Local is hot these days. What I mean is, that our culture is moving toward “small and local” over “big and corporate.” This is no surprise to you. Everyone, it seems, touts “locally grown” or “artisan style” products these days. Where my generation was enamored with finally getting a chance to have the fancy products of the big cities in our hometowns, now it seems that we’ve discovered that bigger isn’t always better and the small-town stuff we grew up with was pretty cool after all.
This notion, it seems, isn’t lost on the church either. It turns out that the neighborhood church, the one entrenched in its community isn’t the outdated idea we used to think it was. Church planters and families seem equally interested in communities where people know one another and choose to share life together. In fact, according to the literature I’ve been reading, the commuter church with all the bells and whistles is often not the choice of the family these days. My intention today is not to critique the American church. I’m not necessarily in favor of one over the other or tying to pit large against small, commuter verses neighborhood. I am, however, interested in joining with the work of Jesus wherever it is found.
Perhaps a reminder of the definition of church can help us impact our neighborhoods even if we drive out of them to church on Sundays. The New Testament word for church is a compound word that means, “called out and to.” The church that Jesus envisioned had less to do with an address and more to do with the people who name his name. Church then, is not so much the place where I go on Sundays, it is the persons who follow Jesus. Ignore the address, never forget the mission. In this perspective, while I may not attend a church in my neighborhood, I am in my neighborhood, and I am the church. Rather than focus my spiritual life all on the church I attend, perhaps I could allow the ministries of the church I attend to help me be the church on my street—to my neighbors and friends.
Strangely, it may seem to you, I got to this line of thinking this morning because of a demon possessed man…I found him in Mark 5: 1-20. In this passage, Jesus heals a man possessed by many demons. This is the story of the demons being sent into the heard of pigs that subsequently run off a cliff. The former demoniac is delivered and made whole. When we encounter him later in the story he is “…dressed and in his right mind…” and he begs Jesus to let him join Jesus and the others in their ministry journeys. In a move that baffles the marketer in me, Jesus tells this walking, talking billboard for divine deliverance that he cannot travel with him. Jesus, it turns out, could care less about marketing. Though he could take this guy everywhere and tout his ability to deliver, instead Jesus says, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you.” Hear that again. “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you.” Go home to those people who watched your life unravel. Go home to those who prayed for you and wept over your lostness. Go home to the people who grieved you as though you were dead. Go home and let them see what God has done. Jesus, it turns out, is also right all the time. In his neighborhood, among his friends, his testimony will be a beacon shining on the person and work of Jesus.
Maybe we can’t all attend the neighborhood church, but we can all be the church in our neighborhood. Take the advice Jesus gave to the Gerasene Demoniac and be the church wherever you are. Be the locally grown, artisan purveyor of the Good News to the people in your little part of the world.