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Putting church on the map

If a living organism doesn’t in some way have a body, would we still call it living? If a church is meant to be an embodied witness of the gospel, but is only seen together in worship gatherings, is the church-as-body metaphor still appropriate?

If the church is essentially a gathering for commuters, is there any way to grow this gathering that doesn’t rely on spectacle and consumerism?

Some of these questions have been pestering a growing number of us who are finding that perhaps our great desire – a desire to more fully integrate missional engagement, spiritual formation, and relational connection – quite literally needs to find a place to belong. As a result of this desire, more and more church communities up and down the west coast are imagining what it would look like to become both rooted in the neighborhood and linked across the city.  This is the central work and calling of the growing number of people and organizations connecting to the Parish Collective.

To be rooted simply means that a church seeks to join in God’s dream of shalom in a particular place.  We are discovering that inviting churches to identify a definable area (literally, by taking a marker to a map!) in which they are responsible for seeking shalom dares a community towards doable and particular missional engagement.  It also places the church in the posture of listening to what God might already be doing in that particular place.

To be linked means that churches join together, both within neighborhoods and across cities, as they collectively join in God’s dream of shalom.  We are learning that ecumenical relationships are not just possible, but necessary.  When faith communities are centered around a common love for Jesus and particular neighbors rather than theological issues, church strategy, or niche issues as the center, a whole new expression of the Church is possible.  As churches – or more accurately, the Church – is then seen together in the day to day of life and not just in our separate buildings for worship for an hour on a Sunday. There is an increasing reason for hope that the church-as-body metaphor might again be appropriate, as we become a living, breathing, located network.

However, as we shift our organizing principle from a church gathered on Sunday to communities seeking God’s Kingdom in definable areas, it is crucial to have some wise and seasoned guides.  Dr. John M. Perkins, a role model and hero to thousands of ministry leaders through his embodied practice of Christian community development, shares some thoughts regarding community development, neighborhood, and the gospel. Dr. Perkins, who has previously loved well the places of Jackson, MS and Pasadena, CA, currently lives in Mendenhall, Mississippi where he leads the John M. Perkins Foundation for reconciliation and development.

 Tim Soerens is Co-founder of the Parish Collective in Seattle.

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