The Community Connection
There are so many ways to engage your neighbors. First and foremost… pray! Ask God to put you in conversations with them. Then, show genuine love for them. They’re not your project or a prize to be “won”. Be an authentic follower of Christ. Many people have never known one! Unfortunately, sometimes you’re digging out of a hole simply because you are a Christian. There has been a lot of polluted water “under the bridge” for some people in their dealings with Christians. You might be the one who has the privilege of demonstrating to them what being a follower of The Jesus Way is about. Here are some simple steps to get you started.
- Go outside. Get to know your neighbors. Look for ways simply to be present with those in the neighborhood.
- Listen. Don’t just talk all the time – especially not with an agenda. Listen to your neighbor’s stories. Ask them about their lives, their families, etc. Listen with ears of “how could I engage in their life and build a relationship?” (For example – Someone tells you their allergies are going crazy. You might just mow their lawn that week. Don’t make a big fuss about it – just do it.)
- Be informed. It helps to have some specific knowledge and a sensitive spirit to the culture and religious backgrounds of the people who live around you. You can learn by attending the “Who Are Our Neighbors?” seminars offered monthly (next one 4/15). If you’re not able to attend – you can click here to watch the session videos.
- Know the BIG STORY. Know how to tell YOUR faith story. Learn how to tell the Big Story. If you’re not sure what that is – you can watch a seminar led by Cindy Wiles on-line by clicking here. Along with knowing the Big Story, you also need to think about how to articulate your faith journey. What difference does knowing Christ make in your life?
There are people around us each and every day who need to know about the saving grace of Jesus Christ. You might be the person God puts in their life to show them how to Glorify God by following The Jesus Way.
Here are a few “windows of opportunity” for God to use you to reach out to people you rub shoulders with every day. As you think of other ways to engage people we’d love to hear your thoughts! Send them to Kim Grice and we’ll pass them along.
1. Following the birth of a child. Many young parents who were raised in church go back to church with the birth of a child. They have a desire to give their children spiritual guidance like they received as a child and may not have been to church since leaving home.
a. Are there people in your life – maybe a co-worker, someone in your neighborhood, the clerk at the drycleaners – that you can reach out to during this new season in their life? Why not offer to bring them a meal or a give them a gift card for a dinner out as a conversation/relationship starter
2. Following a move. People new to a neighborhood will be searching for all kinds of things. New doctors, dentists, place to shop, who to call for internet, tv, phone, electricity, water – and churches too.
a. Why not make a list of helpful numbers for people who move in to your neighborhood and take it them along with a homemade “goodie” as a way of meeting them and beginning a relationship?
3. During a crisis. Deaths, injury, loss of a job, divorce, heath issues – these and so many other things can cause people to consider the big questions of life. What is the purpose of my life? Why do bad things happen to me? What do I do when I can’t fix things on my own? Is there a God who cares about me? Where can I find others who will support me during this time?
a. Did you know our church has a grief-share ministry and a counseling center that you could tell people about that would help them during their healing process? Look for ways to be a support them in practical ways.
4. During time of hurt. Wayward children, marriage problems, drugs, abuse – these all take an emotional toil. Who will be there for me is often a question people ask.
a. Send someone a handwritten note encouraging them and letting them know you care. Personal notes speak volumes in our technological age.
5. During a period of physical renewal. Many people are getting “in shape.” Walking, jogging, or participating regularly in sports programs, joining a fitness club are becoming great places to generate conversations.
a. Invite people to work-out with you. Walking is a great way to stay in shape and visit with someone.
6. During the transition to single parenting. A wide-open window is parents who become single and are now faced with bearing the brunt of parenting on their own.
a. Did you know we have a Bible study class just for single parents? You could invite to help them get connected with this community of people who are in their same situation. You could offer to hang out with their children sometime to give them a break. Why not take them dinner one night to give them a night off from cooking? The possibilities are endless.
7. During the childcare years. The continuing need for two-income families produces the corresponding need for childcare.
a. Why not suggest they look into our church’s Child Development Center as an option for their childcare needs? If you don’t work – maybe you could offer yourself as a resource for them if their child is ever sick and not able to go to childcare.
The windows of opportunities listed just scratch the surface of times when people seem to be more open to the gospel. Ask God to help you keep your gaze on others and be looking for the people he puts in your path and the opportunities he gives you to make a difference in someone’s life.
Ideas taken from the Bible study, Windows of Opportunity – 7 transitions that God can use, written by Gary L. McIntosh. Building Church Leaders, published by Leadership Resources © 2000 Christianity Today Intl.
