Within a radius of 5 miles, we have the UK’s largest Hindu temple, the largest Sikh Gurdwara (one of many!), multiple mosques and madrassas, and a Buddhist temple. There are spiritual centers for meditation and, of course, church buildings and congregations. The experts describe the area around us as ‘super-diverse’ where there really isn’t a ‘majority’ population.
What is a Missional Community? A missional community is a group of people apprenticed to Jesus, joining God in what he is already doing in this place. Enabled and empowered by the Holy Spirit we have covenanted together to intentionally and creatively demonstrate the good news of the Kingdom of God in the neighbourhood. The way we mutually describe this, given the place in which we live, is that we want to ‘cultivate abundant community from the ground up by being neighbours on purpose’.
Sam’s recent blog posts highlighted this same statement using metaphors of ‘dance’ and ‘song’ and ‘choir’ and ‘jazz band,’ all rich and descriptive and helpful to describe life in the neighbourhood. In this blog, I want to briefly highlight the biblical roots from which this phrase we’ve coined has derived. And yes, we had some of these in mind, but not all of them! I can only highlight them here.
I’ll start with ‘abundant community’ – the idea of abundance brings to mind what Jesus said: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10.10, ESV). The context of the chapter speaks to the kind of intimate life he wanted with his followers, a life lived and experienced to the full, but which cannot be experienced without him. In fact, he says that to try to do so (without him – see John 15) accomplishes nothing in the end. Moreover, it is not a solitary experience apart from others; it has to be with others. For a culture which focuses on scarcity (competition for limited resources), living in an abundance mindset is revolutionary!
There is mystery in this. What we’ve found is that we cannot contrive or create community, abundant or otherwise. Speaking biotically, no one can ‘make’ something grow, hence the use of the word ‘cultivate’ which speaks to the work we (people / apprentices to Jesus) can do to plant, water, fertilize, and weed around that which we want to be abundantly fruitful. There is even more mystery in a seed which ‘dies’ and gets inserted in the soil out of sight and life happens. What we’ve learned, and to which Jesus refers in John 10 of his own death, burial, and resurrection, is that ‘dying to one’s self’ is essential and non-negotiable for life that is abundant and meaningful. Abundant community is the wonderful ‘by-product’ of indirect action on those things I can control or for which I am responsible.
How do we do this? By being ‘neighbours on purpose.’ This is where energy and effort are combined with intent; it is love in action. This is an expression of what Jesus said sums up the teaching of the Bible – love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbour as yourself (Mark 12.28ff). This is more than mere sentimentality or romantic notions of physical attraction. In fact, a decision to love pushes past sentimentality when a person or people are unattractive by the usual societal or cultural forms of measurement.
The Christian philosopher and spiritual writer Dallas Willard introduced a view of this he called the VIM paradigm – VIM being shorthand for vision, intention, and means. What is in view by our little saying cultivating abundant community from the ground up by being neighbours on purpose is a preferred future (vision) where Summerfield in all its diversity and differences works together for something beyond the individual or their simple aggregation – a kind of people and place which mirrors the Kingdom of Heaven on earth where goodness, justice, mercy, truth, and grace are experienced and expressed to one another together.
Wanting to be the kind of person and people who both ‘be and do’ these things is what Willard calls ‘intention,’ and it is not enough. We need ways or ‘means’ to be and become this kind of person and this kind of people. ‘Being neighbours on purpose’ is the Companions for Hope way of saying the means for seeing this fullness of life in Summerfield requires commitment in the actions of helping, serving, coming alongside, and humbling ourselves before those in our immediate proximity. One day this involves taking flowers and a card to a woman with cancer. Another day it is praying with and comforting a Muslim mum and kids feeling threatened by the recent so-called ‘punish a Muslim day.’ On another day it finds expression in litter-picking a street, gathering people together for a meal, or sponsoring a community event with other local groups. On another day it shows in writing a supporting letter to the Home Office about a couple claiming asylum.