This past week I got a call from an organization. They had watched some of our videos about our amazing great neighbors and wanted to know our strategy for identifying neighborhood leaders.   When I shared that we spend a lot of time one on one with emerging leaders, I think I disappointed the caller.  He was looking for a program and instead, I suggested presence.

As I shared in my last post, the simple act of building authentic relationships seems to be the hardest part of ABCD for most institutions.  However, no program can or will ever replace simply hanging out and being with people.  If you want people to know you value them, you have to demonstrate that, not through a program but through your presence. It is time consuming and it’s messy. You have to be willing to be real and vulnerable. Let’s admit it, most of us would prefer to hide behind a curriculum where it is safe.

I guess I need to figure out how to package “hanging out” into a program.  I honestly think we have lost the ability to simply be present with people.  Our purpose-driven world has convinced us that simply “being” is not of value.

So I have a question for you; when do you feel valued by others? Is it when they send you an email inviting you to their next big conference, event or program?  Or, is it when they invite you to meet for a cup of coffee, or call you to tell you they are thinking about you, or send you a text with a few words of encouragement?

I have been blessed to have a number of wise spiritual leaders in my life.  All of them emphasized one thing – being present to the Spirit. So every day, I try to clear away the clutter in my mind and simply be present. In those times of being, I have a profound sense of God’s presence. This is a spiritual practice.  It requires that I slow down and open myself up to the moment. It is through this practice that I am transformed. It is not my own effort, it is not my bible reading, my worship, or my ministry work. These activities are all simply vehicles that bring me to a place of being present to the Spirit.

If we could see our time in the community through this spiritual lens, I think we would experience a personal spiritual awakening as well as the awakening of the church universally. Instead of making our community building all about changing the community, what if it is all about being present to the Spirit who dwells in the community?

So come out of your church, leave your program behind, stop hiding behind your curriculum and simply be present with people.  Look for God who is already at work in the neighborhood.  Sit at the feet of the saints who have been sitting at the feet of Jesus for decades and let them be your guides.

We recently produced a video about two saints in my own neighborhood.  If you have not seen it, take a few minutes and I think you will understand why I am so convinced that community building is about our own spiritual growth.

It is people like Mrs. T and Mama Winfree who have proven to me that Jesus dwells powerfully in our community.  My faith has grown more by sitting on Mama Winfree’s couch for 10 minutes than it did in 4 years of seminary. If I had knocked on Mama Winfree’s door to give her an invitation to a program or hand her a turkey box at Thanksgiving, I would have totally missed out on all the amazing gifts she had to offer me.

So, my question to you is this:  How much time have you spent being present, not doing ministry, but simply being present in the community where you feel God has called you to?

More presence less programs.  This is the only path that will lead to lasting community transformation.