I love learning from others who are leaning hard on God as they love their neighbors well. Let me introduce you to Kristin Schell. As her story below explains, she took a simple command with small steps of faith and watched God work through her intentional life of obedience. I first heard of Kristin from responses to my neighboring 101 post on “pick your yard” where I encouraged folks to be front-yard people. Well, that is exactly what Kristin and her growing tribe has done, and it is beautiful to see.

What can you do with a picnic bench in your front yard? Probably more than you could imagine!

Share Button
Print Friendly

“Love and hurry are fundamentally incompatible. Love always takes time, and time is the one thing hurried people don’t have.”
– John Ortberg

Share Button
Print Friendly

Love Always Takes Time

Several years ago, I hashed out in a moleskine a process to making the gospel visible in word and deed in the neighborhood. I used the prefix “be” to harmonize 7 steps that are sequential and cyclical. This is a significant element to my understanding and approach to living out my faith in the neighborhood. Here they are with brief explanations:

7 Steps to Incarnational Mission in the Hood

1.  Be-friending – gospel-driven believers neighbor well in their community and build intentional relationships with unbelievers with a “sent” focus to love them meaningfully and build relational equity.

2.  Be-longing – these believers cultivate relationships by dwelling (incarnationally) with their new unbelieving friends and invite them to be a part their lives and especially their small (group) community as they encounter a network of authentic relationships with other Christians.

3.  Be-holding – as unbelievers embrace the hospitality Christians have shown them, they witness firsthand and behold what the Christian life looks like (embracing the gospel).  They see and experience up close both in word and deed lives transformed by the gospel. They are given a generous welcome to see the beauty of Jesus in the lives of His followers.

4.  Be-lieving – unbelievers understand what responding to the gospel means, namely repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ because they have seen it lived out among Christians, and through this, they believe in the good news of Jesus Christ and embrace Him as Savior and King.

5.  Be-longing – new believers learn what it means to identify (through baptism), belong (covenant membership), live (mission) as a family of servants with God as our Father.

6.  Be-coming – new believers grow through continual rediscovery of the gospel in all its implications and application, being conformed to Christ through a community aggressively pursuing holiness.

7.  Be-getting – growing Christians reproduce themselves by making disciples in a community of disciple-making disciples and thereby repeat the cycle of incarnational mission in the hood.

So the process of being on mission in a hood takes an unbeliever from first engaged with gospel intentionality and ends with gospel reproduction (the process then repeats).  The process can be broken down in pairs as well:

Mission and Community » Befriending and Belonging
Mission and Gospel » Beholding and Believing
Mission and Discipleship » Belonging and Becoming
Mission and Leadership » Begetting

Cycle of Being on MissionThere has been some debate in evangelical circles as to whether it is appropriate for non-Christians to belong before believing. My position on this is non-Christians can and should belong to Christians prior to believing for the following reasons:

  1. Christians should have meaningful relationships with non-Christians. While they are not believers yet, life can be shared and non-Christians can experience the love of Christ through their Christian friends.
  2. Non-Christians need to see and understand the gospel clearly. There is so much confusion out there as to what the gospel is and how to biblically respond to it. As non-Christians belong in a missional community in the hood, they get to see and learn firsthand and up close as well as ask questions so that they can get a truer and clearer picture of what it means to know and follow Jesus.
  3. Non-Christians and Christians need to hear, believe, and respond to the same message. The gospel is for Christians and non-Christians alike. There isn’t a different message for these two categories of people. As non-Christians belong to Christians, they see what it looks like to repent and believe as that should be normative and celebrated in the lives of Christians who enjoy grace and live in the goodness of the gospel.

I am not saying that non-Christians who belong before believing are belonging to a church in the form of a covenant membership or somehow given place of leadership or volunteering to serve on ministry teams. I am saying that their belonging gives them access, exposure, and meaningful connection to Christian community where there questions can be answered, their struggles can be embraced, and their lives can be changed as they come to see, understand, and respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Share Button
Print Friendly

In my previous neighboring 101 post, I mentioned a few ways to do research on your neighborhood and community. What I did not mention are two other neighborhood specific places where I have sought to do cultural exegesis. When I first moved into my neighborhood, I check to see if there was a Next Door neighborhood already established, and indeed there was. I began formulating my list of neighbors from the neighborhood directory. While you do not get a ton of information from ND, you do get some key info, including names and addresses, and sometimes children and interests as well. I would venture to say that the majority of neighborhoods today have an established Next Door neighborhood and would recommend using it to get to know your neighbors.

The second place I did research was on our neighborhood Facebook group. This group is private only to those in our neighborhood (like Next Door), but you are able to learn a lot more about your neighbors through Facebook than Next Door. For example, the majority of them will have recent family pics either through their profiles or cover photos. Even though you may not be friends with them on Facebook, you can still learn things they “like”, such as groups, interests, hobbies, books, movies, etc. At the risk of sounding kind of weird, I will admit that one week I spend over 10 hours learning the interests, backgrounds, and other general info about my neighbors through Facebook.

