A couple years ago, I share the following characteristics of gospel communities. Living on mission is not a maverick endeavor. It happens in the context of community, but not just any community, a gospel community. Here are 11 marks I have discovered to be distinctives of healthy gospel communities.
- Believers practice confession instead of trying to make an impression.
- People are defined by a lifestyle of repenting rather than pretending.
- You embrace truth at all costs, not agreeing for each others approval.
- Light exposes & wounds and love covers & heals – both/and not either/or.
- People are happy to be holy not content to be comfortable.
- You own your mess because of His mercy instead of hiding them because of your shame.
- Functional saviors & heart idolatry are lovingly confronted & challenged by Christ’s reign & rule.
- Unbelieving sinners & believing sinners together look away from themselves & look to Jesus.
- The pleasure of God in Christ to save you liberates you to passionately serve others.
- Hospitality is given to those on the margins & those not like you are welcome in your world.
- Individual preferences take a back seat to community purposes of loving God and neighbor.
“Many of our approaches to evangelism still assume a Christendom mentality. We expect people to come when we ring the church bell or put on a good service, but the majority of the population are disconnected from church. Changing what we do in church will not reach them. We need to meet them in the context of everyday life.”
– Steve Timmis and Tim Chester, Everyday Church
The yard you choose to use says a lot about how you feel about your neighbors. The back yard approach is typically closed off from the rest of the neighborhood. Whether it has a fence or not, it says “we don’t want to be seen, and we don’t want to see you – this is our private space.” This approach is very typical in suburbia, enforced by gated communities, guard dogs, and the like. The goal is to keep people out, only letting them on the rare occasion we feel like it, on our terms.
The front yard tells a different story. This approach says “we want to be seen, whether you drive by in your car, walking your dog, or riding your bike.” The front yard creates anticipation for community, looking for people who may have hobbies or interests in common. The front yard encourages engagement and looks for opportunity to connect with others. The walls are not there. You are not hiding. You want to know others and be known by them.
Moving from the back to front may make your front yard look a little messy. We brought our kids’ picnic tables, plastic slides, etc. that normally is in the back to the front. We play our football and wiffle ball games out front. Basically, whatever we once did in the back, we have made an effort to do in the front (grilling out, throwing parties, playing games, or just hanging out on the porch).
What kind of difference does it make? It tells your neighbors you are present, you are open, and you are welcoming them to join in with a spirit of hospitality. While that may not sound like much, I believe you will be surprised by the difference it makes.
“If we don’t take Jesus’ command (to love our neighbor) literally, then we turn the Great Commandment into nothing more than a metaphor. We have a metaphoric love for our metaphoric neighbors, and our communities are changed–but only metaphorically, of course. In other words, nothing changes.”
– Jay Pathak and Dave Runyan, The Art of Neighboring
This morning I took a few minutes to jot down 10 reasons why I believe a life devoted to neighboring well is important for a Christian.
- Loving your neighbor is central to Scripture’s teaching. Jesus summarized the teachings of Scripture in the Great Commandment to love God supremely and love your neighbor sacrificially (Matt. 22:24-40). To identify with Jesus and not obey this command to love your neighbor is to call Him Lord but do not do what He says (Luke 6:46).
- Jesus modeled loving your neighbor well. Disciples are learners and followers. Those who follow Jesus will model their lives after Him in how they love their neighbors. Whether the woman at well, Matthew and his friends, or Zacchaeus on the tree, Jesus engaged people where they were, loved them well, and spoke truth that changed their lives.
- Love is the great apologetic for Christianity. The world will know we are disciples of Jesus by the love we have for one another (John 13:34-35). The most convincing argument for the gospel of Jesus Christ is the loving, sacrificial life it produces. When the world looks for the best lovers, they should find Christians completing that list.
- Neighboring involves ordinary life on mission for every disciple of Jesus. In recent years, I have had so many people share with me that they believe God calls all Christians to live on mission, and yet they do not know how or what that looks like. Neighboring well is accessible to all Christians regardless of personality types, giftings, stage of life, or geographic location. Where you live, work, and play can and should be controlled by a desire to love neighbors well and make disciples of Jesus.
