Creating Climates of Grace

As we continue to consider “What characterizes our movement?” from The Navigators Vision Statement, we come to a second characteristic: climates of grace.
What if Navigators were called to build buildings instead of laborers? Suppose we wanted to build a structure that would project power and status. What would that building look like? What would its features be? Now imagine that we want to build something that would invite collaboration and communicate a climate of grace. How would that building be different? Both would be buildings, but their very design would communicate two completely different things.
Recently, I had the joy of taking a neighborhood tour with fellow Navigators Daniel and Melinda Seibert in Greenbelt, Maryland. Greenbelt was constructed in 1937. It was designed to facilitate and serve the creation of community. It is walkable, full of green spaces and parks, and provides a climate of peace and well-being. I contrast this with the Aurora Avenue neighborhood in Seattle, which was designed for people to move through rather than live in. The problem is that people do live there and those people tend to be marginalized.
I believe we must pay attention to the climates we create. We need to ask ourselves how, by God’s grace, we can develop into people who bring beauty, peace, and joy into the lives of those around us. How can our practices of discipleship help people grow into these qualities? We can start by paying attention to the environments we create, and we can grow into people who help shape our environments into spaces where people are reminded that God is not far from any of us.
Maybe that’s what Paul meant when he said that God has determined our allotted boundaries so that people would seek Him, though He is not far from each of us (see Acts 17:26-27). Maybe our ability to create climates of grace begins with our connection to and understanding of our place.
One important way to create a climate of grace surfaced at our Nav Neighbors Initiative cohorts around the country. Most of our cohorts are a mix of individuals in their thirties and more senior people.
In many cases our older participants are used to leading in a variety of settings. In the Nav Neighbors Initiative, all of us have agreed that our neighborhoods will be our primary place of ministry experimentation and learning. This has placed all of us, regardless of experience or position, on common ground and equal footing as learners.
After our first cohort, a mother in her early thirties emotionally related to the whole group that when she first walked into our meeting and saw all of the gray hair she almost walked out. She feared the older participants would consider themselves “experts” and tell everyone else what to do. Then through tears she said that she had never been around such a humble group of baby boomers in her life.
The fact that we all come in as learners has helped us create a climate of grace. There are no experts on neighborhood ministry. The only people with the potential to become experts are those who love their neighbors and invest in their neighborhoods. Even then, they could only become experts on their own place, not yours or mine.
As we build relationship networks in our neighborhoods, we must give attention to the climates we are creating. What will people think of, feel, and expect when they interact with us? May it be love and grace.
For Your Consideration:

  • Think of the people who minister with you in your neighborhood. Choose two or three, and consider what you are learning from each one about reaching out to those around you.
  • How would you describe the climate of your ministry? Choose several descriptive words. You may want to brainstorm this question with your team.
  • What, besides coming as a learner, could help you create and maintain a climate of grace in your neighborhood? Again, you may want to discuss this as a group.

Al Engler is the director of Nav Neighbors. To contact him or learn more about his ministry, click here.

Editor's Note: This is one in a series of articles unpacking the Navigator vision. The series begins with Unpacking Our Vision: An Introduction and continues with "The Power of Unity."