downstairs with each other, and run to our cars afterwards. We drive back during the week and run inside the church for council, catechism, cadets, Calvinettes, coffeebreak, a dozen other ministries that few outside our church walls could explain.
In five years, I’ll settle for six months in Sydney, Australia, and find a church way out in the outskirts. Hours on trains and buses. My sweaty hand will get shaken at the sanctuary, but after service I’ll stand alone during coffee time, and no one will offer to arrange a ride for the following Sunday.
In 25 years, I’ll write about our missions mindset and will want to compare the views of local churches. In 2015, first contact will be online, so I’ll open my browser to get a sense for how denominations see themselves. I’ll generally be very impressed. But one church, the only representative of its denomination in the downtown core, will have only three tabs on its website – Home, Worship, Contact – and not a single mention of community, service or mission. Saying, We’re here – now come find us, instead of Who are you? Where are you? What do you need, and how can we help?
In 20 years, back in Canada after years in China, Kuwait and Korea, we’ll pray to find a new church home. Blessed by urban and ecumenical congregations overseas that weren’t distracted by denomination, we’ll have a few requirements for a church community: close enough to walk or bike there, vibrant and worshipful, welcoming and inclusive and connected to the needs of the neighbourhood.
In 25 years, as I hop between congregation websites and social media feeds, I’ll be inspired by the prioritization of visibility and engagement within many communities. There will be sites and blogs and articles focused on the ever-increasing need to partner with our neighbours, reaching nearby to fulfill missional mandates, much like our own church family will do.
Still, I’ll know that it might not be enough, too. One page in particular – The Verge’s “25 Simple Ways to be Missional in Your Neighbourhood” – will have a long list of actions I can’t claim to have done. Convicted, I’ll experience even greater detachment from the still-common view that missions are most often accomplished away from our communities. I’ll wonder whether we’ve misplaced two greatest commandments, and upon what we’ve chosen to hang all the law and prophets instead.
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