“Where is Jesus?”: The Spiritual Side of Development
In our asset-based approach to Christian community development, we use a lot of tools to help us capture information that will help us discern the movement of the Spirit. Things like asset-mapping, listening meetings, interest and passion surveys are helpful tools. However, the foundational premise upon which all of our work is constructed is this: God through the Holy Spirit is already at work in our neighborhood continuing the work of Jesus in the world.
I am often asked, “Where is Jesus?” in the work you are doing. Apparently, I am not the only person doing this kind of work who has heard that question more times than they care to count. I was comforted by these words from Alan Roxburgh which indicated he too has been asked this question,
“When people say, “All this is good. It sounds like social work or good community development, but when do we get to the gospel?” This response betrays a basic Gnosticism with its false polarities that separate the good news of God in Jesus from the basic indwelling of life in Christ followers. Furthermore, it conveys a massive lack of imagination and a failure to understand the ways in which our people are shaped from within the Christian narrative. Lurking behind these kinds of questions is the assumption that when I sit at the table of my neighbor and enter into his or her world in dialogue, I am some kind of blank slate, who brings nothing with me.”
This week I had the opportunity to engage a group of seminary students in our work. I loved this statement written by their professor, Dr. Stephen Brachlow:
“Christian ministry is not something that we “make happen” merely by well-honed skills; rather, ministry is a gift of God’s grace that ultimately depends upon the work of the Spirit, far more than our own. In our listening to the community we embrace a fundamental assumption about Christian spirituality, which is that God is always doing something before we arrive. So the task of ministry is not so much about getting God to do something we think needs to be done in the lives of others, as it is becoming aware of what God is already doing in their lives, as well as our own, long before we as ministers arrive on the scene. When we are open to that great mystery of God’s work, we may find (often much to our surprise) that we are then indeed able to respond to and participate in the ministry of God’s Spirit with greater clarity, freedom, and joy.”
The question, “Where is Jesus?” makes the assumption that Jesus is absent from the communities we are entering and absent from those who enter. Rather than ask, “Where is Jesus?” in what we are doing, we need to be asking the question “Where is Jesus at work in the neighborhood and how can we join in?”
When we do “outreach”, what we are really doing is practicing “Holy Listening.” The practice requires that we be empty of our own agendas and open to the movement of the spirit which is already at work in the lives of those we encounter. Rather than “taking Jesus to the other,” we are seeking to see Jesus in the other.
When we discern how God is at work, it is the Spirit that prompts us to join in. Sometimes, joining in looks like inviting the person to participate in one of our action teams, groups or church events, sometimes it looks like joining someone in prayer, sometimes it looks like a hug or it results in a follow up conversation or on-going relationship. However, most often it simply looks like being fully present to another human being.
The hardest part of holy listening is letting go of our need to be in control and our need to “do something.” Holy listening is as much about our own transformation as it is about the transformation of others. It is about learning to be an empty vessel that the Lord can use. It is about learning to recognize what work is ours to do and what work belongs solely to the Spirit.