Newbigin applies his missionary experience gained during his decades in India to the ministry experiences of Christians in the neighborhoods where they live. In chapter 18 of his book The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, he asserts that the only interpretation "of the gospel is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it." He comments that, "Jesus did not write a book but formed a community."
He goes on to describe six characteristics of this kind of community that believes Jesus and lives by his words and deeds. The first one I wrote about in a prior post: it is a community of praise and thanksgiving, the second characteristic: it will be a community of truth.
The third: "it will be a community that does not live for itself but is deeply involved in the concerns of its neighborhood."
There is a danger for a local gathering of believers (aka "church") to fall into one of two dangers: they become too focused on living for themselves and view the neighborhood as an obstacle to their growth, or view the neighborhood as a potential customer to fuel their growth; either way the neighborhood is viewed through the lens of a church living for itself. The other danger is that the local church becomes so identified with the needs of the neighborhood that they abandon their faith in God for values and practices of their surrounding culture; they buy into the strategies and slogans of the powerbrokers and dry up their spiritual roots.
What "if the local congregation is not perceived in its own neighborhood as the place from wich good news overflows in action...?"
Anchor is a diverse church according to age, socioeconomic status, education, gender, family stage, and cultural peferences; we have over twenty zipcodes represented in our church directory of almost ninety family units. Which neighborhood does Anchor focus on? For awhile we focused heavily on the neighborhood in which our facility is located. We are glad to have ministered to so many of our neighbhors, but we realized we were neglecting all the other neighhborhoods where our people lived. How to think of the neighbhorhood where our facility is located and the neighborhood where our church (aka fellow believers) are located?
Here's how I think of it: the neighborhood in which our facility is located should be blessed as a result of almost a hundred families gathering each week for worship and service in that location week after week, year after year. There should be an overflow of grace that spills out of what occurs in our facility into the homes surrounding our "house of God", just as one would envision the twenty other zipcodes having neighborhoods being blessed by the homes of believers who worhip and serve where they live and work and play and learn and shop. The emphasis is not so much on which neighborhood should we focus on, but how do we help each believer focus on the neighborhood in which they spend their lives and have concerns and plan for a better future.
Anchorites should look around their neighborhood and ask God to help them see with his eyes, and then ask Him to give them the energy to work and walk with His hands and feet, so that we can fulfill his promises for the Ones He Loves where we live. God has placed us amongst people that he wants to rescue and restore and reconcile to Himself and One Another, and he does that through his followers who live in a neighborhood.