Church, Church, Church
Nearly three years ago an intense hunger to bear witness of Christ to community, neighbors, and the world moved my wife Amanda and me to pray for God to open new doors. We couldn’t help but notice that our kids went to school at our church, church at our church, had their community at our church, and I worked at our church.
We prayed, “Lord, bring us into the community so that we can be a light for you.”
The Beginnings of Change
God used things going on in our life to send us out of our church’s Christian school into a public school. We went with eager expectation, but also a little uncertain as to how we’d transition. To our delight – we discovered God’s mission for us: Being present in the lives of the people in our community while being known as the “Christian people,” the “praying mom,” “the kids-whose-dad’s-a-pastor” family.
What was once a distant community, even though local, now became our people.
If God was going to open this door we’d want to make sure we were a legitimate light for Him. We began getting to know the teachers and administration. Amanda started a Moms-In-Prayer which would eventually birth a Spanish-speaking Moms-In-Prayer, and a Middle School Moms-In-Prayer. Teachers give requests regularly. When my daughter wrote in her assignment she wanted to be a missionary for Jesus Christ they hung it up in the hallway like everyone else’s assignment.
Meanwhile I was an instructional level soccer coach in town and my daughter joined the football cheerleading squad. I had a pre-existing relationship with the Mayor and gathered offerings at church to serve the community wherever there was need, but I knew I could engage more. I joined the Mayor’s Stigma-Free Committee promoting mental health and wellness alongside the School Superintendent and the Chief of Police.
We were immersed in the community. We found our tribe.
Things I Wish People Would Have Told Me
If you’re reading this, you probably share the same hunger to share Christ with your neighbors. Here are two things I wish someone would have told me when I began this journey three years ago.
Advice #1: Being immersed in your community challenges your theology. (See #3 below…)
Advice #2: Embrace that “Staying is the New Going.” There’s no grand dream of being called to Hawthorne, NJ but someone needs to go. Embrace where you are if you want to make a Kingdom impact. As Christians we can get ants in our pants and move around too much for the next ‘level’ in our ministry ‘career’ while never staying long enough to produce transformation in a community.
We Had Begun to Actually “Neighbor”
As Amanda and I began to embed ourselves into the community we found that the community was wide open to receive our love, kindness, and influence. Without even knowing the term, we had been practicing The Art of Neighboring. First on a community-wide level but also with our actual neighbors. We are taking the second greatest commandment very literally: To love our actual neighbor as ourselves.
We focused super-local by learning the names of all our neighbors. We later moved across town one mile away, and now know most of their names too. Loving our neighbors looks more like hanging out and drinking coffee on the front porch, talking about our life experiences. And because I wear the unique hat of a pastor, the prayer requests given to Amanda and I are not far behind.
The Priceless Things We’ve Learned
Through our experiences and coaching this concept of neighboring—some may call it “evangelism”—we’ve learned a few important helpers:
- You can’t rush relationships. It might take neighbors a good year or two to bring up faith stuff short of prayer requests. In the evangelical tradition, we’ve been so ingrained for aggressive evangelism this could cause us to get antsy, but we need to remember: (1) We don’t save people, God does; and, (2) Although we fear people need to ‘hear the Gospel before it’s too late’ we also don’t want to push them even further away from hearing.
- You must be seen in the community if you want to have influence or relationship. It’s hard to have conversations seasoned with salt if you’re not even involved in local conversation.
- Take seriously the spiritual disciplines. It’s important that your consistent devotional/fellowship time with God stays strong in order to not become swept away by the community (which does live predominantly in spiritual darkness). Here you will get your strength and discernment for being able to hold the tension of both grace and truth.
- Listen more, talk less. People will learn who you are and what you are about – when they need you, now they can find you. THEN you give answers seasoned with salt.
- Who is my neighbor? To help you focus on who you should reach and neighbor to in the midst of your busy life schedules and church community relationships: Keep it simple and define “neighbors” as those most consistently present in your world: your actual neighbors, co-workers, community contacts, friends/family. If you have a few people don’t feel like you need to reach a crowd. Truthfully, if we were all doing this well we’d just need to be invested in a few lives at a time.
 Briggs, Alan. 2015. Staying is the New Going: Choosing to Love Where God Places You. NavPress: Colorado Springs, CO.
 Pathak, Jay and Dave Runyon. 2012. The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door. Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI.