by Steven Castello, City on a Hill Church: Forest Hills
Moving to a new place can be a little intimidating. A little over a year ago, my wife, four daughters and I moved from Birmingham, AL to Boston to begin the journey of planting a new church. We had spent many fruitful years serving and loving our neighbors on the Southside of Birmingham, and the idea of uprooting and starting that process over again seemed a little overwhelming. I was having trouble finding the grocery store, much less learning a new context, new culture, and new way of life.
During the last week of June 2018, my brother and I drove the U-Haul truck to Boston in order to get the house ready as we anticipated Amy and the girls arriving on July 4. With all the change and upheaval, I wanted their arrival to be special. So, I told the girls that I would pick them up from the airport and that we could ride the train and bus (something still novel and exciting at the time) all the way back to our new house. As we walked down from the bus stop and prepared to turn on our street, we could hear the makings of a fantastic party emanating from our new neighbor’s backyard. A Haitian family was having an incredible time as dozens of people were dancing, laughing, and eating as they celebrated the Fourth of July. I looked at my wife as we walked by and said, “We will know whether we are living on mission in this neighborhood if we get an invite next year. Our goal is to get invited to that BBQ!”
What does missional living look like practically and how do you get an invite to the BBQ?
Missional living is rooted in understanding our calling as a missional, or sent, people. Prior to His ascension, Jesus told His disciples, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Jesus was sent by the Father to rescue people from sin, and in doing so, he incarnated, taking on flesh. He was present with humanity, taking on our burdens and living life with and for us. In the same way, Christians are called to “incarnate” into our neighborhoods by being present in the lives of our neighbors and friends. This means entering people’s lives and inviting them into ours, demonstrating the gospel patiently over time.
Secondly, living on mission requires a type of gospel intentionality. This means that we consciously look for opportunity to press the gospel into every sphere of life. In everything we do we ask the questions, “What would it look like if the Kingdom of God came to bear here? What would bring joy, hope, righteousness, justice, and peace here? How can I leverage meals, going to the grocery store, or everyday conversation to communicate the love of Jesus?” This may seem like an addition to an already busy life, but missional living is more about redeeming what you are already doing than it is adding to your life. Gospel intentionality is taking ordinary everyday things and asking how Jesus could be present there. Over the last year, this has meant many a dinner, conversation on the porch, or card game, building relationships with Jesus at the center.
As we have gotten to know our neighbors, the opportunity to hear and “share story” with one another has arisen. Listening to stories helps us understand the factors that form a person’s personality, life choices, what’s hidden behind brokenness, and how the gospel meets that person there. As we’ve spent time getting to know our new friends, we’ve been able to learn their family dynamic, what they enjoy, some of their heartaches, and ways we can love them.
Living on mission should also invite others in so they can replicate missional living in their own lives. The old saying goes that discipleship is more “caught” than “taught.” In other words, learning coupled with doing helps a concept to “stick.” One way we are doing this is to invite people from our community group, whom we are discipling, into common space with our neighbors. For example, we would invite one or two of our believing friends to share dinner or go to the park with our unbelieving friends. This helps them see what we are doing, gives them opportunities to observe, and later ask questions.
As the Fourth of July approached this year, we were delighted to see our hopes come to reality. We received an invite to the BBQ. It wasn’t just delight over a good time and delicious BBQ chicken but was the culmination of what missional living is all about: leveraging and adapting our lives for the sake of others meeting Jesus through us.