Now why would I do that? First, it is information already available to anyone, so if I want to know my neighbors, why wouldn’t I take advantage of it? Second, there are things I learned about my neighbors that provoked intrigue through common interest and opportunities to pray for them or serve them. I learned several of them, for example, have children with special needs. Many of them are newly married and just starting their families. This kind of superficial cultural exegesis can be boring research. But after several months, I now know the names, addresses, have pictures, and know something of the stories of the majority of the 90+ families that live in my neighborhood simply from doing my research.

In other words, if there isn’t an open door yet, look for an open window. Take the time, do the work, and listen well, because that’s the loving thing to do.

 

/// Previous Neighboring 101 Posts:

Share Button
Print Friendly

Did you know there are ways you can “get to know” your neighbors before you “get to know” them? While you may not get all the specific information you can in a personal conversation, doing your research can help you understand the metanarrative of your neighborhood and community. There are a couple of ways I have gone about gathering research:

(1) Internet Research

Google is really an amazing thing. You can learn the history of your city, gain a better understanding of the annual rhythms of major events and/or celebrations, and gain insight into aspects that make the city attractive to others. More specifically, you can review census data from various sites such as USA.com and demographic data for your very own city block (census tracks, census block groups and census blocks).

(2) Paid Research

A popular company for gathering research in a community in Percept Group. For example, their Ministry Area Profile gives you roughly 20 pages of demographics and data nicely compiled with charts and graphs to analyze.

When you gather your research, you can compare the data with the details and stories of people you meet and gain a holistic picture and profile of the needs, challenges, and opportunities to your neighborhood.

/// Previous Neighboring 101 Posts:

Share Button
Print Friendly

“Christians must be like their neighbors in the food they eat and clothes they wear, their dialect, general appearance, work life, recreational and cultural activities, and civic engagement. They participate fully in life with their neighbors. Christians should also be like their neighbors with regard to excellence. That is, Christians should be very good at what others want to be good at. They should be skillful, diligent, resourceful, and disciplined. In short, Christians in a particular community should–at first glance–look reassuringly similar to the other people in the neighborhood. This opens up nonbelievers to any discussion of faith, because they recognize the believers as people who live in an understand their world. It also, eventually, gives them a glimpse of what they could look like if they became believers.”
– Tim Keller, Center Church

Share Button
Print Friendly

How Christians Should Be Like Their Neighbors

One of the more influential books I’ve read over the past year is Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. Listen to how McKeown summarizes the way of the Essentialist:

“The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.”

When I first read this book, I read it through the lens of an organizational leader with varying degrees of responsibility in a number of areas that seemed to make life complicated and difficult. This book was instrumental in helping me get to the essentials and drill down deep from that perspective.

In recent months, however, I have been thinking about the idea of essentialism specifically through the lens of living as a Christian. Could it be argued that the reason why we have so few people living an abundant, spirit-Filled, fruit-bearing life is because Christians have unconsciously adopted a non-essentialist approach to Christian living? Have we been “living by default rather than by design”? Of all people in the world, should not children of God be living by design? If so, then why does so much of our lives seem reactionary? Is this not another away of simply “being conformed to the world” as in Romans 12:2?

These are the questions that I’ve been asking myself lately. As a result, I have begun a pursuit of living an “essential Christian life.” But that, I mean a disciplined pursuit of less so that I can make my highest point of contribution to the kingdom of God. By design, I want to live with such intentionality that I am willing to say “No” to a host of good but trivial things so that I can say yes to the vital few that should mark my life as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

When we hear that inner voice expressing frustration that we don’t have the time, we are simply too busy, we don’t know how, or it just doesn’t work, why have we not first asked ourselves how we got here in the first place? Have we uncritically adopted a manner of living entirely incompatible to the Great Commission given to us by Jesus and justified our being out of step with the gospel because “everyone else is doing it”? If we could acknowledge the essentials to healthy, fruit-bearing Christian living, would we be willing to have the “disciplined pursuit of less” as Christian essentialists so that we can make our highest point of contribution for the spread of the gospel, love of our neighbor, and advance of the kingdom of Christ? Isn’t that what we should be doing after all?

There has been a debate over the past several years in evangelical circles about being “radical” for Jesus and living “ordinary” for Jesus. While I that conversation certainly has merit, why don’t try to address Christian living from a different angle? How about essentialist versus nonessentialist Christian living? Would this perspective not shed a little more light on the status of evangelical Christianity in North America?

