Monday, April 04, 2011

147. Integrate then Innovate

There is a small group of people in our community right now who are looking to move out of their existing neighborhood and move into another neighborhood across town to take up residence and incarnate the gospel in that particular neighborhood.

We just got back from a retreat this weekend where we spent roughly two days scammin on how all of this should go down. It was a whiteboard, brain storm, strategizing session if you will, with some prayer and devotion mixed in through out. What we came away with was a 1 year plan  of how to proceed.

As we sat around and discussed what it would look lie for us to do incarnational ministry, we landed on a phrase which I think will become part of our discourse when it comes to neighborhood ministry. We basically said that incarnational ministry requires that you integrate before you innovate. In other words, you have to hang out with people, participate in the rhythms of that context, and get in touch with the needs of the community before you try to initiate programs, ministries or events to meet the needs of the neighborhood.

Choosing to immerse ourselves in the neighborhood before we start any new kind of ministry, do any kind of service project, or initiate any kind of programs will ensure that our innovations are on target and actually address a real need in that community.

Even more, it will allow us to respect the area, and avoid the stigma of outsiders coming in with their own plans to somehow "save" the neighborhood or the people who live in it. We want to listen to the people and the neighborhood before we develop intricate plans about how to impact the people and the neighborhood.

So how long should you integrate before you innovate? This is a good question. We asked this very thing. Our general impression, for our particular context, was to integrate for the first six months.  This would involve hanging out at the 3rd places, volunteering at local community center, riding the public bus that goes through that area etc. All the while, we will be intentionally observing and listening to the inner voice of the community.

At the end of 6 months, we are going to pull back as a team and share our observations, reflect on their meaning, and discuss what the implications are for entering into a phase of innovation where we look to initiate new ministries, events, or strategies to meet some tangible needs of the community. Approaching it this way will ensure the needs of the community set the agenda for how the process of innovation will take place, not our own premature assumptions about what needs to happen there.

I should say that this is not the only way to do innovative mission, but when moving into a neighborhood, it seems to us to be a good way to approach it.

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