December 6, 2016

Street Performers, Strangers, and Community

My wife and I recently spent a few days of vacation in New Orleans. Jackson Square is one of my favorite places on the planet, largely because of its collective and eclectic group of artists, performers, and tourists.

This time I happened upon a street magician that had a pretty lousy show, to be honest. But one thing he said at the beginning stuck with me. “The only thing I’ll guarantee you is this: by the end of our time together, you’ll be part of a circle of strangers all hoping for the same thing.” Maybe we’ll all be hoping this ends soon, I thought…

The tricks were elementary but the guy was a masterful entertainer. As his show went on, he had us laughing and cheering even the tiniest of things. This attracted people and our circle grew. Then the magician started doing tricks with people’s money, and then asking them to give the money to other performers. And our circle grew some more. What started out as about four people standing around grew to a circle of more than forty moving all throughout Jackson Square, cheering on this mediocre magician. It was the crowd, the assembly, and what we were doing (as much as what the magician was doing) that attracted other people.

So what does this have to do with the church?

When I look at the early church, I see some similarities. There was a small group of about twelve people huddled together, and then they started moving around. They started going out to their neighborhood, and then the countryside, and ultimately all around the world. And part of what attracted people to this community - aside from the life-changing power of Jesus Christ – was the community itself. People began noticing what this community was doing. It was caring for the poor, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry. This small (but growing) community was changing its surrounding community.

This magician attracted a small group because he was doing something different. In addition to using his gifts to make money for himself, he was encouraging the assembly to be generous to others. He was encouraging the assembly to go to other artists and learn from them, and enjoy their gifts.

Are our churches doing that today? Are we out in our neighborhoods, excited about what’s going on? Are we out there giving what we have to help those in need? Are we out there learning from those outside of community? Are we being good neighbors?

I don’t know where you start, other than to say just to go outside. See what’s happening in your community, and start talking to folks. As you do, you’ll learn what gifts and struggles, what joys and sorrows, your neighbors have.

Start by being a good neighbor. That is the core of being missional, but it is also one of the most attractional things you can do.