Who Is Your Neighbor? A Local Church Initiative

September 11, 2019

Who Is Your Neighbor? A Local Church Initiative

By Allen White: Small Group Guru and Church Coach

Love God and love your neighbors. In the Great Commandment, Jesus boiled 613 commands down to these two. He went on to say, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:34-40, NIV). In other words, if Jesus’ followers do anything, they should focus on these two things. The Neighboring Life focuses on the second commandment in order to follow the first one.

Who is My Neighbor?

The act of taking time to learn a neighbor’s name demonstrates obedience to Jesus’ command. Once a believer knows their neighbor’s name, then they can pray for their neighbor. Pray for their lives, their families, their jobs, and even an opportunity to get to know them better.

Neighboring is also serving next door neighbors. By offering a helping hand, often the next step is offering a listening ear. “We love our neighbors because we are Christians, not because we are trying to make them Christians,” says Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis, co-authors of The Neighboring Church. “We need to stop hijacking the endgame with other things. It happens so subtly. We love our neighbors so they will go to church. We love our neighbors so they will join our small group…Those motives turn people to be loved into projects to be directed…People will know when they are a project.”

The Neighboring Life is the creation of Rick Rusaw, Brian Mavis, and the team at LifeBridge Christian Church, Longmont, CO. Built on the foundation of The Externally-Focused Church, co-authored by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson (Group Publishing 2004), LifeBridge along with many other churches, has sought to transition ministry from missional, community-wide, Service Day approaches to a more granular form of ministry.

Rather than donning matching t-shirts, serving for one day, and making local headlines, The Neighboring Life is a daily, personal experience with one’s neighbors. More importantly, it adds the relationship component to serving. “The bridge between being missional and incarnational is relationship,” according to Scott Campbell, The Ascent Church, Colorado Springs, CO. “You can be missional without being relational. You can’t be incarnational without relationship: ‘love neighbors as you love yourself.’”

“For years [LifeBridge Church] had been getting into the stream of our community to serve. A city employee asked if we would take care of a woman’s yard for her. I said I would look at the situation and get back to her,” said Brian Mavis. “As I was driving up, I spotted the house from blocks away. They weren’t exaggerating. The grass was almost as tall as I was.

I knocked on the door and a woman in her young thirties answered. Standing next to her was a little girl. I learned that this woman had recently survived stage-four cancer, and she was taking care of the nine-year-old girl, who was in foster care. This woman was tearful and embarrassed about her yard, but she said her health prevented her from trying to take care of it.

“My heart broke for her, and I was happy that our church was going to help her. I gathered a dozen people and they brought their own equipment. A few hours later we had the yard looking almost as good as new. We came back the next week to put down some mulch. We prayed for the homeowner, and we felt great about what we had done. I was proud of our people, and I was glad the city knew they could call us and count on us to take care of it.

“Over the next year, I called the woman a couple of times to see how she was doing. After the second call, while I was silently congratulating myself, the Holy Spirit said, ‘This is nothing to be proud of. This should never have even happened.’ I immediately knew the full meaning of this gentle rebuke by God. The woman’s grass should never have grown more than six inches tall.”

What should have been done differently? “First,” said Mavis, “I wouldn’t just ask a dozen people from our church. Instead, I would look to see who lived near her. We have several families within a couple blocks of her house. I would’ve called them and asked them to help me help their neighbor. Then I thought I would go one better. I would ask them to help me, but I would also ask them to knock on their neighbors’ doors, no matter if they were Christian or not, and invite them to join in helping this woman…

If the church had done a better job of helping our people learn to love their neighbors, then I never would’ve received a phone call from the city in the first place…

For years our church was serving the community, but were we loving our neighbors?” A dilapidated house or an unkempt yard are easily recognizable signs of a family in crisis. But, not all needs are revealed from the curb. Needs are revealed as neighbors are known. Since neighboring is not a program and neighbors aren’t projects, the focus on neighboring is more of a spiritual discipline than a ministry initiative.

Neighboring is moving life from the backyard to the front yard. It’s taking time for a neighbor when they are outside. The heart of neighboring is putting others ahead of oneself. Neighboring requires no special talent. Anyone can be a neighbor. Neighboring does require a shift in thinking for pastoral leadership. Emphasis is given on scattering equal to the emphasis on gathering. This is not to discount the value of gathering, but to balance receiving and giving.

Stay, Pray, Play, and Say

Neighboring almost seems to hearken back to years gone by when neighbors knew everyone and helped each other. It was the norm. Today, the norm is cellphones, garage door openers, and quiet streets in neighborhoods. Neighboring requires intentional effort.

The practices of neighboring are simple, yet significant. They can be summoned up in four words: Stay, Pray, Play, and Say. Stay means being available to get to know one’s neighbors. It’s stopping to talk to a neighbor instead of hitting the garage door button. Maybe it means sitting on the front porch instead of the back porch. Pray means praying for neighbors. Praying for both neighbors who are known and those who are unknown. Praying for opportunities to connect and serve. Play is offering hospitality to neighbors from dinner invitations to backyard barbecues to small scale events. The fourth word is say. When the opportunity arises, Christian neighbors are prepared to share Christ with their fellow neighbors. This isn’t the completion of the “project.” This is the start of a new journey.

