Being the Church

Our “Reimagining Neighborhoods” public events feature people telling stories of community life and of advancing the gospel in the places they live. In one city, about five people from the same neighborhood shared as a team. They were part of a larger group of people in their 20s who had chosen to live in the same area.

This group of five inspired us with amazing stories of shared meals, shared service, and numerous gospel conversations with their neighbors. They talked about the ways they were learning to fit together as a community of Christ followers living in close proximity and how their relational connections were being noticed by the neighbors in ways that led to meaningful encounters. They talked of the ways they were worshiping God, learning about Jesus, and working together to make the neighborhood a better place.

During the question-and-answer session at the end, the five were asked about how they were connected to the local church. I appreciated their response! They said that they attended different church expressions on Sunday, but that during the rest of the week they were attempting to be the church in their neighborhood.

This brings us to the next FAQ I’m often asked: “How does Navigators Neighbors connect with the local church?” You may remember our earlier question, “When do you actually share the gospel?” and my encouragement to study the Scriptures to get a clear picture of what the gospel actually is. I have a similar response with this local church question.

To answer it fully, we need to study what Scripture means by the word church. (Ekklesia is the Greek word that is translated “church” in English translations of the Bible.) Today, when we say “church,” it raises some connotations that go beyond what the Scriptures specifically say. Some of those extra-biblical connotations are good, some are neutral, and some are not helpful.

As our five friends shared above, most who are part of our Neighbors ministry will affiliate with a traditional local church body. That’s certainly a positive thing—it’s an opportunity to worship, share in the sacraments, and much more. Yet as they also reflected, we are “being the church” when we are vitally joined in community as followers of Jesus: serving one another, building one another up in the faith, and laboring together in the way of Jesus.

Let me illustrate with an analogy from football. (My wife, Iris, and I really get into watching football. I often joke that we would not own a TV if it weren’t for the Seahawks!) During a game, the players huddle up and the quarterback calls the plays. There are also timeouts when the players go to the sidelines for additional coaching. These huddles and gatherings are designed to help the team play the game better. Those huddles are not the game, of course, which is played on the field.

I believe that the church is like that. Those huddles and gatherings—the ones we Navigators do and the ones sponsored by traditional local churches—are designed to help people “play on the field,” to be the church in the world.

In Navigators Neighbors, we are very much in support of that. My friend Ben Katt is a church planter and missional thinker here in Seattle. He hosts an excellent podcast called RePlacing Church. I love the name. It’s a play on words with a deep meaning. We are not replacing church, we are placing it in such a way as to raise up people who are known, not primarily by their gatherings but by the ways they reflect Jesus in the places they live.

Al Engler is the director of Navigators Neighbors and Navigators Workplace. This article is part of a series on Frequently Asked Questions regarding neighborhood ministry. To contact him or to learn more about his ministry, click here.