Vol 6:3 Pastoring in the Neighborhood

Vol 6:3 Pastoring in the Neighborhood

At the end of July I stepped out of traditional pastoral ministry with the blessing of my congregation, which I served for over 7 years (6 of those years as lead pastor), and the blessing of my church conference, in which I still serve as a liaison for cultivating missional church.

A few months earlier as I shared with a colleague what I was sensing the Spirit of God leading me to do – he responded, “Well Roland, it sounds like you’re going to do what you’ve been writing about!”

Indeed I am!

What I am yielding myself to do is the beginning of the next chapter of life and ministry for me as I seek to partner with God in God’s missional engagement in Lake County. I am stepping out to serve as a pastor in the community, in which my offices are in places like Panera, Starbucks, McDonald’s and other local coffee shops and restaurants – where I am making myself available to meet with whomever the Spirit of God connects me to or them to me.

This is something I started to do a number of years ago as sacred space in which I sought to be open to engage people in the neighborhood in third places. But then I stepped back into a more or less traditional pastoral setting, though the congregation gave me much freedom in exploring new ways of pastoring, including being engaged in the community twenty-five percent of the time. Now after 7 years, I am stepping outside traditional pastoral ministry in order to be a community pastor – pastor without a congregation, but as a pastor giving himself to walking with people offering spiritual guidance and life direction to those who are largely done with church, but not done with God.

Someone asked me how I do this? Do I have permission to be in the places I am in? How do I market myself? I respond, I don’t market myself – I am making myself available to the Spirit who is already connecting and engaged in the lives of the people I find myself among. I am a customer in these places and so I have permission as I pay for my cup of coffee and mutually engage people in conversation.

How I go about doing this is perhaps why prepares me to be open to how the Spirit leads. I walk into wherever my “office” is for the day (usually 9 am to noon) and I begin in prayer – praying for the staff, praying for the customers, and praying for my sensitivity to the leading of the Spirit so that I am ready to meet those God has in mind for me to engage. Some days all I do is read and write, but there are many more days in which I find myself connecting with those who are there as often as I am there – staff, regulars – and as we engage in conversation, spiritual and life needs always seem to come up. Rather than “preaching,” I find myself being more of an interpreter, helping people discover how God is at work in their lives – something that many of us may not always readily notice.

What is exciting for me in this is that the Spirit of God sets the agenda for my day – whom I will meet and the nature of the conversation that will take place. It’s always an adventure and it’s amazing to be able to be present to people who are seeking God, but no longer looking to the traditional established church.

In just a few weeks, I already have a number of stories of how people are hungering for someone to walk alongside with them. People who are done with church are still open to God and are open to someone who will walk with them, helping them connect with God, helping them discover God – and I am find deep joy in this missional engagement.

I would appreciate your prayers as I live out community pastoring in the neighborhood, and as God begins to do a new thing among those who are done with the way church is being done in North America. I look forward to the new thing that God keeps forming.

Shalom, Roland

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