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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Who Wants to Live There?

Written by: on February 5, 2015

“Who would want to live in that place?” or “Why would he give up all that he has for that place in that part of the city?” or “God would want you to have something left, to be comfortable with, wouldn’t He?” Those are questions that I imagine the people in a community might ask as they observe a person making choices that don’t measure up against the standards of society. Of course what the casual observer doesn’t realize is that by their willingness to ask those questions they are entering into the activity of the Kingdom of God. At least those are my thoughts as I read this very brief parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew 13:44) That non-descript field, that may have been on the real estate market for a while, is one that inspired joy because of the knowledge of what was to come. The temporal transaction was taken for eternal purpose which not only changed the life of this person but must also have had a direct and indirect impact on the community around him. “(The ParabIes) are about God and what God is now doing behind the scenes to change the world by bringing his royal justice to earth and what this means practically for those who embrace it.” (p.41, Parables as Paradigms for Public Theology)

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This week marks the beginning of my fifteenth year of ministry with this same church family, in this city that has surprisingly become our home. In many ways each year has felt new. Each year has it’s own challenges and points of focus. Over the last few years I have taken to riding my bicycle around the streets (yes, even in winter). It provides a different perspective and provides unique opportunities in our community. There is much that is familiar, yet there is always something or someone new to discover. Every exchange is an opportunity to see the unfolding of God’s Kingdom activity at work around us. This week in two separate conversations (with people from other churches) this sentiment was shared: “We’re really good at talking about what needs to be done or what we could be doing, but we’re not so good at actually putting that into action.” I find that statement to be an all too often repeated refrain. Additionally, as preachers and teachers we can easily fall into an enabling pattern of providing more and more opportunity to think theologically, talk biblically, all while neglecting the importance of personal and corporate involvement in our communities.

If we say we believe that God is at work in our communities, then shouldn’t we learn to listen to what God is listening to so that we can join Him in the places He wants us to be at work in, alongside the people He is trying to reach? Instead, too often we, as those who are called to shine the Light of Christ, are to be found in close knit huddles within the walls and beneath the roofs of the buildings that have become like bowls, hiding the light from a world that is waiting to be shown the way to the Father.

Kathryn Tanner, in her book, The Spirit in the Cities puts it this way: “I want to concentrate on the human person who understands herself in relation to her community and to those beyond her community, a person who needs and is creating a different world.” (Loc. 1323, Spirit in the Cities) One of things that I am learning is that despite the fact that I have worked and lived in the same community for these fifteen years, it is only just recently that I am able to understand it and be accepted as part of the community.

Together as a church family, we are learning to listen to the needs of our community and to continually be willing to adjust our function, as individuals within the community and as a church, to meet those needs. In so doing we are recognizing that our Kingdom contribution to the excellent work done by our network of city churches is to come alongside those children and families who are in need. Some of those needs are financial, some of those needs are educational, some of those needs are physical. In small ways we are learning to shape our lives to what God is doing around us and as we do, God is providing ways for us to share the riches of His Kingdom with them.

This is where I see the benefit to the ideas of the praxis model of theology presented by Stephen Bevans (p.76, Models of Contextual Theology). “The praxis model understands revelation as the presence of God in history – in the events of everyday life, in social and economic structures, in situations of oppression, in the experience of the poor and the marginalized…We best know God by acting in partnership with Him.” (p.75) It correlates well with Stephen Garner’s hermeneutic spiral:

“What is at the heart of public theology is a community of faith, informed by Scripture and Tradition, which is committed to reading the ‘signs of the times’ and acting for the common good for society. Therefore, if we’re thinking about compassion in the context of public theology, we are thinking about how our understanding of compassion might be offered in distinctive and constructive ways so as to enrich wider society, help restrain evil and violence, and promote the building of communities of reconciliation.” (p.176, Garner, Public Theology Through Popular Culture)

 Both authors encourage reflection on God’s Word and listening to the community, followed by discerning and engaging in action, while revealing God’s Word and then returning again to God’s Word:

It’s like finding your story in God’s Story and realizing just how joyfully captivating it can be to live (learning and taking action) in such a way as to illicit questions that direct people to the unfolding of God’s Kingdom.

  • If you could be freed to address one issue in your community what would it be?
  • What is one obstacle that prevents us from engaging our community?
  • If you could how would you suggest moving through that obstacle?

About the Author

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Deve Persad

12 responses to “Who Wants to Live There?”

  1. Michael Badriaki says:

    Hi Deve, I wanted to read your post this week because I was interested in perspective for many reasons but particularly because you are in the pastorate. It seems increasingly challenging for me to see how the evangelical church culture might be willing to reconcile the contextual reality in our day to day life and biblical reality. Too often believer seem to prefer one side or the other.
    Your write: “If we say we believe that God is at work in our communities, then shouldn’t we learn to listen to what God is listening to so that we can join Him in the places He wants us to be at work in, alongside the people He is trying to reach? Instead, too often we, as those who are called to shine the Light of Christ, are to be found in close knit huddles within the walls and beneath the roofs of the buildings that have become like bowls, hiding the light from a world that is waiting to be shown the way to the Father.”

    Perhaps, Deve, this is still part and parcel of the challenges Noll, Ross Douthat and others are trying to speak into? Thanks for helping me reflect some more in this.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Hey Michael, your observations are correct, it is difficult for evangelical churches to consider the context of their community – at least that has been our own experience and our experience in working with other churches. Too often we think that we, as evangelical possess the answers, but we’re not actually listening to the questions of our community. The result is that we dismiss our community or devalue them, unless they see things our way. I appreciated the use of the parables in this week’s readings because they remind us of the activity of God in and around us and they illicit questions about our definitions of life.

