This article was originally published by The Mennonite

The challenge of seeing God in our neighborhoods

Byron Pellecer photo Byron Pellecer

“The one thing that I am sure is that I want to experience a radical change in my life and to understand God’s love. I need to know how one commits one’s life to Christ?” Those were the words Adrian used while we were having coffee at a local fast food restaurant.

Sometimes I find myself tempted to want to make sense of the world around me and to articulate in an intelligent way the changes in the religious, political, social and cultural landscapes of my community. Wanting to have internal and external understandings of how everything works, especially in church, challenges us to respond accordingly. However, the challenge is also attempting to respond with old blueprints, plans and maps that are outdated or no longer work.

Alan J. Roxburgh, in his book Missional Map-Making: Skills for Leading in Times of Transitionsays that “just being a good preacher, teacher or a caregiver in a church no longer connects with the people in our communities.” I have found and experienced that visiting public spaces provides a real scenery of my surroundings and, consequently, provides the information necessary to connect and build relationships specifically with the community in which I am attempting to witness. Furthermore, it provides me with an opportunity to experience the so-much-needed human touch and human reality.

It was under these circumstances that I met with Adrian over coffee and apple pie. It was in that open and public setting that the kingdom of God descended on him. His burning bush experience prompted the questions that led him to want to follow in the way of Jesus.

As I reflected on this experience, I could say it felt like a mighty blow descending in that place. It also made me realize that the “upper room” experience and the events that followed can happen to anyone and anywhere.

“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call’ ” (Acts 2:37-39 NIV).

Therefore, I believe the challenge in front of us, individually and as church, is to be alert to God’s activity in the community. Unless the church is mobilized and deployed into the community, it is almost impossible to see God at work in our neighborhoods. In other words, we as church need to consider not only attractional but missional and incarnational ecclesiological approaches.

Byron Pellecer is associate conference minister for Western District Conference. This article originally appeared in the conference newsletter, WDC Sprouts.

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