Of Illness and Mission

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : June 23, 2005

I’ve been sick for about a week. Normally it wouldn’t be a big deal, but it went into my lungs and turned into bronchitis.  This wouldn’t be a big deal either, except that I am currently uninsured.  My loving wife has been taking care of me, feeding me vitamins, nutritious drinks, medicine, etc.  I’ve also cut out dairy, sugar (besides fruit sugar), and gluten (more or less).  I actually am feeling much better.  Earlier this week, in the midst of illness, I went away to beautiful Bayfield, Wisconsin with my wife for our 8 year anniversary.  The trip was refreshing, but my illness kept us from walking around much.

On our trip back to Minneapolis, we stopped in Washburn, Wisconsin (population about 2000).  Lo and behold, they had a coffee shop/bookstore with WiFi!  From there, I sent an email to my fellow Missio Dei-ers.  I want to include part of the email I sent to them, followed by a question I’d like to pose to you, my blog friends (some internal comments that don’t appear in the original are in red):

brings up an important part of Missio Dei?s identity: neighborhood focus.  From
the beginning, we?ve talked about focusing our mission in Cedar/Riverside and
Seward [these are two neighborhoods in South Minneapolis that are our geographical focus].  But doing this isn?t easy.  We?ve struggled with how to be focused in a
neighborhood when most of us don?t currently live there.  For a while I encouraged people
to move, but after a while I stopped talking about it.  What the neighborhood
focus should look like has been in flux, since we are still in our infancy.  In
our last oversight meeting we struggled over the idea of how to keep a focus on
the neighborhood, while remaining realistic about the simple truth that most of
us don?t live in the neighborhood.  I want to make things abundantly clear to
everyone-in case their has been some confusion: unless God clearly tells us otherwise, we will not
make living in South Minneapolis a criteria for
.  However, we are struggling to find a way to make the
neighborhood a key part of our identity.  Please pray that we can find a way to
make neighborhood a part of our identity in a way that doesn?t exclude.  This is
something we?d like to discuss at our next oversight meeting.  My hope is that
we have a sort of community covenant and a church constitution that spells
things out by the fall.

Here is my question for y’all: What are some ways that a church can authentically focus on a neighborhood, without requiring all church members to live in that area?  Is it merely a matter of repetitively communicating the focus during public gatherings?  How should it be reflected in a community covenant or constitution?  What do you require of leadership?  How important is it to have a neighborhood focus in your eyes? How large of a focus area is too large? 

Please respond with any idea you have.  This isn’t one of those posts in which I already have an answer and I am just waiting to unveil it.  I covet your thoughts.

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11 Responses to “Of Illness and Mission”

  1. Todd Maas on June 23rd, 2005 11:28 am

    Followed your comment from Dworak site. I used to be a part of Elim Baptist in NE Mpls. I was youth pastor ether for 2 years, but knew my time was limited there because they need a youth pastor for a real outreach passion to that community. I resigned for tha reason and a few other minor ones, but the church has been very slow to realize that Elim’s call is to that neighborhood.

    If God has called your church to do ministry to those 2 communities, it’s not necessary to live there(it helps if you are also neighbors with those you minister too). However, just like Elim problem they need a commitment to the neighborhood. The issue with Elim is many people like the church, but don’t really care about the neighborhood except to pray for it.(Dear God, please help that poor neighborhood because I ain’t going out there. Now prayer has its place right along side its mission.

    sounds like living in the community isn’t a requirement of your membership, but commitment to the vision of doing ministry there is…stick to that..if members aren’t digging it or have other ideas there is another church for them somewhere else, no matter how much they add or help personally…

    Allow the vision to be what it is God’s call on your community…

    It sounds like you are doing great stuff tah here from Joe, I am sure I would enjoy your deal, but that isn’t where I am called to be.


  2. Michelle on June 23rd, 2005 1:21 pm

    Well I have to think more about your questions, but I have been working on something for your ministry.
    In the summer of 2000 I took a women studies course with Rose Brewer, and she had this lady speaker come in who started her own N.P.O getting Somolian women employment, E.L.L. training, housing, and helping get their husbands emigrated. I thoght she might have a need for voulenteers, and if your chruch was intrested in reaching the Somolians of the West Bank helping meet their needs is a great start. So my prof and I have been eamiling, but things are slower in the summer. I was only going to give you her contact information, so you could set something up if you wanted. Whatever the result its been great to reconnect with Dr. Brewer.
    In Milwaukee they demand that their teachers live in district, because they are more likely to come to sporting events, lead a club, or stay after school if they live close by. Becasue I’m 10 min. from my school I go to much more than I would have living in Racine a mere 25 min. north.
    Maybe if you schedual some type of community service project monthly that may not be too overwhelming for people. Clean dishes for St. Martins Table or usher for Mixed Blood. You don’t have to create something new piggy back on whats there.
    Do you want me to still try and get the ladies name?

  3. JV Dworak on June 23rd, 2005 1:33 pm

    Mark - sweet blog. I am interested in your thoughts on topics such as, people’s hairstyles, doing church outside, being a former 20 something and still dressing cool…. etc. JVD

  4. Van S on June 23rd, 2005 2:11 pm

    Michelle, please do get that ladies name. We might not be able to get something up and running now, but eventually it would be cool. I think your suggestion to start helping through what is already available is very wise.