- Neighboring well is part of Scriptural requirements for elders in a local church. While often overlooked in elder qualifications, 1 Tim. 3:7 says “he must be well thought of by outsiders…”. Who are the outsiders? How should a church honor this prerequisite and search it out? Would it not be his neighbors? Those outside of Christ in his community? If a man is being considered for the office of an elder and does not know a neighbor well (or better yet, they don’t know him well), should he legitimately be considered to lead a church?
- Neighboring well gives practical expression to seeking first the kingdom of God. Matt. 6:33 is a verse I see everywhere in Christian bookstores (paintings, coffee mugs, bumper stickers, etc.). Kids are taught to sing it when they are young. Yet when I ask people, “What does seeking the kingdom first in your life looks like?” I get a blank stare. What does prioritizing the kingdom look like? How do we pursue it? Neighboring well and life on mission provide practical expression and follow through to that command of Jesus, to see the invisible kingdom made visible in your world.
- Neighboring well provides a building block for gospel growth and multiplication. When Christians learn how to live on mission, love neighbors well, and make disciples through those relationships, this slow, steady progress builds a gospel infrastructure for growth and multiplication in a community. Disciples who make disciples form the DNA for a gospel community that starts new gospel communities, that in turn gather into healthy growing churches. Planting churches without this DNA make be possible through events, but they will not create a movement.
- Neighboring well and life on mission prepare Christians to serve on mission cross-culturally. A Christian cannot export into another culture and context what they are not already doing in their own context. You cannot put on the missionary t-shirt when you get off the plane and somehow expect to do in another country what you have been unwilling or untrained to do in your own front yard. The best missionaries over there are the best missionaries over here.
- Life should not be considered a series of events to attend; rather the grand event is ordinary life itself. I am afraid that if Christianity wants to make a mark in the world, we have to do it with a big event or crusade. We need less crusades and more crusaders who humble live in obscurity with the joy of sharing the light of the gospel where they live, work, and play. Events are not all bad, but if you look at how Jesus made His mark in the world, it was in the small, in the few, in the almost hidden moments of His life that eventually turned the world upside down.
- Neighboring well is a practice transferable and reproducible for anyone. Whether you are a business executive or stay-at-home mom, a college student or a retired senior, an introvert or extrovert, a young Christian or been one for decades, neighboring well and living on mission is a way of life any Christian can embrace, invite others to join, and reproduce in word and deed. How much of what our churches do to reach the community can be accomplished by the everyday Christian in everyday life?
So there are my ten reasons from this morning’s reflection on neighboring well and living on mission this way. Let me know your thoughts and feel free to push back.
I am coming up on 12 years of blogging (in March). So much of what I have written here has been biographical for me, from my journey as a seminary student, to engaging in Southern Baptist life, to life as a pastor and serving the local church, and my passion for gospel centrality. Over the past couple years, I have blogged less and less for two primary reasons: (1) I wanted to spend more time offline living out my faith in the trenches of ordinary life, and (2) the past couple of years have been a demanding season of growth and transition that necessitated more time away from the computer.
With that said, I have been encouraged by friends to share about the journey of the past few years, specifically as it relates to neighboring and life on mission. I believe I am at a place in life right now where I can take time to blog about these matters, much of it in real-time, as I continue to pursue a life of making disciples, loving neighbors, and developing gospel community.
My plan is to not have much of one. Rather, I will post personal commentary, quotes from resources I am reading, sermons or videos I found helpful, and life on the block. My approach will be that of a practitioner, proven to fail at times, but determined to press into the life Jesus has called us as His disciples.
While I would hope that such a topic would pique the interest of a wide number of people, I realize I may be writing to a rather small number of people. My hope is that all of you would be encouraged and that this tribe would grow.
1 Peter Memory Moleskine
Week 17 | 1 Peter 5:8-14
 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
 By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.
 She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.
 Greet one another with the kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.
(1 Peter 5:8-14 ESV)
1 Peter Memory Moleskine
Week 16 | 1 Peter 5:1-7
 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed:
 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;
 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,
 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
(1 Peter 5:1-7 ESV)
1 Peter Memory Moleskine
Week 15 | 1 Peter 4:12-19
 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.
 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
 And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
(1 Peter 4:12-19 ESV)