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Living Local: Joining God

  • A process for living more deeply into God’s mission for us
  • A shared journey for congregations, neighborhoods, communities
  • A community of learning

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We listen to God by dwelling in God’s Word, and in stories of God in our lives and in our neighborhoods – we practice deep listening


As we hear from God and one another, we ponder how God might be calling us to take action in the world – we reflect and discern


We experiment with new ways of joining in God’s mission, trusting God uses our failures as well as our successes – learn from ways we didn’t meet expectations


We wonder together about what God is up to in our lives and in the world – we reflect and discern again


We adopt new ways of being the Body of Christ as we listen, discern, try on, and reflect – we decide to change our new normal


Listening to God, Each Other, and Our Neighbor

  • Dwelling in the Word

    Dwelling in the Word of God is a core practice of listening for God in scripture. Dwelling creates space for the Spirit to open up our imagination and helps us to form community based in scripture. As we practice dwelling, we listen deeply to each other.  Listening and attending is the first step in our journey of joining God in our neighborhoods.

    Try first Luke 10:1-12, then Acts 16:6-15, then Luke 24:13-35.  Stick with one piece of text for an extended period of time – months if possible – and experience how the same text can say something completely different to you each time you dwell in it.  Begin each gathering of vestry, staff, choir, and others with this practice.

    • Have copies of the text available for everyone
    • Have two people (male/female) read the passage out loud twice
    • Before the second reading ask people to be open to the Spirit through these questions:
      1. As the text is read a second time, where do you stop?
      2. What insight or sense of God did you gain?
      3. What question do you want to ask about the text?
    • After the text is read again invite people to ponder the questions
    • Following several minutes of silence ask people to find someone in the room they do not know well or did not come with, and sit in a comfortable place together
    • Each gives the other 2 minutes and listens to where the other has stopped and how they have responded to one of the questions
    • After two minutes switch around and listen to the other person
    • Invite people to share, with the broader group, what they have heard their partner say

    This is difficult!  Many people will default to reporting what they said instead of reporting what their partner said.  However, this is an important way in which we practice listening.

  • Listening to Each Other

    Pair with various members of your congregation and ask the following questions. Practice listening. Resist the temptation to share your own responses and experiences until after you have fully listened to theirs, and only if they inquire.

    1. How long have you been part of this church?
    2. Share a story of a time in your experience of our church when you felt most spiritually alive, energized, and engaged.
    3. How has the community around the church changed over time?  How do you think this has impacted our church?
    4. What is one hope you have for our church?
    5. How do you think God is present in the life our our church?
  • Listening to the Neighborhood

    Your neighborhood is any context in which you live, work, worship, etc.  Invite everyone in the congregation to join in a simple neighborhood walk.  Explore some ways of “discovering” and listening to your local neighborhoods.  If mobility is a challenge, find a place where people gather that you can sit and observe what is going on around you.

    1. Who is out, in the street?
    2. What are people doing?
    3. Are there things that surprise you?
    4. What raises your curiosity?
    5. What creates concern or questions?
    6. Is there anything that catches your attention in a way that you want to ask more questions or get more information?
  • Listening to Your Neighbors

    Take 15-20 minutes to ask a neighbor – not necessarily a stranger to you – these questions, and others of your own.  Don’t overcomplicate it.  Don’t go with an agenda other than listening to learn.  Work the questions into a conversation.

    1. How long have you lived/worked in this neighborhood?
    2. What do you appreciate the most about the neighborhood?
    3. What is one challenge you think the neighborhood is facing?
    4. What’s one hope you have for the neighborhood?
    5. How do you think God is present in the neighborhood, if at all?


After each listening practice, spend time asking the group what they might be learning.

End each reflection session with prayers of thanksgiving.

  • After Dwelling in the Word

    After each Dwelling in the Word practice, once you’ve invited all of the pairs to share what they hear from each other, invite the group to answer

      1. How might the Spirit of God be speaking to the entire group?
      2. What theme has emerged or call to action should we attend to?
  • After Listening to Each Other

    After each practice of listening to each other, break into small groups and answer

      1. What are we hearing that creates curiosity, concern, or surprise?
      2. What new questions are we wanting to ask?
      3. Where might we want to listen more?  Are there other groups?


    Bring small groups back into one larger group and answer

      1. Where might we be seeing places where God is already out ahead of us?
      2. What are we learning about listening?
  • After Listening to Neighborhood and Neighbors

    After each practice of listening to the neighborhood and neighbors, break into small groups and answer

      1. What are we hearing that creates curiosity, concern, or surprise?
      2. What new questions are we wanting to ask?
      3. Where might we want to listen more?  Are there other groups?


