In his second letter to the Christian community in Corinth, the Apostle Paul writes that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors” (2 Cor. 5:20).
Before his ascension, Jesus promises those gathered, “[Y]ou will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
What if you thought of your congregation’s vocation in terms of ambassadors, or witnesses, sent to share the good news of God in Christ with our neighbors? Doing so shifts the focus of your congregation’s mission from the people inside the church toward who’s outside the walls of the church, that is, your neighbors.
For some congregations, this is a significant shift in orientation. But, as the people of God, our ministry is primarily to represent Christ in the world (Book of Common Prayer, 855). We gather on Sundays not for our sake only, but for the sake of the world. We are unique in this way. As Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple said, “The Church is the only society that does not exist for its members.”
How do good ambassadors begin their work? By getting to know the people in the place where they reside, by listening to their neighborhoods. How well do you know your neighborhood?
Given the high rate of mobility in our society today and the demographic shifts in Washington, DC and the surrounding region, it is likely that your neighborhood has experienced significant changes over the past few decades. Some neighborhoods have become increasingly racially and ethnically diverse. Some have grown younger. Some older. Your long-time members may have noticed these changes while your new members may not. Either way, thriving congregations attend closely to the demographic and social changes in their area and understand the distinctiveness of their community– both of who they are and who they are becoming.
You might begin getting reacquainted with your neighbors might by gathering demographic data. The Episcopal Diocese of Washington offers its congregations access to MissionInsite, a program that offers in-depth demographic data, including religious beliefs and concerns of demographic groupings in the area surrounding your church. If you’d like to receive a MissionInsite report for your congregation, reach out to the Rev. Jenifer Gamber.
To really get to know your neighbors, to really listen to them, however, requires being on the ground, building face-to-face relationships. Through listening, you can become attentive to your neighbor’s needs, interests, and desires.
To help you and your leadership practice getting out in your neighborhood, the School for Christian Faith and Leadership will be hosting a workshop at Church of the Ascension in Silver Spring MD on Saturday, July 30th called Connecting with Your Community.
Consider attending – and bring your team!