We took some time Sunday morning to discuss how vital it is for FV to participate in the life of the neighbourhood surrounding the church facility. Like the exiles in Babylon we should heed Jeremiah’s call to seek the well being of the place in which God has planted us (Jer. 29). A promise of blessing is linked to this prophetic call – if it prospers we will as well.
Referencing a related Psalm, I wonder if we’ve lost our ability to sing the songs of Zion?
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
The exiles were overcome with hopelessness and despair, having been ripped away from their previous way of life. In many ways, life in Babylon was pleasant, but the Israelites lamented the loss of religious habits – Jerusalem and its temple lay in ruins. More than a place, Zion represented the reign of God, life under his dominion, the rhythms of his kingdom. Living as exiles in a foreign land, not only was it a struggle to recall their former way of life, they found it too painful to sing the songs that celebrated their culture. The taunts of their captors made it worse. Mockingly, the exiles were implored to sing the songs of their homeland – jeers that called into question the reality of Yahweh and the potency of their faith. More than providing a mere description of life back home, these songs were beautiful and compelling performances of their culture.
Whatever set of circumstances the Church finds itself in, we always have the opportunity to sing the songs of Zion. In a sense our lives are like songs and our living provides opportunity for kingdom performance. Congregations should be asking, “How well are we singing our native song? How well are we collectively performing the gospel for our missional context?” This includes the geographic context in which the congregation is rooted.
Those who live in the neighbourhoods surrounding the church property – the people of Palermo – may not expect much from the church. Some may even be antagonistic towards its presence in the community. What our neighbours need as much as anything is a congregation that knows how to ‘sing’ well; not hymns on Sunday, but a great performance of the gospel through beautiful lives throughout the week. Can the congregation learn to be actively present in the life of the surrounding neighbourhoods in a manner that seeks the well being of these places?
As we continue to talk about this calling, there is still too much of an emphasis placed on getting people to come to our worship services and programs. Its not that this is a bad objective – established faith is best nourished in the context of a believing community. However, it is an insufficient approach to mission. We need greater priority on becoming a church that knows how to go beyond the walls of the church to live out its life in the community. Some of the ideas on the table are intriguing and inspiring but we need more creative thinking concerning how to collectively live as a sign, symbol and preview of the kingdom in the neighbourhood.