Leaders Go First

As with any focus, leaders go first. Pastors and church staff can prepare to lead neighboring in their churches by starting to neighbor themselves. Resources such as The Neighboring Church by Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis, and Becoming a Neighboring Church, a six session study by the LifeBridge team with its companion video are a couple of ways to get ideas on leading a community-wide movement in neighboring. Other resources include The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, Neighborhood Initiative and the Love of God by Lynn Cory, and Neighborhood Mapping by Dr. John Fuder among others. Once pastors and staff have some experience with neighboring, the entire church can be engaged with The Neighboring Life study and companion video used as a church-wide campaign, group study, or individual study. These resources are available at TheNeighboringLife.com.

Jacob & Mary Alice: An Unlikely Pair

Ever since his wife’s death, 80-year-old Jacob called his neighbor, Mary Alice, regularly. Somehow Mary Alice had broken the ice with this self-proclaimed “crotchety old Jewish man who doesn’t make friends easily.” The two were quite a pair in the neighborhood: a mom of two teenagers chatting the ear off the grumpy old man. When Jacob’s number came up on caller ID, she answered it, but on this evening, when she picked up the phone Jacob wasn’t talking but she could hear difficulty in his breathing. Rushing over to his house, she found Jacob at the bottom of the stairs and quickly called 911. The paramedic in the ambulance, the emergency room receptionist, the technicians drawing blood, and the doctor all asked her, “Are you his daughter?” “No, I am just his neighbor” she answered every time, as she kept Jacob calm and answered their questions about his past medical history. As Mary Alice left the emergency room after Jacob was fully stabilized, the doctor asked her with a smile, “Will you be MY neighbor?”

Takeaways

Neighboring requires no special talent. There are no scripts or methods to follow. The heart of neighboring is taking an interest in one’s neighbors. Pastors can start their own neighboring movements by encouraging their members to take a few minutes to talk to their neighbors when they see them outside. This might be an introduction to a new neighbor or a bit of an apology for living next door for so long and having never met.

This shouldn’t be embarrassing. It should be a start. As churches embrace neighboring, any step toward a neighbor: a conversation, a meal, a prayer, or an act of service should be celebrated. What pastors tell stories about will cast vision to their congregations.

If pastors are ready to get serious about neighboring, then some tough questions must be answered – How can you be the best church for your community rather than just the best church in your community? What if you got better at the two things Jesus said mattered the most – loving God and loving your neighbor? How can the church put equal energy into scattering into the community as they do gathering for weekend worship services? If your members move out of their neighborhoods, would they be missed?

Reposted from AllenWhite.orgwith permission.

Allen White has devoted the last 25+ years to helping people find Christ, make meaningful connections, grow in their faith, and find fulfillment in ministry. He has successfully launched hundreds of groups as an Associate Pastor.  Additionally, he  works with Brett Eastman and Lifetogether, coaching hundreds of churches of all sizes and denominations over the last 10 years. He has a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Missions and a M.Div.in Christian Education. He and his family live in Greenville, SC.




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Online Bible Studies to Bring Resurrection Hope to Your Congregation
Online Bible Studies to Bring Resurrection Hope to Your Congregation

April 02, 2020

In this season of fear of illness, quarantine, and shelter-in-place orders, we find ourselves facing a long period of isolation. We are anticipating weeks, or even months, of being unable to go to church or meeting with our regular study groups. Yet our hearts and souls need inspiration and encouragement now more than ever! As a pastor or group leader, you need new tools to help lead your people during this uncertain time.

Our team at Bible Study Media has been working over the last two weeks to convert our studies into an online format to meet the new requirements of today’s circumstances. We have created an online community forum, which will serve as our online home for community and courses. We want to offer this online forum to your ministries and congregations as an Easter resource for virtual small groups. We have two courses to offer for Easter: The Resurrected Life: Making All Things New (Fr. Charlie Holt, author) and our brand-new forthcoming study, A Living Hope: A Study of 1 Peter (Sarah Viggiano Wright, author). Many more online courses will be available soon.

Our Platform Offers:

  • A Dedicated and Unique Group and Course for only your ministry or congregation. You can invite your members and their friends and family into a private online forum customized with your name and brand. As the host, you are in control of your group and course.
  • Customization: You can use the platform to organize virtual small groups, Sunday School classes, Wednesday night classes, etc. As the host, you have the ability to customize the site for your specific group. You can add your own articles and posts, set up your own live teaching, or host discussion events. You can make it as personal as you want for your congregation.
  • Events: Through the events feature, you can organize the events that are unique to your ministry group and course. If you have a group of virtual small group hosts organized, you can schedule out their meeting times for others to join.
  • Articles and Posts: Because this is a dedicated and unique group, you can use the platform to create your own devotional reflections, post announcements, provide encouragements, and ask questions that are private to your group.
  • Low Maintenance: You do not have to distribute books or handle payments (the platform and Bible Study Media team takes care of all of that). That way, you can focus on your members and building community.

