God next door – Holt

By Brian Edgar

Isn’t it ironic when the single most recognised Christian responsibility to others – ‘to love your neighbour as yourself’ – is generalised as a command to love everyone, and has little reference to real neighbours in the same street who remain virtually anonymous except for the occasional greeting.  And what does it mean for our understanding of ‘loving neighbour’ when churches replace locality references (like ‘West Croydon’) with more catchy names that reflect a certain ethos rather than a locality? The creation of churches that are ‘regional’ or ‘city’ focused or which are established in less communal settings, such as factory complexes also has the effect of diminishing any focus on local communities.

If you believe that the notion of local community belongs to yesterday then you need to read Simon Holt’s God Next Door: spirituality and mission in the neighbourhood (Acorn Press, 2007).  And if you want to be encouraged about the possibilities of a mission field that is close at hand then you ought to read it too!

Beautifully written, easily read and full of real stories Holt reminds of how the local neighbourhood can be a place of ministry and of God’s presence. And despite trends which draw many people away from their neighbourhood, into work and recreational pursuits in other places, God Next Door shows how life and ministry can be enriched by an intentional focus on the place and the people near where we live.

Despite the trend towards the inner-city, suburbia remains the residential context for the vast majority of people and many areas that used to need relate to the central city have now centres of activity in themselves, where people shop, work and live. If there is anything which inhibits the development of more community in suburbia it is probably the state of mind which gives a priority to privacy, which would rather preserve boundaries than develop relationships and which sees neighbours as a threat to privacy, rather than an opportunity for community. Christian have the opportunity to reverse this thinking and to live the gospel within local communities.

Choosing to engage with our neighbourhoods as places of community requires a level of creativity and purpose but Simon Holt shows that the rewards are great – for both families and churches. Nurturing community in the local area is a challenging task but it ought to be seen as an intentional one for Christians – a vital part of the mission of the church.

This review first appeared in a copy of Working Together – the journal of the Australian Evangelical Alliance.

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