In my last post i made a simple point that, in a way, in mission the songs of the church matter little (though at times sadly we, and i mean we , the church place alot of emphasis on the relevancy or contemporaryness of music/singing as mission imperative) , and that our love for a community matters so much more. 

Having been challenged to think about what this might mean by a few comments via social media, i wonder then whether it would be good to explore further what it might mean for a church in mission to love its community.

Firstly lets start with Love.

This should be easy for the Christian.

Love is costly, Love is the cross, Love is hard. Love is Kind, Love is Faithful, Love is forgiving, Love keeps no record of wrongs, but delights in the truth, Love is Patient. In a way – we know all of these things, Its love that is the good news, its love that is the call to the corinthian church. Love from a quick skim of the Biblical narrative is easy to know about and theologically contextualise.

So if Love is the imperative and the practice, and the action for a church involving itself in community – what might be good community work that loves?

If you have been reading my previous articles on community work, you will know that i have referred to ABCD, or asset based community development a little bit. I was taken by an article on the Nurture development website this week, it is here is you would like to read it: http://www.nurturedevelopment.org/blog/can-i-help/ . It is an interesting one, in which the question is asked by the agency – to a community – ‘Can I Help you? ‘ In the blog Shaun Burnett discussed the now well-known actions of the Brownlee Brothers at the recent triathlon world championships, and suggest how they embodied help to the weaker and struggling of the two brothers at the time. And though a patriarchial, single dimension of helping was a common theme in the definitions of help that Shaun found, he challenged this by saying that the help that the Brownlee brothers gave each other was because of the relationship that they had with each other – it was not patriarchial, neither was it charity, it was help out of brotherly love.

Shaun concludes his piece by saying:

“And is this not the key point? Here we have a rare glimpse at what a person / helper can do when they are in right relationship with another. The good news is that though it is an unusual occurrence, it’s not the only example. At a time when our world desperately needs such examples, we need to be tenacious enough to actively rummage around to discover them because they are there in each of our lives but they are invisible against the backdrop of classic forms of Helping. We miss them in the randomness of their expression, but if you have a mind to search them out, they actually are quite abundant, and if we’re a little more careful and carefilled we can cultivate a lot more.

At a time when our world desperately needs such examples, we need to be tenacious enough to actively rummage around to discover them because they are there in each of our lives but they are invisible against the backdrop of classic forms of Helping.

At the moment, i see no better way to start thinking and launching ‘loving’ community work for a church than to think about developing relationships with the community. Developing the kind of relationships that breaks down barriers that we, as church, might easily have erected.  As i suggested previously in an article titled ‘The Hearing church’ – one of the first ways of doing this is by listening, by hearing and by being present to hear in the right kind of spaces, the spaces where people are mostly themselves. Its in the non official spaces, to hear, but also to find opportunities to get to know. To form the kind of relationships where help is more of an equal footing.

If as a church we can be unconditional in the love we have for a local community – what might that mean in terms of the relationships we create with people? the opportunities we offer?

the spaces that faith is explored? , of even the right kind of opportunities opened up to meet people where they are at?

doing community work that is constructed with being able to act lovingly (as the christian definition above indicates) towards people – and not just say it. Where opportunities are to build relationship, not just help, or serve (which retains power- but gives it away) . And that’s not to denigrate serving. Serving has enabled the church to be practical and fill a chronically open void created by the system regarding benefits and thus thrust foodbank use into the limelight. Helping as Serving is good.

But if this is only to tick a community work box, or in and of itself – then where might be the sense that the church is acting out of love with its community to help, or to ask how it can help? Or if helping isnt needed – how else might a church love its community?

It could love – by creating community- community around groups of people who have shared interests – like food, or film, or sport, or a hobby.

It could love its community by praising it, supporting it, endorsing it, and recognising its positives.

It could love its community by locating the powers that restrict its people and challenge these.

It could love its community by supporting local charities already involved in it.

It could love its community by responding to community crisis well, and community celebrations too

What might it mean for the church to be faithful, kind, forgiving, rejoicing – with and for its community?

The rise in community work that churches have done has taken a rise in the last 15 odd years, some of it has been more unconditionally loving toward a local community than others. Serving a local community first is one of the key themes that Pioneer groups have undertaken in the exploration of new expressions of church (Moynagh, M, Church for every context) – but what might it mean to ‘love’ a local community – yes it might mean serving, yes it might mean helping – but its more likely to mean getting to know – somehow – recognising interests, strengths and gifts, and developing opportunities to share moments of community, of relationship together. Does todays culture crave authentic community – well in your local community you might need to find out. I havent a clue from sitting here typing this. But it and yours might.

There are countless more than the above – but as Christians who believe in what a deeper, prophetic and practical, sacrifical love is – it is about how we find ways to show, and act this out in our local communities – starting probably with their permission to do so, or be trusted to have that space, and i think in many areas we’re over that, the church is far more trusted (thanks to foodbanks and other initiatives) than it used to be. It has now that task of going from being trusted locally, to loving locally. To act in the interest of others, to act in hospitality to the least likely at the wedding feast- to use Biblical imperatives & parables.

It might not be – ‘How can i help you?’, neither ‘How may i help you? ‘

but ‘you are worth getting to know’ and what do you want us to do for and with you? – once i know you. (not before)

Asset based community work (ABCD) is definitely a start to viewing a local community differently – with gifts rather than needs, and so please do click the nurture development link to the right of this piece to give you ideas, thinking and resources. Yet if a church is to love its local community – asset based community development might just be the start. Doing community work, to be involved in peoples lives whom it doesnt yet know might involved creating spaces and being involved in places where it connects on a human level. For young people this might mean on the streets – where they are comfortable. For others it is in the pub. Or on bus journeys, or toddler groups.

Loving community work is to love people first and foremost. How might a church love its whole community?

 

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