Missional Proximity

Every year begins with the renewed interest in growth, health, and sustainability for the future, which is why we make resolutions and major lifestyle changes during this time. At missio Dei: Falcon, we started the year with a vision sermon from Mark 5:1-20. The vision cast to us as a church was that we would spend this next year focused on “proclaiming to others what Jesus has done for us.” But what becomes quickly apparent is that we don’t know who the “others” are.

When we moved to our 5-acre farm last year, we thought it would be fairly easy to pick a location for our garden with all the land. The problem that we began to experience is that there were quite a few great places the garden could go. It seems like this shouldn’t be too big of a decision, but we knew it was a decision that would have future ramifications such as light, water, fence (we live in a forest with lots of deer), and permanence. Honestly, it was overwhelming.

Our journey into the mission of the church can seem overwhelming as well. It isn’t because we don’t have the space or know people who need the gospel, but there can be too much space or too many people. We often don’t even know where to start. The truth of the matter is that for most of us, we have been around church long enough to know that we should do something, but we don’t quite know where to start.  For many who have experienced the rigamarole of American Evangelicalism, we have become accustomed to a programmatic religion that leads us to follow what is next, but we are never really expected to make any decisions on our own. We show up, we stand when they tell us to stand, sing what they want us to sing, and study the parts of the Bible that they want us to study. We are not used to having to make any decisions, so when it comes to missions decisions, we become overwhelmed.

What we found on our property was a structured system that would help us to know where to start our garden. In what had formerly been a horse riding arena, there existed a rectangular formation of wooden posts that would make an incredible fence around our garden and in a place that gets tremendous sunlight. Similarly, the pursuit of mission shouldn’t be so mysterious and whimsical. There are some common structures that already exist in our lives that point us toward where to begin.

What I would like to draw our attention to is missional proximity.  The word proximity is defined as “nearness in space, time, and relationship.” When we think of mission, a lot of times our mind begins to think that we need to go to another country, or feed the homeless, or help refugees.  All of those are great initiatives, but I wonder if there are other structures in our lives that are calling us to focus elsewhere? Like my garden, there was the freedom to plant anywhere, but there were also some existing natural structures that called me to start in one particular place. I believe that when we consider missional endeavors, we must consider what structures God has placed in our proximity or near to us in space, time, and relationship.

One of the first areas of proximity is neighborhood. In their book, The Art of Neighboring, Pathak and Runyon say, “What if Jesus meant that we should love our actual neighbors?”  They created the “tic-tac-toe” grid to help people begin to imagine that those who live in close proximity to our actual houses are those who God is drawing us toward in mission. With your house in the middle, could you a) write the names of the people who live in the house represented by the box; b) write down some relevant information about each person; and c) write down some in-depth information you would only know after connecting?  After doing this for a while, they say that only “10 percent of people can fill out the names of all 8 of their neighbors” (39). The point is not to feel shame, but to draw us to the fact that our neighborhood structure is calling us to begin here.

 

What I love about the concept of proximity is that our neighborhood does not restrict us to one area, but it is a great place to begin. We must also consider all the other people that are near to us in other areas of proximity. Every week we go to the same places and see the same people, but have we ever stopped long enough to consider that these are the people that God has placed in our missional proximity? For many, this will begin at our jobs.  For others, it may be the people we engage at our kid’s school, sports teams, or the man or woman we keep making small talk with at the gym. Missional proximity simply calls us to love well those who are close to us in space, time, and relationship.

What is your missional proximity?  Over the next week, begin to take note of the people you frequently see. Those frequent encounters are nothing more than fence posts in my garden saying, “Come plant here.” Take some time to fill out the Art of Neighboring grid.  Any missionary going to a foreign country will have to know well who it is that they are going to minister to. They will need to know their language, their likes and dislikes, and their rhythms of life. We too are called to the same assessment of those in our proximity. Generally, it is much easier to access those in our proximity because we already share the same likes and dislikes. I can guarantee if you keep running into the same person at Starbucks, it is safe to assume they like Starbucks. Start there and begin to move the conversation deeper. Before you know it, you will have a relationship that will allow you to begin to share what makes you filled with hope. It is here that we can hear the Lord Jesus say, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19). Church, let us respond to Jesus’ call to lovingly proclaim to others in our missional proximity what Jesus has done for us.