God Beyond Borders

By: Kimberly Ivany
December 03, 2015

I believe it is when we push the concept of ‘ministry’ into this wider mission of community that we allow ourselves to be spiritually fed beyond a Sunday morning hour.

Inside a small church in Toronto’s north end, I spent a recent morning listening to author Paul Sparks speak about ‘the art of the neighbourhood church.’

A Parish Organizer and Social Entrepreneur, Paul explores innovative ideas and accessible approaches to ground-level ministry in his latest work entitled A New Parish.

Paul explains that in an era where towns and cities have become transient “places of flow,” we’ve lost touch with the realities in our own communities. Life’s current time signature hinders our ability to reach out, either with words or actions, to a neighbour, a senior, a homeless person, etc. and express that we belong to each other. Such an activity is surely a key aspect that sustains a neighbourhood, but also one that enables us to carry out our mission as Christians.

Paul posed a question in his talk that challenges how we may view this vocation: How can we remember the people within our own communities and reach out to them with the compassion of Christ? How can we champion the life-giving story with a new imagination in order to see and express God’s tangible love in real places?

I believe a step towards an answer is recognizing that the sharing of God’s story is not confined to one building nor one definitive conversation.

A simple Google search defines ‘church’ as ‘a building used for public Christian worship.’ I went to ‘church’ every Sunday as I grew up, however my independent journey into adulthood has revealed new meanings to the idea that WE are the church.

As humans, we habituate a space that is alive all the time: doctors are treating patients, artists are creating music and tapestries, children are going to school.

There is profound growth that sparks when these varying cultures and contexts intersect. As Paul suggests, it is a growth that inspires the emergence of reconciliation and peace that is illustrative of God’s original intent for what it means to be living together.

I believe it is when we push the concept of ‘ministry’ into this wider mission of community that we allow ourselves to be spiritually fed beyond a Sunday morning hour.

I view my trip through Southeast Asia a couple of years ago as one example. As I crossed borders and dove into contexts in stark contrast to my own, I began to discover God in places I was previously unaware of.

I met a Christian girl from Pakistan while in South Korea, navigating through life with questions much like mine. I spoke to a Thai homeowner with goals and travel dreams of his own. I heard ‘Silent Night’ sung in Indonesian at a Catholic Christmas Eve service.

While traveling may lend itself to anomalous moments such as these, these experiences taught me that when we awaken our spiritual selves and strain to hear God’s voice in our day to day living, not only do we hear it in the unexpected nooks, but we also open ourselves up to new opportunities to express God’s voice ourselves.

A quote from Paul that complements this idea reads like this: “All of creation is groaning; waiting for sons and daughters of God to be revealed.”

I don’t think we have to look hard for these ‘sons and daughters,’ because I’m really starting to see that all of us are children of God. All of us are designed with the capacity to harbour his spirit within us and allow it to accentuate our everyday lives.

I also believe however, that is takes a steadfast sense of courage to press beyond a comfortable boundary and live into this truth, let alone acknowledge it in the first place.

Ministry to me is therefore a courageous act! It is the manifestation of our willingness to accept the Light we are filled with and the responsibility we have to exclaim it; the desire to tell people that we’ve seen and heard and felt God in real places, in order to inspire others to do the same.

That desire, I think, is waiting to ignite in people like you.

Tags: Inspired Leaders, Innovation in Ministry, Thinking Out Loud


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