So, you don’t think of yourself as a missionary. No Bible studies, no notches on your evangelistic gun belt. Fair enough. But there are still so many ways you can participate in God’s mission. Some of the things I will suggest you may already be doing, but don’t think of them as participating in God’s mission, or as components of missional living. Making the connections between the activities of our daily lives and the life of God may be some of the transformative work we can do in our lives. It gives the practices of our lives depth and significance, which in turn makes us more acutely God-aware.
I am convinced that attentiveness is the biggest key to participating with God in the world. And the first location of missional attentiveness for all of us should be our neighborhoods.
Attentiveness requires us to slow down. For many of us, our neighborhoods are the places we drive through so that we can escape into our sanctuaries, guarded by our garage door openers: in and out quickly and cleanly and able to join the world we’ve constructed for ourselves through cable and internet. We fill our lives with remote things that demand our attention and keep us from seeing the world right in front of us. As a result, our lives too easily become disembodied. We become virtual people, rather than incarnational.
What’s the antidote? Walking. Walking slows you down. You see things, notably your neighbors, when you walk. Again, the key is not to power walk through the neighborhood with your iPod blaring in your ears and thereby avoiding presence and attentiveness, but to be prayerfully available. This might mean to be prayerful as you walk, or it could mean that you spend a few minutes in prayerful reflection with your journal after your walk, or both. I expect that such a practice will transform what your neighborhood looks like to you, and will begin to build within you a godly imagination for what you see.
We sometimes forget the parables of the leaven or muster seed. We think that God is in the big things or the huge initiatives or the big programs. But the gospel tells us that God’s plan to bring all creation back under his reign is not through coercion or control, but through demonstrations of faithfulness and loving presence. We cheapen these acts if we demand an immediate payoff, expect them to big all at once and immediately. Instead, the Kingdom of God often comes through small things, like regular walks through your neighborhood.
One more word about neighborhoods. Relationships in neighborhoods, it seems to me, carry a greater potential for symmetry, for free exchange, for true friendship and service. Relationships at work are often fraught with politics. They are often asymmetrical, with some having power over others, and, therefore, are more likely to be transactions even if they pass as friendship. We have commitments rooted in performance that go beyond the well-being of the other and that sometimes get in the way of the purposes of the Kingdom. Neighborhoods, to the extent that they are free of some of these politics, may be a more natural habitat for the Kingdom of God.
Some of you are already good at this. I’m not yet good at it. But we’ve recently purchased a home in a neighborhood close to my work and I plan to make walking a big part of my missional practice so that I can be prayerfully attentive in my neighborhood.