Dave Ferguson argues, “God’s way of reaching and restoring the world has always been through a blessing strategy.” He asks, “How do we in a very practical way that’s theologically grounded explain to people how they could bless people in places they are incarnating?” He answered this question with five ways to bless your neighbors with the acronym B.L.E.S.S. that I find helpful. Check it out:

B Begin with prayer. We want you to ask, ‘God how do you want me to bless the people in the places you’ve sent me to?’
L Listen. Don’t talk, but listen to people, their struggles, their pains, in the places God sent you.
E Eat. You can’t just check this off. It’s not quick. You have to have a meal with people or a cup of coffee. It builds relationships.
S Serve. If you listen with people and you eat with people they will tell you how to love them and you’ll know how to serve them.
S Story. When the time is right, now we talk and we share the story of how Jesus changed our life.

Be encouraged to be a blessing to your neighbors today!

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“It is so important to love your neighborhood and its culture. As we sense our growing marginalization with the wider culture, it is all too easy to view it as a threat. But viewing the culture around you as a threat is not a good starting point for reaching people with the gospel.”
– Steve Timmis and Tim Chester, Everyday Church

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A Good Starting Point

I love me some Keith Green. Few people have stoked the embers in my heart for the glory of God and salvation of souls than this brother. Consider this lyric from the song below:

“The world is sleeping in the dark that the church just can’t fight
’cause its asleep in the light.
How can you be so dead when you’ve been so well fed,
Jesus rose from the grave, and you can’t even get out of the bed.”

Living in ordinary life with gospel intentionality cannot be sustained with ordinary love. We need prophetic passion, a fire in our bones, that channels a life of overflowing joy and sacrificial love into genuine, humble pleading for sinners to know Jesus. How can we love our neighbors well if we have no love for their souls?

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The average person will eat three meals a day. Most people do not think strategically about how they spend their meals, but meals play a strategic and vital role to missional engagement on the block. A practical way to invest in your neighborhood is to “tithe” your meals for mission.

Can you take two meals a week and use them intentionally to build a relationship with someone or a family? Perhaps you can set aside a specific night each week as a rhythm for a “hospitality meal” where neighbors are invited ahead of time. Take the other meal to develop a relationship one-on-one or two-on-two. The meals do not have to be fancy or impressive. The point is to spend time together over a meal getting to know one another. People will not be impressed so much by how well you cook as how well you listen and love.

Over time, meals create opportunities for barriers to come down and interest to build up. Shared interested and bridges into each others’ lives are forged as we learn our stories. Tithing meals for mission does take as much work as it does intentionality and prioritizing your life such that it does not get crowded out by other urgent or important matters. Life happens, but mission does not happen. Meals, however, a great place to start.

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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!

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

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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“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

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How Christians Should Be Like Their Neighbors