Listening for Mission - Part 3

27 Jun 2021 by Rev Andrew Smith in: Letters, Thoughts, News

Listening for Mission – Part 3

From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister - Congregation Futures

Over the last couple of weeks in this article space we have been looking at the importance of listening when it comes to getting started on engaging with our local communities in mission. That listening includes listening to what assets your mission team brings. Your mission team might be your whole congregation, or a smaller group of people who have come together for the purpose of exploring being in mission with the local community. Your assets are the strengths of your team, including things like your deep concerns for your local community – what is it that your heart burns for in your neighbourhood? Matching your heartburn with the skills/interests of your team is an important part of listening to get a sense of how God might be leading you to connect in mission with your local community.

In searching out this sense of God’s leading you will also be listening to God directly in prayer, listening to those who are supporting you in prayer, listening to the experience of others who have tried similar things (through tools like the Godsend App*), and of course listening to your local community so you can match up.

So far, I have introduced to you two tools for listening to the culture of your local community. This week, I’d like to describe a final tool: mapping the neighbourhood you intend to serve. Rev Dr Karina Kreminski from Neighbourhood Matters says that mapping is about “compiling a multi-layered graphical representation of the area in which you propose to be a missionary. This is an invaluable step needed for cultural engagement. Mapping is a way to organise with others a map of how people live and interact in your community. And it’s a good way to become conversant in culture.”

In his book, Tradecraft, Larry E McCrary says:
An outsider wanting to begin ministry in a new place can gain great value from walking the streets and documenting everything observed. People are greatly affected by the places in which they live and by studying their environment one can learn much. As you study the city you come to understand its people. This is the first step in incarnation- putting yourself in the shoes of those to whom you want to minister.

Here is a simple mapping activity suggested by Karina:
1. Find a map of your local area on the Internet and print it out.
2. Use different coloured pens or pencils to mark the following elements on your map:
a) Pathways. How do people move around your area? Do they walk, take a bus, a train, ride a bike? Mark the heavy traffic areas – main streets, railway lines, freeways.
b) Nodes. Nodes are centres of activity such as plazas, shopping centres, parks, bus terminals, train stops, business centres. They are the best places for people watching. Who frequents which nodes? Is there social interaction? Who is excluded, unwelcome (if anyone)? Mark the nodes on your map.
c) Districts. These are sub-areas in your neighbourhood. Is there are public housing area? Is there a rich side of town? Is some part of your town more suburban than others? Is there a business area? Other districts might include the gay community, hipster community, homeless area, gang areas, etc. Shade the different districts on your map.
d) Edges. You need to know where the boundaries are of both the neighbourhood in general and the districts within it. Edges can be physical (freeways, train lines, rivers, parks, etc.) or they could be historical (e.g. south of main street is the poor side of town). Draw the boundaries on the map.
e) Landmarks. Every town has statues and monuments but sometimes they are overlooked. What are the known landmarks? A good question to ask is, if I was telling a newcomer to town where to meet me where would I choose? Under the town hall clock? Outside the post office? McDonalds, the skate park, the pub? Would different groups have different landmarks?

Listening activities like neighbourhood mapping are important for coming to understand who lives in your neighbourhood. This listening is an important part of discerning how God is leading you and your team in connecting with your local community in mission. I encourage you to have a go at mapping your neighbourhood with your team.

*The App is free, and you can download it by searching for 'fx godsend' in the App Store or Google Play. There is both a UK version and a brand new “downunder” version. The downunder version is ‘fx godsend au’.