Missionary imagination: Asking what your neighbors need

Vocation and the Common Good is a multi-year research project describing the possibilities for Christian faithfulness within nine spheres of modern work. The Vocation and the Common Good Podcast is one way of distributing the findings of the project. Through conversation with selected members of the project, we intend to highlight the role institutions, friends, family, and colleagues have played in sustaining people within their ongoing attempts to be faithful to the call of God upon their lives.

Isaac Wardell serves as Director of Worship Arts at Trinity Church in Charlottesville, Virginia. He also leads a new initiative called the Porter’s Gate Worship Project and was a member of the Arts Group of Vocation and the Common Good.

This episode centers on the required mindset, practices, and resources for a genuine missionary encounter between church communities and their contemporary contexts. But, as the conversation shows, the language of “contemporary contexts” (like the term “missionary”) is both helpful and vague. For the real power of Wardell’s vision to be made manifest, churches should set aside abstractions in order to attend to the very particular needs of the very real people with whom the church is called to build a common life. For Wardell, this means that the first question church leaders should ask is not “What do we provide?” but, rather, “What do our neighbors need?” While this may seem like a subtle shift of focus, Wardell shows how it is anything but.

The Porter’s Gate Worship Project is modeled after the orientation toward guests described in the Benedictine rule. The rule outlines the role of the porter, whose job is to stand at the doors of the monastery, welcoming those who come to its doors:

In the salutation of all guests, whether arriving or departing,

let all humility be shown.

Let the head be bowed

or the whole body prostrated on the ground

in adoration of Christ, who indeed is received in their persons.

To ignite this imagination, the first effort of this project is a set of new songs and liturgical materials that dignify and ennoble the everyday pursuits of work in the world. Titled “Work Songs,” Wardell led an effort to bring together songwriters, worship leaders, and musicians from across church traditions to produce new works for congregational singing. We are very proud of this effort, and, in fact, we are making use of selections from this record throughout the podcast. For more information on the Porter’s Gate, and to download the record, click here.

This article originally appeared at newcitycommons.com

Topics: City Engagement, Common Good, Imagination, Work and Discipleship