Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ministry in the Third Places

Ministry "happens" in many places. I've found that they happen outside of the church most frequently- which makes sense because most people don't spend a ton of time in the "Church" building. In Michael Frost's book, Exiles, he talks about the importance of doing ministry in the "Third Places." (He actually cites some other people like sociologist Ray Oldenburg who coined the phrase). The idea of a "Third Place" presupposes a First and Second Place. 1st places are our homes. 2nd places are our workplaces- where we spend the majority of our time. 3rd places are environments like coffee shops, cafes, bars, pubs, the gym, etc. They are the places where people meet to develop friendships, discuss issues/politics, and to interact with one another.

Starbucks is, perhaps, the most well-known 3rd place in our culture today...or at least one that is universally known as a 3rd place. Starbucks has gone to great lengths to create a space where conversation can happen. A place where people can connect with each other. Starbucks and other places have become places where real intimacy can occur.

For mission-minded Christians, it is important to build relationships in 3rd places. First, not everyone goes to church to explore their faith, but they're willing to talk about it in a 3rd place. Second, we are to take to gospel to all the world. We cannot subscribe to a bunker mentality that keeps us entrenched in the church and separate from the world. Dan Kimball, in his book "The Like Jesus But Not The Church" really stresses the importance for Pastors and Christians to get outside of the church or the Christian bubble to meet those who are not Christians in order to build relationships that ultimately point to Christ. Unfortunately, many I know many Christian leaders who struggle to get out of the church (out of the bubble) to begin to minister in these 3rd places. We've become so caught up doing the work of the church that we've failed to do the Work God's called us to.

There is a great 3rd place here in Milford called Dolce. It's a small coffeshop that makes the best pastries and has a wonderful atmosphere. This year, I've been intentional about consistently being present in this 3rd place to build relationships with those who work there and the patrons. It's been awesome how conversation opens up to faith and how it can be discussed in a non-threatening way. Honestly, this doesn't surprise me, but it encourages me and my efforts to get out of the office and into places to build relationships that point to Christ. For the Church to truly live up to it's calling, It must see itself less as a building or a schedule of ministries and see itself as an living organism that grows, responds, reacts, and interacts with others around it.

Do I always make it out of the office? Sadly no. But each opportunity is a way to reach out to the community around me.

4 comments:

Becky said...

one of the biggest problems I have with the Church is that it seems like they are so wrapped up in administrative and financial stuff, not actual ministry. I think that these "third places" are definitely crucial to focus on ministering to people, especially since we don't spend all of our lives in the actual church building.

but I also wish that the time we do spend in church could reflect the 'third place' time- with more active discussion and input from everyone. I find that I learn a lot more and grow in my faith more through discussions with people, not necessarily through sermons. there has to be a perfect balance somewhere.

Steven said...

I think I am going to add a 4th place to this. Over the past couple of years I am been observing the current culture and the way they interact with blogs, facebook, twitter, etc....

I have learned a lot about peoples believes, struggles, opinions all by what they post. We can say that the 4th place seems non-personal, non-relational, blah blah blah. The fact is that this generation feels more comfortable to discuss serious issues via the internet then in a possible public location like Starbucks. Why?? Who knows??

Steven said...

scratch that question... it was answered in the next couple of chapters. He says the reason blogs, facebook, etc... are so popular is because we can be whoever we want to be whether it is real or not. We can give off whatever persona we want to and not have to live in reality.

Welcome to the Underground Mr. Frost

The LaMotte's said...

We certainly have to be intentional about what the author calls "third places." How often do we get together with our Christian friends for small group, church, dinners, etc., without any interaction with anyone outside of our group? We have to be intentional about building relationships that ultimately point to Christ.