Loving your neighbourhood

Tim Keller identifies the following characteristics of a missional church.[1] I’ve found them very helpful in encouraging groups to recognise what it means to engage with their neighbourhoods in a missional way.

A ‘missional’ small group is not necessarily one which is doing some kind of specific ‘evangelism’ programme (though that is to be recommended). Rather:

1.      If its members love and talk positively about the city and neighbourhood.
2.      If they speak in language that is not filled with pious tribal or technical terms and phrases, nor disdainful and embattled language.
3.      If in their Bible study they apply the gospel to the core concerns and stories of the people of the culture.
4.      If they are obviously interested in and engaged with the literature and art and thought of the surrounding culture and can discuss it both appreciatively and yet critically.
5.      If they exhibit deep concern for the poor and generosity with their money and purity and respect with regard to opposite sex, and show humility toward people of other races and cultures.
6.      If they do not bash other Christians and churches.

Then seekers and non-believing people from the city (a) will be invited and (b) will come and will stay as they explore spiritual issues. If these marks are not there it will only be able to include believers or traditional, ‘Christianized’ people.


1. How does your community measure up against these criteria?

2. If we find ourselves changing the language we use when unbelievers are present then we should probably change it all the time. Think about how you might talk about evangelism when unbelievers are present.

3. Tim Keller says the members of a missional community ‘love and talk positively about the city and neighbourhood’. List ten things you love about your neighbourhood.

[1] From Tim Keller, ‘The Missional Church’, June 2001.
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12 thoughts on “Loving your neighbourhood

  1. Good points by Keller.To clarify,what does he mean a missional ‘small group’ as opposed to a missional church? In Belfast where I live there are many middle class churches adjacent to housing estates who could probably fulfil the criteria outlined yet never engage with the residents of those areas.This obviously makes it difficult to ever be invited in to explore spiritual issues.

    For many of these churches I am convinced they must start to ‘set up shop’ in the midst of them, then through the long process of gaining credibility from the residents though running youth clubs etc,etc we would hopefully gain a hearing. Obviously God is well able to work outside this process through divine appointments etc, but again these will only occur if our desire is to reach them with the gospel.

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  5. I guess to be “missional” we all need to just buy a sweater and be Mr. Rogers to our neighbors. or we could be like Jesus and said ‘Woe to you”, “Repent or you like wise will perish”, “Repent of your sins, put your faith in Christ and you will you sins will be forgiven and you will receive the promised Holy Spirit. One way is “missional” the other is “bibllical” Which way has worked for 2000 years? The missional church is another fad that will not last or ultimately be effective in making real diciples that last. The way to reach the missional target group is to sanctifiy the church first from all its worldy affections so that God’s glory and presence returns to it and the world becomes jealous of a people living in covenant relationship with God represented by their humility, joy, hope,love and Christlike treatment of those within this community inspite of suffering, persecution and not needing all that the world needs to have peace and contentment. Jesus was not “missional”. He was the “ultimate” model. The missional movement is obsessed with method and process and has forgotten the person of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirt in building the church. I don’t see the work of the Holy Spirit or the Holy Spirit even mentioned in all the writing and blogs about the missional church. God help us to return go God’s ways. The future in the past.

  6. Hi Greg, I’m not sure how much involvement you’ve had in the missional movement, but in my experience it is very concerned with the person of Christ and the work of the Spirit. Do you really think Tim Keller is not committed to preaching the cross of Christ!? I agree that Jesus is our model and that he called people to repentence. Again, that is my experience of the missional movement. One of its distinctive is precisely a concern to call people to repentence and to a distinctive way of life. Ir’s emphasis is not on being like other people, but modeling a different quality of life under the rule of God. The point of understanding our neighbourhood is so that we can make that call to repentance specific and real – which is precisely what Jesus did, offering living water to a woman who was looking to quench her thirst in sexual intimacy or calling on a rich man to sell all his possessions. Or consider Paul who investigated the religion of Athens and then preached a sermon precisely tailored to their needs and quoting their poets. But what puzzles me is why, if you object to all things missional, you’re reading a blog about being missional. Are you looking for things to which you can object? I welcome debate and disagreement on this blog, but I’m not sure why someone would read a blog when they know they’ll disagree with most of it. Might not your time be better spent loving your neighbour and proclaiming the good news? Tim

  7. I do not necessarily agree with what Greg has said or how he has said it. However, he does raise some reasonable questions in debate and disagreement. Also, Keller is a fine Biblical preacher to whom I am grateful for very many wise and heart-felt words. However, not everything he says is spot on, and even to those who admire him, he does appear to become too prescriptive at times. Ultimately, I think it is essentially healthy for those of us who do see the benefit of the ‘missional movement’ to be challenged by our brothers and sisters, even if we perhaps baulk at the delivery of the challenge.

  8. Hi David, yes, I agree we need to be open to criticism. I was objecting to the suggestion that Keller doesn’t preach Christ crucified. I want to encourage critique and debate on my blog. I’m just puzzled why someone who objects to all things missional would spend time reading a missional blog. I fear it suggests – and I can’t comment on the motives of anyone who’s commented on my blog – that it reveals a desire to go looking for things on the internet to criticize rather than a sincere discussion over how we can best reach the lost. Tim

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