    Bring small groups back into one larger group and answer

      1. Where might we be seeing places where God is already out ahead of us?
      2. What are we learning about listening?


  • Experiment Design

    After listening and discerning, answer

    1. What is the action we are taking?  What are we inviting people to do?
    2. What do we imagine we might learn as a result of this action?
    3. What are our initial steps? (i.e. how will we communicate this?  How will we invite people to participate? etc.)
    4. What is our feedback loop? (i.e. how will we gather data from those who participate?  How will we share what we have learned with those that participate?)
    5. What is our timeline to action this experiment?
  • Experiment Criteria

    At the Essence of experimenting is a willingness to learn from the experience.  Success of an experiment is considered in terms of how much we are transformed by the experience rather than about our impact on others.

    Experiments are:

      • Grounded in neighborhood listening and discerning – will be unique to your context
      • Simple
      • Small
      • Easy “wins”
      • Light on structure
      • Require no expertise
      • Allowed to “fail” or not meet expectations
      • A way of creating further curiosity
      • A first step into practicing a new way of “being church”
      • Challenging you to step out of what is comfortable and “normal”
      • Beyond what you are already good at and have practice doing
      • Ways to partner alongside people around you
      • About being open and available
      • About “being with” people instead of “doing for” people


    Experiments are not:

      • Controllable
      • The “right choices”
      • Initiatives that require a budget
      • Complex initiatives designed to solve a problem
      • Plans that lead to an expected outcome
      • Initiatives that have “high stakes” attached
      • Meant to address structural or organizational change
      • About recruiting new members to your church
      • About meeting needs in the community
  • Common "Hang-ups" to Experimentation

    “Our focus is on helping rather than learning”

    To get unstuck, remember, we are trying to discover what God is inviting us into.  Make sure your learning objective is clear.  Make sure your experiment fits the Experiment Criteria.

    “We aren’t sure why we are doing this”

    To get unstuck, remember, this process requires you to learn by acting.  Action Learning.  We are trying to learn new ways to be the church by acting in new ways that are unfamiliar.  We don’t know how these things will turn out and that makes us anxious.

    “We can’t get anyone involved”

    To get unstuck, invite people personally to do this with you.  Don’t rely on announcements or someone else’s support.

    “Our experiment is too complicated”

    To get unstuck, remember, the goal is to take simple steps in a direction you feel God leading you.  See if you can simplify and include more people.

    “We feel like we need to start a program”

    To get unstuck, know that the learning process is more important that the result.  Culture changes by learning new habits and practices, not by starting new programs.

    “Our focus is on doing the experiment well rather than on the people before us”

    To get unstuck, know that the purpose of experimenting is to open up space and time to notice some new ways God might be showing up with people; it’s not about completing an activity perfectly or checking off the task

  • Learning from the Experiment

    After each experiment, reflect by asking

    1. What did we do?
    2. What worked well?
    3. What would we do differently?
    4. What are we learning?


    Report your experimentation reflection to a larger learning community.  As each member listens to your reflection, have them answer

    1. Where did your imagination stop?
    2. Are there reported observations that capture your attention?
    3. How do you think the Spirit of God might be nudging them/us?


    Read and reflect on the larger learning community’s reflections.  Their listening should not include

      • Problem solving
      • Thinking of solutions
      • Statements of “you should…”
  • Deciding New Ways

    After reflecting on several iterations of experimentation and sharing with a larger learning community, decide new ways of being the Body of Christ – decide to change our new normal by answering

      1. Where have we experienced God at work in this practice of experimenting (dwell here for a while before going to the next question)
      2. What are the key lessons we have learned that might be important to share with our congregation and vestry?


  • Things are changing and we need to reimagine how to be a church in this new world
  • God is already ahead of us, up to something in our neighborhoods and communities, and we should join God there
  • A lay-led, grassroots effort to discover God’s mission for us in our neighborhoods and communities is preferred over a top-down vision
  • Our neighbor is anyone we encounter in our daily life – where we live, where we work, where we play, and where we pray
  • God’s mission for us is different in each of our contexts – location and time
  • Our re-imagination of how we are called to be church in our specific context potentially includes new ways of using our resources – time, talents, money, structures, and clergy – but not necessarily
  • We learn best through experiences and action learning
  • Sharing in communities broadens and deepens our learning
  • Anything worth doing is worthy of practice and development over time
  • We don’t know what the end game looks like, but we look for transformation of individuals, congregations, neighborhoods and communities

Learning in Community