Ours is a culture that places emphasis on ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’. In fact, if we are not doing something, we are wasting time and resources–and perhaps we are also seen as being lazy. Mission turns our North American ideal of ‘doing’ on its head. When we enter other cultures, it is more important for the people to see us, get to know us, and to be known by us; this is the essence of a ministry of presence. Rather than coming with the intention of implementing program after program, missioners who engage in a ministry of presence spend time with and listening to the people, empowering them to believe in themselves, to identify their solutions, and to value their own opinions.
Being present involves letting go of our constant preoccupations, immersing ourselves in the here and now, and giving ourselves wholeheartedly to whatever is at hand. … It’s about becoming more aware, alert, awake to the fullness of the immediate moment.
If we are with another person, it means engaging with him or her with all of our heart, our mind, our soul, and our strength. Such wholehearted attention requires patience, time, and disciplined effort. And it is one of the greatest gifts that we can give to those around us, especially our suffering neighbor.
“Developing a Presence” in the neighborhood. We discovered just how fundamental the question of posture is to incarnational presence in the neighborhood. Here’s some of our takeaways. It involves
A.) Enters a space out of one’s own needs. We come to be “with” the people in our context. Think of how different the dynamics (to use a suburban example) are when a new parent joins a parents group in need of a place to share the loneliness/ tediousness of caring for a new born child versus a church that sets up a day care center,
B.) We come out of a “mutual” relationship sharing in what God is doing,
C.) We do not come into a context as “volunteers” offering a few hours a week. Instead, the hours we spend with people, working for justice, come from places we inhabit regularly as part of our everyday life. We hope to spend years together living life in the Kingdom,
D.) We become conduits of God’s work, pointing out what God is already doing, or where there are already resources right here to help. We therefore never run out of gas. We are truly energized. Of course we will offer our own resources not as a solution but because we are friends, part of this social reality God is bringing into being.
The Difference Between “Project” versus “Presence”
Often a church seeks to engage the community by “looking for the Next Project.” We seek a “need” in the community where we can help, bring resources and the love of Christ. What can happen though with this mentality is we
A.) Come to the project out of a posture of “pretending not to need.” We come with resources from a distance, not listening to the lives of people very well. We come out of a posture of power, control.
B.) We thereby unintentionally make the people/issue we are helping into a client/object. These dynamics work against the Kingdom.
C.) We often turn this into a volunteer effort/program where we contribute a few hours a week and it is separated from our everyday lives.
D.) Since it is mainly “us” doing something, this approach eventually leads to church burnout. It leads to a continual diet of “projects” and we never get to developing a “presence.”
When “looking for the Next Project” churches will often look for places of need in the local context. But that need will be seen through our eyes. We might even create a project or a program. When “Developing a Presence” we seek to understand “need” and the dynamics surrounding that need from the eyes of those we are “with.” We look from within for what is happening. We look for assets found in individuals and informal groups in the neighborhood. We ask a lot of questions, spend hours/days/weeks/years listening. We in essence then attempt to hop on to something already in motion. Development follows justice relationly.
Let us hear your input on this blog because ministry of presence is central to what we do in Neighborhood Transformation.