Loving Our Neighbors
Missional living is all about presence with those in our circles of influence.
Roger Helland and Leonard Hjalmarson | posted 10/29/2012
Note: This article was excerpted from Missional Spirituality.
John 1: 14 in The Message says, “The word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Though the English word neighborhood does not match the Greek of John 1:14, Peterson offers a fresh application in his Bible paraphrase. In his theological reading, he extends the meaning of the Incarnation: Jesus came to a particular place, people, and culture. He was not an abstract man but a real, down-to-earth man who mingled with people in their natural contexts. He spoke Aramaic, ate meals with people, attended weddings, and worked as a carpenter. The literal translation of this verse is “he pitched his tent among us.” Any desert dwellers among John’s readers would understand the metaphor. Jesus camped with his people!
In a largely impersonal, isolated, and fast-moving culture, many find it difficult to relate to people in their neighborhood. Sometimes we are like Charlie Brown, who bemoaned, “I love humankind; it’s people I can’t stand.” We exist in multiple communities and are rarely rooted where we live. How can you be a neighbor when everyone on your street is on the move? Simon Carey Holt writes,
God is revealed and encountered in place …. The radical liberation of our encounter with God is in its impact upon every aspect of life, from our daily work to the food we eat, from the places we choose to inhabit to the relationships that color our lives. God is a God of place. Our call to mission is a call to discern, embody, and proclaim the presence of God where we are. It’s a call to neighborhood.
The Gospel of John begins with a theological reflection on the Incarnation: Jesus was human, visible, physical, and local. People saw and heard him. Yet, so often people become invisible to us: our workmates aren’t neighbors; panhandlers aren’t neighbors; and our actual neighbors are often anonymous to us.
But what if we read neighbor back into neighborhoods? What if we developed a theology of place? Eugene Peterson wrote, “Everything that the Creator God does in forming us humans is done in place .… All living is local: this land, this neighborhood, these trees and streets and houses, this work, these people.”
Circle of Influence
Our fast pace and constant motion push us to withdraw from the people around us. And we attempt to live on mission anywhere but in the neighborhoods where we reside. Our call to mission comes to us in a particular place—with Bill and Linda right next door. We have the greatest potential for impact among those with whom we can relate casually, because we have a natural reason for interaction: we live in the same place. The Incarnation shows that we should begin where we are.
In addition, when we think of our neighborhoods, we must also think of our networks, places where we do life together in natural relationships: at work, at the kids’ soccer and baseball games, in the schools, at pancake breakfasts, in community events, at Starbucks. The kingdom of God is a people and a place of community—with local opportunities to belong and to meet others.
To love our neighbor as ourselves and to be a neighbor to others means we will not just pass by that hurting person we see along our pathway and in our network. We must be ready to offer mercy with a good cup of coffee, a room to stay in, a free meal, payment for a medication, or next month’s rent.
The challenges to missional living in suburbia are legion. Simon Carey Holt reminds us that suburbia has a utopian vision of life: “A community of like-minded citizens escaping one place to reside together in tranquility and peace in another.” He points to the billboards along the highway, which offer the dream. The wordscommunity, security, and home are plastered over images of children riding their bikes, fathers rolling in the grass, airbrushed sunsets, and candlelit dinners. We all long for community, but the community that marketing technicians offer is no “place.” It’s an empty abstraction.
And yet, Jesus became a man and moved into the neighborhood. How do we make a difference? How do we as the physical church body of Jesus become visible to people? How do we become “placed” and invite people to come home? William Cavanaugh writes,
People are usually converted to a new way of living by getting to know people who live that way and thus being able to see themselves living that way too. This is the way God’s revolution works. The church is meant to be that community of people who make salvation visible for the rest of the world. Salvation is not a property of isolated individuals, but is only made visible in mutual love.
A missional spirituality requires the practice of embodied presence through proximity. Jesus was not merely an ambassador from God. He was God in human body. He was present and close, not detached and aloof. Jesus became one of us and lived among us.
Consider Joan Osborne’s song, “What if God Was One of Us?” When we enter our neighborhoods and networks, we enter pubs, restaurants, supermarkets, dentist offices, and schools where broken and needy people live, and we become Jesus for them. Lots of people feel like slobs and strangers on a bus trying to get home. When we engage in mission, we connect with people where they are and don’t wait for them to come to us. Jesus still lives in our neighborhoods and relates to people in vast networks of relationships.
—Roger Helland and Leonard Hjalmarson. This article is excerpted from Missional Spirituality; used with permission of InterVarsity Press.