Theology of Place: Every Neighborhood Partnership’s Neighborhood Development Work
Last month Artie Padilla—Executive Director of Every Neighborhood Partnership—set a platform of our work in Fresno, California and how we partner with the Church as an anchoring lever for all the work in which we are actively engaged (read the article here). This month we zero in on the work that is happening in our neighborhoods.
We’ll first look our methodology, then we’ll share some practical examples of how this methodology plays out in Fresno neighborhoods.
As Simple as A-B-C-D
Our work practices a grassroots theology. This means we adopt a place-based methodology to engage disadvantage communities in a new and rich way.
This framework considers the spatial (geographical dynamics) of under-resourced neighborhoods and then examines how the proximity of human relations co-exist within those spatial boundaries.
Think geography for a moment in the life of Jesus. Preaching and ministering the gospel in the dense areas of Galilee, Jerusalem, Samaria and other local smaller provinces where people gathered to eat, work, live and play was an method Jesus effectively modeled. This model for kingdom-building was centered on two things: being relational and ministering in proximity.
This theology of place also is found in Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) as a strategy for sustainable community. ABCD is a theory of social change based on the premise that effective community development begins and ends with the assets and strengths that already exist in a particular community. In this sense, the Church is an asset or gift to the community.
Exegeting Your Community
Any casual or seasoned Bible student knows the rigorous and rewarding work of exegeting the Scriptures. Exegesis requires the use of many tools to examine and draw from the context to discover the meaning of a passage. In much the same manner, the faith community can learn to exegete the city using various tools.
Utilizing an asset-based approach, churches can become experts of their own community by identifying the felt needs of the community while also providing a pastoral posture towards the community. It is essential for churches to recapture the idea of the local mission if they want to see real community transformation. To engage in this process is to develop a renewed understanding of the importance of place from a theological perspective.
Our in-depth neighborhood engagement has included creating strategies that lead to self-substantiality, empowerment and leadership development. These outcomes are made possible by first having intentional place-based conversations with key people in our community. Ministry initiatives then emerge from the felt needs of that community.
This is vital because oftentimes ministries with great intentions do more harm than good by implementing missional strategies to engage a community without first considering the community’s strengths, gifts and assets rather than solely focusing on its weakness and concerns. Developing a place-based initiative moves the church into the next phase of in-depth relational engagement and into an incarnational way of living like Jesus in the flesh.
Let’s move from the theoretical to the practical. The following are some examples we used in our neighborhood work:
- During this past Spring break we helped to mobilize 1,515 volunteers throughout the Fresno Valley to participate in 125 different projects for our Serve Fresno week.
- In addition to those clean-up and beautification projects, we also provide ongoing serving opportunities to host block parties and community gatherings.
- We also recently developed a neighborhood fitness program with local parents and residents to combat obesity and poor access to healthcare. Our resident-leaders will be trained to facilitate various fitness exercises in different neighborhoods.
Scripture passages shape the theological basis for community transformation:
Reaching your Community
“Seek the peace/shalom of the city to which I have sent you and pray to the Lord in its behalf, for in its shalom, you will find shalom” Jeremiah 29:7
Loving your Community
“Love your neighbor (neighborhood) as yourself.” Mark 12:30-31
Serving your Community
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.” Matthew 25:31-40
Listening to the Community
“Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman from Samaria.” John 4:27
Building on assets of the Community
“How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five loaves—and two fish.” Mark 6:35-44