The challenges to missional living in suburbia are legion. Simon Carey Holt reminds us that suburbia has a utopian vision of life: "A community of like-minded citizens escaping one place to reside together in tranquility and peace in another." He points to the billboards along the highway, which offer the dream. The words community, security, and home are plastered over images of children riding their bikes, fathers rolling in the grass, airbrushed sunsets, and candlelit dinners. We all long for community, but the community that marketing technicians offer is no "place." It's an empty abstraction.
And yet, Jesus became a man and moved into the neighborhood. How do we make a difference? How do we as the physical church body of Jesus become visible to people? How do we become "placed" and invite people to come home? William Cavanaugh writes,
People are usually converted to a new way of living by getting to know people who live that way and thus being able to see themselves living that way too. This is the way God's revolution works. The church is meant to be that community of people who make salvation visible for the rest of the world. Salvation is not a property of isolated individuals, but is only made visible in mutual love.
A missional spirituality requires the practice of embodied presence through proximity. Jesus was not merely an ambassador from God. He was God in human body. He was present and close, not detached and aloof. Jesus became one of us and lived among us.
Consider Joan Osborne's song, "What if God Was One of Us?" When we enter our neighborhoods and networks, we enter pubs, restaurants, supermarkets, dentist offices, and schools where broken and needy people live, and we become Jesus for them. Lots of people feel like slobs and strangers on a bus trying to get home. When we engage in mission, we connect with people where they are and don't wait for them to come to us. Jesus still lives in our neighborhoods and relates to people in vast networks of relationships.
—Roger Helland and Leonard Hjalmarson. This article is excerpted from Missional Spirituality; used with permission of InterVarsity Press.