Some thoughts on missionary work in suburbia Part 1

Recently I was chewing thru what it looks like to be a missionary in suburbia – why its difficult – why progress is slow and why this is often ‘hard soil’ for the gospel. That’s not me being negative – I just think its the truth.

How do we make connections that allow for the gospel to be communicated in a genuine way?

As I was journalling this stuff it occured to me that effective relationship centred mission in suburbia requires several facets that to some degree ‘build on each other’ if we are to see people make a connection with both us and Christ. Very few things in life are completely linear and these ideas aren’t either, but here are my raw thoughts for your sampling and comment.

Building Block 1. Proximity – Not rocket science I realise. Its pretty obvious that its harder to develop significant relationships with people you aren’t physically close to. Our approach has been to move into a suburb with a group of families and focus intently on one specific area as a geographical region. We have been inspired by the incarnation and Eugene Petersen translates it beautifully in The Message John 1:14 “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood.”

We find ourselves asking if the word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood then what would that mean? How would Jesus live in our community?

Occasionally in my more lustful moments, I have contemplated moving to a house that is closer to the beach with great ocean views etc, but even to move one suburb away would affect our mindset and the sense of community we have been seeking to develop locally in the fairly discrete Brighton estate. To live in Quinns Rock is not to live in Brighton (although they are neighbouring suburbs) and we have quite intentionally set our sights on a significant involvement in this local area.

I would suggest we are simply less able to develop significant relationships with those who live a greater distance from us, so in my mind proximity is a ‘first base’ factor. If this one isn’t in place then the rest (while not impossible) will get harder.

Just as a note we also see the workplace, family, friendships and all of life as significant from a kingdom perspective, but we moved to Brighton to become involved in this community specifically, hence that is the dominant object in our field of vision.

Building Block 2. Regularity – remember I am writing about relational mission here and significant relationships require significant time invested in them. If we are to get to know people then we will need to be in each others lives with a high degree of regularity.

What do I mean by that?…

Good question… I would suggest that weekly (ideally) face to face contact ought to be a minimum if we are to see relationships go beyond the fluff.

“Wow!… Who does that?!” I hear you say.

Fair question, especially for blokes in the burbs. Mums seem to be able to pull this off more easily with playgroups, coffee mornings etc, but for the 9-5 ers (or probably more accurately 7.30-6 ers) its a big ask. Once relationships are well established we can decrease the regularity and all is ok, but certainly in the early days regular contact is important if we are to gather enough momentum for a significant friendship to develop.

I have a couple of friends (not part of our Upstream

download no man s land

community) who I connect with weekly, but that is because we have a Friday night cards evening that brings us all together, or because we roast coffee/share common interests. I doubt we would catch up as often if there was no specific ‘purpose’. Life just gets too busy and tiring and its easy not to make time. I also see a fair bit of the blokes in the street, but that is simply because we live nearby and we engage in street banter.

I believe if we are to see community develop in the burbs it will be largely because we have chosen to make time to be with others, both in a planned and spontaneous way. If we don’t make/create the time then we will live with an ongoing sense of frustration that our community isn’t really ‘what a community should be’. (The marketing tagline for Brighton!)

Let’s be honest though. To see someone regularly is a big ask and this is the point at where relationships come unstuck for most of us unless we are very intentional about nurturing them.

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