  2. Deve,

    Fifteen years in one place of ministry — congratulations! It is cool that you are there. Nice to read that you are now beginning to become an accepted part of your community. Yes, that takes a while.

    You did a good job connecting all the readings together here. Thanks for that. I had a hard time with much of the reading this week, so your comments helped a lot. I live in the academic world of the impractical almost every day, so reading theology doesn’t always seem like a fun thing to do. Plus, as a person who is struggling with my faith, sometimes some of this stuff goes right over my head. But you always have a way of synthesizing that helps me to understand better.

    Whenever I read your posts, I want to join your church and I want you to be my pastor. Who knows, maybe someday that will happen. Maybe I will at the very leaf come for a visit sometime.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Keep persevering Professor, Our Lord is faithful…I appreciate your continued kindness toward me. In fact I value it.

      I would never have thought that it would take most of these 15 years to be accepted into the community, but it is true. With that being said, we look forward to how the Lord will continue to work in our community.

  3. mm John Woodward says:

    Deve, congratulations on 15 years of located ministry. In today’s standards, you have broken the mold (I think the average today is 3 or 4 years for most pastors). Thanks for your commitment to the people God has called you to serve.

    I found this weeks readings frustrating because there was so much that resonated with me, but there was not space to comment on them all. That is why I am glad you brought in Tanner’s book, and the reminder of the value of listening. For me, listening has not been the issue. The issue has been to not be overwhelmed by what I hear. It seems that God continues to be put me in places where the lives, the needs, and situations seem so daunting, that I am often at a lose of where to even begin, or at least see a light at the end of the tunnel. Spending time in South Dakota on the Reservation, in Institutions in Romania and Moldova, having been to Cuba and in the 80s traveling across Communist Eastern Europe, I often have felt like Jesus did…broken hearted (“had compassion”) when he saw the helplessness, harassed and leader-less lives of the people. Often times I’ve been near despair over hurts and suffering, the hopelessness. Have you ever found that as you listen and involve yourself deeper into the lives of your community, that you too experienced this sense of helplessness, of being overwhelmed by needs and the hurts? I can’t help but think that maybe this is going to be natural part of our truly listening…and, if we follow Jesus’ example, it will also turn us to prayer (“ask the Lord of the harvest to send out more workers”).

    I pray you will have another 15 years in your community, Deve, and that God will grant you always the ability to listen and learn!

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      John, I appreciate your reflection on this. Listening is desperately needed and very difficult. Additionally, as you mention, it can have significant emotional effect on the listener. You bring the example of Jesus into this and that’s important. It would seem to me that very often he spent time alone with the Father – I often view that as time spent unpacking what he had heard and his burden for the people he met. Additionally, I view it as time to refresh himself in the purpose that the Father has for him and the people. I guess I’m saying that in addition to time invested with people, we need time invested with the Lord so that we can be sustained in our spirit by His Spirit…does that make sense?

  4. Liz Linssen says:

    Deve
    Thank you for a great post. I appreciate where you wrote, “We’re really good at talking about what needs to be done or what we could be doing, but we’re not so good at actually putting that into action.” It certainly is far easier to ‘put our money where our mouth is’, to put our desires into actions. I think that’s something I’m discovering – it’s hard to fulfil the callings God gives us! This morning I was reading when David was anointed as King over Israel and Judah, and how it had been such a difficult journey to the fulfilment of God’s purposes.
    I have a question: how do you find ways to share the message of salvation with the people you partner with in the community? How do people respond to that?

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Liz: Great question. One of the things we do, when any group wants to enter into a partnership with us – we invite their leaders to come to one of our Sunday Services. That way they get a full sense of who we are. To this point, it hasn’t been a deal breaker. Also, we’re very up front with the reason we value the partnership: as it allows us to express the love of God to those in need in our community. All of our agreements have a clause where they are also willing to uphold (even if they don’t agree with) our Statement of Faith. It’s been interesting to how the Lord has used all of this…any further ideas are welcome.

  5. mm Julie Dodge says:

    Deve –
    You expertly weave together key aspects of our reading this week. As I read your post, I kept thinking about people that I wanted to share it with, which in my mind means that it is practical, thoughtful and on point. I like your consideration to listening to the community. How can we respond well if we have not heard what they consider important? And of course, that listening to the community must be balanced with listening to God. The needs are great – yet I have confidence that God will direct us to the best response. But we must indeed act – without action we remain outside of the community.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Julie, one of the things that I have been challenged with over the last few years is taking much of what we would recommend for a missionary or a mission team and building that into the way we “do church”. There is tremendous value, as Patrick shared in South Africa, to take time to gather input from the culture and community we minister within. My thoughts are that if that is valuable when we go “there” then it should also be valuable “here”…anything you have to add to the list would be welcome.

  6. Miriam Mendez says:

    Deve, congratulations on 15 years of ministry in the same local church. I’m sure you have experienced many challenges and stretching experiences–which I hope have led you to trust and love Jesus more!
    You write, “In small ways we are learning to shape our lives to what God is doing around us and as we do, God is providing ways for us to share the riches of His Kingdom with them.”
    I love the image of this sentence “shaping our lives to what God is doing around us.” This is the stretching experience — listening, discerning and engaging in God’s word is all part of paying attention to the context and culture. Well done, good and faithful servant. Blessings

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Miriam, as you well know, there is no shortage of challenging and stretching times in this life we are called to…I think that is true for everyone, as believers. Which is why that statement you mention is so important. We can either resist and wait for the culture to bend toward us or we can make the necessary changes in our lives to engage the culture in the fullness of our faith…those who choose the latter, though they face difficulty, are richer in their relationship with the Lord. It’s exciting to see!

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