So the question then begs for a definition and description of essential Christianity. Let me propose five aspects of Christian essentialism:

  1. Jesus  – who Jesus is, what Jesus has done, and why that matters for all of life
  2. Scripture – the revelation of what God has said and done, the story of God,
  3. Kingdom – the entrance, nature, growth, and impact of the kingdom of God
  4. Great Commandment – love God supremely and love neighbors sacrificially
  5. Great Commission – make disciples of Jesus by the power of the Spirit

I know there is so much more that could be argued for Christian essentialism. But the point of essentialism is to determine the “vital few” (pursuit of less) and build a “systematic, discipline approach” for making our highest level of contribution for the cause of Christ. All we need to do is take 10 minutes in a Christian bookstore to see how rampant nonessentialism is in our world today. Let’s not go there. How about we pursue a few things and execute on them with priority and passion so that they produce a lifestyle that makes a difference as disciples of Jesus?

Share Button
Print Friendly

If you’re like me, you tend to forget things, especially names. I’m the worst at this, people. But there is nothing like meeting someone for the first time, and days or weeks later calling them by their name, even better, if you can remember the details of whatever conversation you had with them. What does that communicate to someone who once was a stranger to you? It tells them you want to be more than a neighbor. You want to be a friend, to be in community. You tell them that they matter to you. They are not just a random passerby. They are your neighbor whom you call by name. You listen to their story and can retell it as if it was yours.

Now how is that possible unless you write it down? You may have a photogenic memory, but I don’t, and neither does 99% of us in the world. So do you want to love your neighbor? A simple way to start is by learning to write it down. Have a way to capture and retain information you learn about people. Whether on your phone, voice recorder, notebook, or computer, make a point to memorize and retain what you have written down. Have a way you can add, update, or edit what you have written down as future conversations are documented in your head, to your hand, and ultimately to your heart.

Share Button
Print Friendly

“Everyone is busy, and we all have different stories and struggle with different issues that compete for our attention and time. We all should be concerned about how much we cram into our schedules. If we truly want to be great neighbors, we are going to have to make some adjustments. And that may mean God will call you to say no to some good things so you can focus on the things that are really important.”
– Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, The Art of Neighboring

Share Button
Print Friendly

Great Neighbors Make Adjustments

At the dinner table tonight, we experienced something profound, and profoundly lacking in our lives. As we enjoyed some Mexican takeout, we asked our kids to share about their favorite events in life so far. After each family member chimed in, we proceeded with round 2 of favorites. Then round 3, and round 4. Everything from favorite food to favorite chores were talked about, and there was no shortage of commentary and attention grabbing interaction.

But then the conversation slightly changed when one of our children mentioned something that his brother was good at. I decided to go with it, this time asking each of our children to think of something they could say to each other, affirming something they are particularly gifted in or excel at doing. One by one, they began sharing things how their brother is good at baseball, their sister is good at dancing, their mom is a good teacher, and dad is good at walking the dog and picking up his poop. For a good 10-15 minutes, we just took time affirm the virtues and blessings of having each other in our lives.

Sadly, as a leader in our family, I have not shepherded our conversations to learn the grace of affirmation. I call it “grace” because it is contrary to our human nature. Our sinful nature wants to receive the praise, not give it. In an attitude of pride, we want to be the center of attention rather than having a spirit of humility and make others more important than ourselves. Only grace, only Jesus can cause us to get over ourselves to focus on the beauty and blessing of the community we are so privileged to enjoy.

I have been deeply convicted tonight to lead our family better, to shepherd our conversations by grace to edify and build each other up. Enough complaining and whining and tattling. Enough looking for each others’ faults and highlighting our failures. It is time to highlight God’s grace and look for each others’ virtues. And say it out loud. Say it to each other, looking in their eyes, connecting our heart to theirs, and knowing the sincerity of the words are trustworthy and true.

If we can train each other to practice the grace of affirmation, how much different would our lives be? How would it impact how our children treat one another? How would it change the community we live in? Not just our family but our neighbors and church family? No matter how difficult a person may be, how down they may be on life, how different they are from you or me, they are made in the image of God with dignity, worth, and value. Though marred by sin, there is yet something beautiful despite their brokenness. While not denying the brokenness, can we yet learn to look for the beauty reflecting the handiwork of their Creator?

So in repentance, I am learning from my children, and in doing so, looking to lead them better by affirming one another and cultivating conversations littered with blessings rather than being defined by the curse of sin and brokenness. With God’s help, we will be a family that will focus on what is right with each other than what is wrong. Not as an attempt to prove our righteousness or goodness, but to point to the righteousness and goodness of the gospel freely given through the life and death of Jesus Christ, breathing in His perfect obedience, and breathing out a life directed to glad submission to His sovereign reign and rule in our lives.

Let’s make disciples of Jesus, beginning with our children, and in our families, cultivate a community marked by affirming grace, whether common or covenant. I believe we will love God and love our neighbors better when we do.

Share Button
Print Friendly