This an extract from my regular newsletter for supporters of Seeds Bendigo:

Friends, I’m finding it difficult to write you this letter at the moment. I’m finding it difficult to put into words what is going on in Long Gully, both for me and the community around me. This is not because anything particularly negative is happening, but because it’s increasingly clear that the work of ‘being neighbours’ is a mysterious one.

I’ve been catching myself saying “It depends….” a lot. Why?

I love models, and patterns; finding common things across different places is very satisfying to me. However, much as I would love to have a formula that can be ‘multiplied’ in other places, I often find that so much of what we do is very specific to our place, and the people in that place. Is it good or bad to have lots of programs? Depends on the people and the place. Should we have a paid role in the community we are serving? Depends. Should church services be held in ‘church buildings’ or somewhere else? It depends. Is it better to stay in one place for decades, or move on quickly? It depends.

To give a specific example, we don’t tend to have a lot of our neighbours over to our place. It’s not for want of inviting; it just doesn’t seem to be something they feel comfortable with. A while ago, this would have created quite a bit of anxiety for me, because home-based hospitality was the crucial in my early years of mission. But I now realize, this depends on the character of the people and place.

Why all this ambiguity? I think it is due to 3 factors: place, people & time. All of these work together to alter the way we live out our faith. When we look at Jesus in the Gospels, and at Paul and the early church, the way they did things altered according to circumstance. Jesus called some to follow, others to stay; Paul travelled constantly while others stayed put.

So what stays the same across time, space and personality, and therefore what we need to get right, is not models or patterns or formulas, but character. Both working on our character, and also being shaped by the character of God, the colour of which is most clearly shown in Jesus and the fruits of the Spirit.