A phrase and concept voiced at an ‘in conversation with…’ event hosted by the excellent EBM/skainos yesterday. Bob Lupton was the conversationalist in question, sharing his experiences of mission in an urban context in Atlanta, Georgia. Wish I’d known about him when I had an enforced stay there. Bob works in inner city Atlanta, and after a decade travelling in, moved there with his family.
The concept of vocational neighbouring grabbed me – its something I have discussed, argued about and pondered, and that something others are trying to have a lash at.
Bob has some great turns of phrase – especially the question – does God have an opinin on where he deploys his saints? When we are making decisions about buying houses and where to live the common elements to are shops, schools, safety etc, but how much does our desire to see the kingdom of God break in influence those decisions? How much do we think about the areas of the city that need our gifts and skills and abilities? It is true that often the communities in which we exist are more than just the geographical one in which we reside but that doesn’t mean we ignore our location. I think it can be true that where we live, or perhaps how we live where we live can have significant influence on our ability to be redemptive influences. In terms of redemptive influence I guess when it comes to vocational neighbouring it is a long slow patient, incarnational process.
In the block of flats where I live this is pretty difficult – no-one seems prepared to engage in conversation, or too willing to engage in relationship. It is a block of anonymous people who don’t interact. That’s why I prefer houses, at least then you are more likely to see and be able to chat to your neighbours. Bob also talked about how caring, achieving neighbours can dramatically influence people. It is an interesting thought that about making possibility visible. He told a story of his son applying for a part-time job, coming back and telling his neighbourhood friends that this company were looking part-time workers. Subsequently 5 of them ended up working there. Perhaps being a neighbour is about bringing hope by demonstrating that change is possible in our lives, and using the connections we have to be neighbours to those around us.
There was also some intriguing discussion on whether churches ‘compete’ with communities – how the ‘best’ Christians are often ‘un’ neighbours as their time is consumed by serving the programmes of their church. This raises the question – is the work of the church (or the institution) sometimes in opposition to the work of the kingdom in a particular place? Do churches ‘consume’ our time and talent instead of releasing us to serve in the community?