I was sitting with some of my students and cabinmates a few weeks ago at camp, and we began to share some of our commonalities. We were all from the Kansas City area, and one of my students, Brandon, pointed out to the group that I and the rest of our crew all lived in the same neighborhood and shared many experiences together. I have been living in this neighborhood for over a year now, and God revealed to me that I live in a real, authentic community.
I live in the Argentine neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas. It’s a small, working class neighborhood with a lot of diversity in race, language, and religion. We don’t always enjoy some of the larger resources that other neighborhoods have. What we have, however, is each other. We work together and share the experience of the radical and ordinary life of being a good neighbor.
In this neighborhood, many established congregations are shrinking; some have closed their doors, and some others have undergone an uncertain future. One may feel that Jesus has no place to lay His head in my neighborhood, when there’s more room for Him at the larger congregations in the neighboring counties.
I struggled with this when I first moved to Argentine to serve with Youthfront, which is a
parachurch ministry based in Kansas City. Parachurch is typically defined as a ministry that exists to equip the church outside of traditional boundaries. But when we use this definition, it makes our ministry sound like we are outside of the church in some ways. When I first started my position, I felt like an outcast from my former settings of congregational youth ministry. I often felt like my position, managing an after-school youth hangout (a lot like the Max from Saved By The Bell, but cooler) and leading mission trip experiences, did not hold the same value as that of my previous job. I no longer felt I was a part of the church in this new role.
But when Brandon told our camp cabin how we all lived in the same neighborhood
and shared our lives together, God did a new work in me. I realized that in my parachurch
placement, I was actually being the church in my neighborhood. My narrow view of the church had grown to be something so much bigger than before. I thought of my ministry team, my students and families, and our local congregations and others who partner with us. We don’t just do our own thing. We are the church together. We are the hands and feet of Jesus in Argentine.
We are the church together. We are the hands and feet of Jesus in Argentine.
The vision of the unified church in this place is beautiful. And that beauty will speak to those drowning in the noise of our current world. But for that beauty to be revealed, we must be willing to let go of some previous ministry definitions. That’s why I think, in order for congregations to truly connect and share the fruits of local parachurch ministries, they must first see that parachurch is a church. Parachurch is (or at least should be) people who are co-creating with Christ in their respective areas they’ve been called to live.
What we do here in Argentine is simply to point out to others how God is at work redeeming our neighborhood and inviting them into the story. Many congregations have become a part of our neighborhood’s story and have become co-creators alongside us. We’ve brought visibility to the ignored. Together, we are a living and thriving church, doing more than any one of us could do alone. Everybody has something unique to offer, no matter the size of his or her congregation or financial situation. In this situation, my role as a pastor no longer feels less important, which means I can continue to serve tasty ice cream to neighborhood kids while knowing God has ordained me to do so!
Many congregations have become a part of our neighborhood’s story and have become co-creators alongside us.
I think these opportunities to co-create with others exist all around us. Take some time today to think about this question: What does the church look like in my neighborhood? If the vision of the church is just your congregation doing its own thing, then God might have some work to do in you as well. When we expand our horizons to include others in the story, the story becomes much bigger, revealing more of the infinite love of God that exists all around us.
- Partnering with Schools and Parachurch Organizations - August 30, 2022