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June 5, 2017

Healthy Churches: Yearning for Vibrant Community


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A Note from Luminex: This morning’s blog post is the second in a 10-week series on “Healthy Churches.” Each week, one of our stable of leaders/bloggers will share thoughts on a significant aspect of healthy churches. Enjoy!

My commute is a lengthy one, but it’s a straight shot on almost one highway.  A drive almost “as the crow flies,” my pass takes me from urban, suburban to rural, reversing the process as I approach home.  I’m always amazed (and amused) by the signs I see that advertisers have carefully selected to catch the audience in these communities and commutes.  “Say NO to rugs” for the local flooring business.  Substitute teachers are needed in the public schools.  Old bands advertise their fifth reunion tour like ghosts of Christmas past (Loverboy?  Really??).  The signs tells me a lot about who advertisers think live in those communities.  And most importantly, what advertisers think that community needs and what they care about.  Signs say a lot.

We often dream with churches about what renewed communities look like.  We invite people to dream about a thriving and vibrant parish where people are experiencing various forms of shalom – wholeness and restoration where there was brokenness, peace where there was chaos.  But let’s push further.  What would a community look like that was not only restored but was growing and bursting with new life? What if every other community it touched and partnered with was so infected with this vibrancy and hope that it dramatically altered the lives of its surrounding residents?

Even as I’m writing this, I feel ultimately ridiculous.  That feels so impossible.  So BIG.  Surely that has to be heaven, the new kingdom.  Do I even dare to dream about that kind of kingdom here on earth now?  Do I?  I see the line in the sand and feel wide-eyed.

If you are ready to dare to dream for vibrant communities with me, I invite you to join me in the following:

  1. For the injustices that ensnare communities and drag them down into the pit of unholy outcomes, you need to be on your knees.  Equally worse, for the apathy that strikes at the heart of our communities of comfort where we struggle to get people to authentically know their neighbors and squeeze time between sports, yoga, the PTA, and a night out.  Both postures are a posture of the heart, and that’s the work of the Holy Spirit.  So we ask in faithful prayer as we teach and encourage into new ways of living and being, that the Spirit would do what the Spirit does best.
  2. Big church, little church, country church, urban center.  We all have capital to invest.  In their book Oikonomics, Breen and Sternke talk about five areas of capital that we have to give to the greater good: spiritual, financial, physical, intellectual, and relational.  Where resources are critical to a community, we undervalue the contributions that can be made by each and every individual when we rest solely on what someone can produce out of their bank account.  Vibrant communities are built when people share their time and energy with their schools.  When folks connect each other in an attempt to build networks of mutual benefit instead of hoarding their contacts into elite social clubs.  They thrive when people are unafraid to simply pray on their front lawn with their neighbor.
  3. People will only journey as far as they can see.  If your vision is limited, your path will be pretty short.  In the gospel of John, in chapter 10, Jesus tells his disciples that he is the GOOD shepherd.  Not the decent shepherd.  He is letting them know his posture towards them.  In verse 10, he affirms that, saying, “I have come to give life, and give it abundantly.”  Do we even dream about what abundant even means for us?  Our neighborhoods?  The goodness of our shepherd – life ABUNDANT.  In our prayer times, we need to ask God to give us eyes to see what life abundant looks like so we can faithfully walk towards that end.  We need to see our communities in living color – raucous and hopeful with the fuschias, cobalts, crimsons and verdant greens of REAL LIFE.

In some communities that I visit, I see signs for payday loans, the lotto, and liquor.  It’s hard not to feel hopeless.  But I dream of days when I can see signs for new businesses, community centers, and parks.  Signs that show new dreams and a preferred future of what that community will care about. I hope to see signs of garage doors open, people sitting on their front lawns, talking with neighbors, cars lined down the street because they’ve opened their schedules and their homes to bring the community into their homes.  Life, and life abundant.

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