Recently, my cousin and her husband invited Iris and me over for lasagna and a discussion about ministry in their neighborhood. They had recently moved into a new housing area and wanted to make a difference there. These are two people who have been following Jesus for a number of years, but they admitted to us that all of their ministry experience came in the context of church programs and activities. They also had very little experience of what we would call “living and discipling among the lost.”
As the food was still cooking, I suggested that we take a walk through their neighborhood. We walked, talked, and prayed a bit. Over dinner I made a few observations about what we had seen. I asked a few questions to discern what the Lord was laying on their hearts. In the days following they made a couple of specific applications. One was to personally meet the people who lived on their cul-de-sac. The second was to explore the idea of a block party.
As we've prayed for them, we've continued to brainstorm with them as well. Here are a few excerpts from text messages over the past couple of weeks:
We have now met three neighbors in our cul-de-sac and three others. We are coordinating a block party on Sunday. We are praying boldly for success! Which is God's will being done here. We would love your prayers about the block party. Thanks!
We went through the neighborhood today, inviting people to the block party. It was energizing. I didn't dread it at all. Everyone I spoke to was very nice and appreciative. One woman mentioned maybe setting up a women's bunco night. (I don't particularly like bunco, but I'll be there, if it happens.) God is doing great things. I'm praying for his success—however that looks.
Wahoo! Block party a success in spite of the intermittent rain! We had about 40 people show up and everyone talked and had a good time. People were very grateful for the opportunity. We are praising God. The results have been in His hands. We will now keep on praying and looking for ways to enjoy and bless them.
What has been our role with my cousin and her husband? We’ve asked questions, made suggestions, and prayed. Occasionally we’ve asked how things are going and suggested books to read. The process has been relational and informal. I’ve never seen them so excited about life and ministry. They still have much to learn and unlearn, but they are on the journey away from the programmatic and planned
to the natural and organic
. Iris and I are discovering a great hunger for this type of coaching.
In previous blogs (which you can read here
), I’ve expressed my strong desire that we would flourish in three main ministry roles, serving as:
Excellent practitioners of our Calling in their own neighborhoods
Coaches of other laborers in the broader, local community
Mobile alongsiders for laborers outside of their local areas with whom they have a strong relationship
Here I’m turning my attention to the second bullet point, coaching other laborers in the broader, local community.
Personally, I believe that we are entering a long hoped-for second reformation. This reformation shatters clergy/laity distinctions and places the advance of the Gospel in the hands of regular people. Once people embrace the natural networks in which they have been planted as their sphere of missional influence, the ministry integrates with normal life. It actually becomes more normal and natural to serve people when they are your family, friends, and the people who live nearby. Daily life becomes less complicated when it merges with ministry and becomes more localized. It is a move toward simplicity.
Our Navigator vision speaks of everyday people rooted incarnationally in their local context. How do we get to that place? While the destination is one of greater simplicity, the journey is usually complex, the transitions are challenging, and the experienced guides are few. Leaders are rarely equipped with the skills to investigate the uniqueness of God’s work within particular communities and within our own personal stories. Without like-minded practitioners to inspire and support them, these leaders often feel adrift and alone. That is why we want to function as coaches to people around them.
In their book, Thin Places: Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community
, Jon Huckins and Rob Yackley explain that coaching is so critically important to helping people transition to a local, natural, neighborhood ministry that every person joining their community is connected to a coach.
“Each person who joins our community is committed to live in constant pursuit of God’s call on his or her life,” they write. “One of the central ways we see that call being unearthed is through a coaching relationship. Coaching is less about giving instruction from another person and more about creating space for the coach to ask questions that lead to realizing what the Spirit is already putting on our hearts.”
We want our Nav Neighbors staff to be able to function as player–coaches. They should be practitioners in their own neighborhood, and coaches for those who live in other neighborhoods in the surrounding community.
While the experienced guides are few, I believe that we in Nav Neighbors are uniquely positioned to serve in this capacity. It takes a bit of intentionality and love. We certainly have apt models from the early church: “We pleaded with you, encouraged you, and urged you to live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12, NLT).
Would you be open to a coaching relationship designed to help someone or a couple in your community love and serve their neighbors for the glory of God? Would you take a few minutes right now to ask God to guide you to just the right person or people?
Al Engler is the Mission Director of Nav Neighbors. You can learn more about him and his heart for the neighborhood and contact him here.