    Mr. Dworak, I think once one hits 30 s/he should give up trying to dress cool and shave his/her head.

  5. pat k on June 23rd, 2005 3:17 pm

    It’s a tension I live in all the time. I talk incessantly about the neighborhood, but I used to feel bad doing so, given that a majority of our people didn’t live in the neighborhood.

    Now I don’t feel bad about it. I think I’ve managed to communicate the concept that Frogtown is our “outreach focus,” but that we need people from all over to make this successful. When people choose to move into the neighborhood we celebrate it - I talk a lot about what a great thing it is that we now have 16 households within walking distance of the church - but I try to do it in a way that doesn’t exclude those outside the neighborhood.

    Realistically, my focus on the neighborhood may limit our growth in attracting the “already-churched” who are looking for a place to worship but don’t live in Frogtown. Unless they have a heart for the city, they may not appreciate a fair amount of the things we do as a church (Wednesday kids’ program, tutoring, block club,considering ESL classes, etc.). By focusing so much of our efforts on the neighborhood we give up our ability to be a cool, “full-service” church with lots of programs for the church-shopper.

    But then, that’s not our gig. We rejoice when a new person from the neighborhood starts attending, especially an unchurched person. It’s a slow process, though…

    So in sum - I guess if you’re really going to focus on the neighborhoood, it’s going to mean some trade-offs. You can’t do everything, and you’ll be choosing to focus efforts on some people who may not be as naturally inclined to join your group, at the expense of focusing on the people you might jive with naturally.

    Just have to decide if that’s what God is calling you to. In our case it seems to be…

  6. Van S on June 23rd, 2005 4:51 pm

    Pat, what do you tell those people who really want to make connections in Frogtown? What does your church do to help make connections? Does that rely alot on your kid’s programming, tutoring, etc?

  7. graham on June 24th, 2005 2:55 am

    I don’t know the answer. As someone who has lived ot of the neighbourhood - and now as someone who lives in and leads many who don’t - both scenarios often feel like they lack some integrity.

  8. pat k on June 24th, 2005 2:33 pm

    Well, the people who live in the neighborhood are the ones who are most likely to make connections - so if anything we just encourage them to get to know their neighbors. Our block club is probably going to be a great way to help that happen. We just had our first meeting on Wednesday, so it’s a little early to tell, but I think it will be effective.

    Basically, working side by side on issues that we all share is a great way to build connections. So, for example, one of the new guys from the neighborhood that I met at the “block club planning meeting” is already signed up to help us organize a block party for his street. He has a desire to improve his community, so even though he may not share the beliefs of our church, he is happy to work along-side us. That sort of thing is really good, and I hope to see more of it as the block club expands.

    Of course - getting involved in groups that are already up and running is another great way. My advice is to choose those thigs that motivate you, and in which you can have an impact, and help out!

    As far as integrity goes, graham, I don’t see that the two scenarios you mentioned have to lack it. A church is more than its outreach, and people can have a lot of good reasons to belong to a church outside of their neighborhood. I think the problem comes in when the leadership of the church starts to feel that they have to move off their mission, or mute it, in order to please the people who may not share it. Then there’s a problem.

    But for us, many of our most involved volunteers live outside the neighborhood, so they are serving the mission with integrity without actually moving in.

  9. blorge on June 24th, 2005 2:43 pm

    I’d be interested to hear what you mean by that given that I live about 15 minutes away from the neighborhood that my church is called to serve. I have made a consciencious effort to spend time in the area and it has hindered me from being able to make connections in my own neighborhood.

    I think that those who are called to live somewhere other than the neighborhood should be challanged to spend time in the neighborhood meeting people and trying to build connections, but I also need support and encouragement that I’m not wasting my time and that the sacrafices I make by not putting my roots down in my own community are still ultimately important and valued by others.

  10. blorge on June 24th, 2005 2:48 pm

    I hope I didn’t come across as shrill or whiney in that post. All I meant to say is that it makes my life more difficult and I have to make some sacrifices that others don’t. If the only approach is to tell people that they’re not being faithful or committed if they don’t move into the neighborhood, then that is a major disservice. I’m not saying that that is the message that is coming across, I’m just saying that it’s difficult to find the right balance.

  11. Van S on June 24th, 2005 3:38 pm

    It is difficult. To me, the challenge is to be true to our calling without alienating people who don’t live in the neighborhood. It is too easy to fall off one side or the other–either you make it seem like a neighborhood focus is optional and not that important or you make it seem like it is all-important. I think you, Brandon, have found a great balance. But it has come at great cost. The problem is that many who attend urban churches don’t live in their neighborhood and often end up feeling left out and move along. I’ve heard this story from people at various urban churches. I don’t see any way around it. Those who don’t live in the “chosen” neighborhood have to decide 1) that they are going to pay the extra cost of being involved yet commuting in, 2) that they are only going to be marginally involved in the neighborhood, which often leads to feeling like an outsider in your own church or 3) they move into the neighborhood to make the whole thing easier. The only other solution is to not have an urban neighborhood focus at all.

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