God Next Door II – The Lives of Ordinary Neighbourhood People Actually Do Matter

This is one of the primary and most inspiring themes of the book.

That God does not value missionaries or pastors any higher than those who work in non-clergy jobs and live ‘normal’ lives. No really… The myth we have lived with for so long, has served to greatly devalue the lives of so many people who love God and neighbour, but feel like they have always lingered a distance from where the main game was being played.

While we say we don’t believe this, our rhetoric often betrays us. I have done it myself – encouraged people to pursue Christian ministry as if it were a ‘higher’ calling – as if other jobs were for those who God had passed over because they were rather ordinary. I know I have hoped that ‘Dave’ would go into ministry because he’d be ‘wasted’ as a teacher…

Where did that come from?…

Simon begins his book with the stories of 3 very ordinary people, living lives that are way short of spectacular. You could even say they are somewhat boring… but as he points out, they are lives that are real & believable and probably very similar to those of most of the people in our churches.

He does this intentionally, because as he says “They embody what this book is about. Its about neighbours and neighbourhoods. More importantly, its a book about you and your neighbourhood. The street where you live and its immediate surrounds is one of the most routine venues of your life. in fact its so everyday that once you’ve moved in, chances are you don’t notice it much…”

Ah, how true…

I know I lived in suburbia for most of my life without giving any thought to how it impacted on my life and my spirituality. Its only been in the last 5 years that I have begun to consider what it means to live and follow Jesus in a specific neighbourhood and how that impacts on my life and the lives of those around me.

Simon observes that as much as our neighbourhoods may seem bland, predictable or unremarkable, they do actually have their own character and qualities. And as we observe these distinctives we can understand better what it means to be the people of God in that place – as ordinary as that may be.

I have lived in several neighbourhoods in my lifetime, the first being suburban Belfast in the late 60’s, early 70’s at the height of the troubles. I don’t find it easy to reflect on that experience of neighbourhood because I was so young and only remember it through the eyes of a child. I do remember thinking I was extremely adventurous in those early years. I felt like I was often exploring and playing in new places. Then I went back to Belfast as an adult at 34 years old and realised how tiny my little world was. I doubt I ever ventured more than a kilometre from home, but I really felt like I explored half the city as a kid.

As I look back on that semi detached two storey house in Orangefield Crescent, I remember a street where we knew the neighbours and the folks across the street, where my grandparents lived within walking distance and where (despite what was going on around us) there was always safe fun to be had. I had some good mates back then so I guess many of my memories are shaped by them.

When we came to Oz we spent 3 months in a rented house in Balga. It was the bad old days in Balga and that was one of my least favourite memories of neighbourhood. I was glad when we moved to Innaloo (yes – a suburb that was the butt of many jokes… no pun intended…) and settled there. I lived there on and off for 16 years until I got married. There was a year in the country town of Wagin and a year at Bible college, but if I had to choose a formative place in my own life it would be that neighbourhood.

In those days it was just another suburb and we certainly didn’t feel anything more than knockabout working-middle type of kids. There was a fair smattering of old fibro state housing commission places around the suburb as well as the standard fare blonde brick that was typical of the era. You really have to wonder what ever caused someone to think blonde brick would be attractive…

We seemed to have pretty decent relationships with the neighbours but because lived on a corner we didn’t seem to get to know too many people beyond that. (Quick observation – Typically corner blocks seem less conducive to knowing people in your street as no-one really knows which street you are on – and you also miss being sandwiched between other sets of neighbours)

In the 70’s and 80’s Innaloo and the areas around it were the suburbs where people worked hard to get ahead and the neighbouring suburb of Scarborough had the reputation of being rather drug ridden – all those ‘surfies’ – as people called them. They were suburbs with big blocks and backyard incinerators. I seem to remember at the height of summer, burning leaves in the old cinder brick incinerator… where were fire restrictions in those days?… or environmental concerns?!…

These days they are expensive suburbs and there is a heap of development happening. Those old blocks are worth a fortune and backyards have been sold off, as well whole houses bulldozed to make way for the new crowd who are moving in. From being a fairly family oriented suburb Innaloo has become very diverse, with young couples buying the units, some 3rd homebuyer families moving backing in, plenty of retirees still sitting on their 1/4 acres and a bunch of lower socio-economic folks still renting the older fibros or red brick dunnies until someone decides to bulldoze them.

I guess if any place where home for me it’d be this area, because it is the neighbourhood where my most formative experiences were had. As much as Innaloo was 4 kms from the beach I still felt like I grew up ‘by the beach’. The ocean views from the soccer oval at Scarborough High School led to many a day of school being skipped in favour of the surf.

Of course back then I wasn’t paying conscious attention to the neighbourhood. I knew we weren’t rich like those people in City Beach, whose houses we would drive enviously past, but neither were on the bones of our bum. Somehow it didn’t matter that much either.

Anyway… its late and as I write I realise I am rambling more than reflecting so I will finish this tomorrow when my brain is re-engaged!…

11 thoughts on “God Next Door II – The Lives of Ordinary Neighbourhood People Actually Do Matter

  1. “That God does not value missionaries or pastors any higher than those who work in non-clergy jobs and live ‘normal’ lives. No really… The myth we have lived with for so long, has served to greatly devalue the lives of so many people who love God and neighbour, but feel like they have always lingered a distance from where the main game was being played.”

    A rather famous American pastor in the 1980-90s once said, “If there is anything else you can possibly do, do that — but if not, if you can’t do anything else — be a pastor.” I’m in an extended fast now concerning my future in this area because I feel that “professional ministry” has kept me from really being a Minister. I’ve just kept the machine running and the plates spinning as it were. John 1:14 (Message) has grabbed me lately — (Jesus) moved into the neighborhood and revealed God’s generosity. From your pictures & posts that sounds like what you’re doing. I think in OZ they would say, “Good on ya, mate!”

  2. I couldn’t agree more. One of the more life changing realizations for me as an adult was that no one particular job or ‘calling’ was above another or warranted more grace from God because of sacrifice endured. In practice though as well. In this sense, I as a missionary overseas, I was serving people no more or no less than a florist preparing and selling God’s flowers for the delight of those who purchased them. My reformed upbringing has a lot to do with this no doubt.

    The theology of rewards and ministry needs revisiting I think.

  3. 1 verse, that’s all I can see that mentions the word “Pastor” Eph 4:11 in the New Testament – the word is used in the plural, I could be wrong – but there is no Biblical support for the practice of Sola Pastor. The text also as you can read offers no definition or description of who Pastors are.

    Pastor = poimen (Geek) or shepherd in the Latin, I think it is a metaphor to describe a particular function in the church – it is not an office or a title.

    Why then is the Pastor the fundamental figure of the Protestant faith?

  4. Andrew, thanks for taking my little book seriously enough to go back for seconds!

    It’s a wonderful encouragement, not least because you are doing just what I hoped the book might inspire people to do … to ask what does this mean for my home and my neighbourhood.

    Encouraging, too, to hear that the book is being picked up this year by a publisher in the States. So perhaps it’ll be read my more than just you, me and my wife!

    Thanks again.

  5. That’s great news Simon!

    I don’t think I would have given it the time of day 5 years ago, but having lived ‘in the neighbourhood’ and begun to see its importance I have been raving about it to everyone 🙂

    Expect your sales to go thru the roof…

  6. Hamo – I’m kind of thinking at the moment that there are 3 major tectonic stresses that have collided with what was once the Early Church and has created ‘church’ as we know it today – 1)the early post Constantinian era (324-600),2)the Reformation (16th C) and 3) the Revivalist era (18th-19th century) – that much of modern day church practice was spawned during these time periods.

    You might not remember – but I have swallowed the red pill, kept it for nearly a year, to be honest wasn’t a lot of red left!!!! – I’m still not sure how deep the rabit hole goes but it is deep.

  7. For too long people calling themselves pastors or priests have taken on a role that they think gives them the authority to exercise power over others, while on the other hand, many people have looked up to those in authority and have handed over their individuality to them as well as all their responsibilities as a royal priesthood. We love to use labels to either grasp power, or to give up our responsibilities

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