Each study has:

  • Daily Devotions with Scripture reading assignments and reflection questions.
  • Weekly teaching videos with deeper study questions for engagement of the lesson and personal application.
  • A Study Guide to accompany the weekly videos and help guide group discussion.
  • Physical copies of the books are available but optional for each week. There is a link provided if people want to order copies of the physical books. Amazon will handle distribution.

Here is how it works:

Step One: You will be invited into a clergy host group. From there, we will organize and set up your private congregation group. The fee to join is $79.99; this fee covers the cost of setting up your private branded group and course. NOTE: It takes one full week to process a new group and course.

Step Two: Each congregation will be given a unique invitation to a private group and a private version of the course so that you can uniquely minister to your flock. Within your private group, you can customize your site, set up your events, and schedule church-wide notices of your teachings related to the course.

Step Three: You will use your private link to invite the members of your congregation into the study. They will be prompted to set up their profile and log in. They will be then automatically placed in your private group and course. Anyone that you invite can join. You can share it on your website, email, and social media. Each individual will be charged $9.99 upon registration for the cost of the course.

 

Our team is available every step of the way as you are getting familiar with this new tool for ministry. We also have the Clergy Host Group where we can all share ideas and figure out this new way of doing life together online—the Body of Christ helping the Body of Christ.

We would love to have the opportunity to serve your ministry. The first step is to join the Clergy Host Group. Let our team begin setting up your unique and dedicated ministry group and course so you can start inviting your members into a meaningful Easter Season.


To help you better understand our offering, we will host six Zoom Webinars over the next week. Please plan to join us at one of these times. Click the link to register:

Friday, 4/3 at 2:00 pm CST

Monday 4/6 at 1:00 pm CST

Tuesday 4/7 at 3:00 pm CST

Wednesday, 4/8 at 9:00 am CST

Thursday 4/9 at 2:00 pm CST

Friday 4/10 at 10:00 am CST    

We hope to see you there!

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Do Not Harden Your Heart: Reflections on COVID-19
Do Not Harden Your Heart: Reflections on COVID-19

March 24, 2020 1 Comment

By Brooke Holt, Adult Curriculum Specialist

Many people have been asking me what I make of the Coronavirus, what I think the purpose of it is, and what God will do through it. My humble answer is that I have absolutely no idea! There is a reason that God is God and I am not!  

While I do not have any answers, I do believe that we can be asking ourselves how God wants us to live through these days.  I think there is a faithful way to live, one that puts our trust and hope in the Lord, and I think there is a fear-based way to live, one that looks around us and sees panic, doom, and gloom. No matter what your response is, God still sits on his throne. He is sovereign over this virusDespite the painsuffering, and loss, I know that God is good. I believe that he will work for his glory and our good through this.  

As a Lenten discipline, I am meditating on a Psalm each week. This week, I am focusing on Psalm 95. There is a phrase that keeps calling me, speaking to me, and challenging me: Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work” (verses 7-9). I keep wondering how my reaction to this Coronavirus will either harden my heart or soften my heart to the Lord.  

In Psalm 95:7-9, the Lord speaks of when he led the Israelites out of Egypt. He worked powerfully on behalf of his people and accomplished many miracles so that the people could not only escape Egypt but leave with plunder. The Israelites saw the mighty hand of God as he parted the Red Sea for them to walk through. That sea then crashed upon the Egyptian army that pursued them. God changed bitter water to sweet water in the wilderness of Shur (Exodus 15:25); the Lord provided manna for food in the morning and quail for food at night.  

As the Israelites moved on to camp at Rephidim, they couldn’t find water and became indignant. They grumbled against God and against Moses“Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst? (Exodus 17:3) Pause here a moment to think about all the miracles the Israelites had witnessed with their very own eyes, to remember how God had provided everything they needed just when they needed it. Instead of asking God to once again provide water, they whineand complained. Can you imagine how frustrating that must have been for Moses, for God? In his mercy, the Lord does provide water. Moses struck the rock at Horeb and water came out to quench their thirst.  

The Israelites were slow to understand and slow to believe. They say it took 40 days to get the Israelites out of Egypt but 40 years to get Egypt out of the Israelites. All those years of bondage certainly took their toll. Likely, the Israelites felt forgotten by the Lord. God never forgets his covenants! God never forgets his people. During the years of slavery, the Lord had a plan for their escape. He knew their course through the wilderness, and he knew the glories of the promised land.  

In Numbers 13, Moses sends the men to spy out the promised land. They go into the land and find it is even more glorious than they could have imagined. The only problem was the people in the land. The report from 10 of the spies was that the people were like giants and there was no way to overcome them. Only Caleb and Joshua brought back the report that the land was glorious, and although the land was occupied, they knew that God would give them the land. Caleb and Joshua remembered God’s faithfulness through their Egyptian escape and their journeys. They believed that the same God who provided water, food, protection, and guidance would allow them to supernaturally defeat the giants.  

Sadly, the Israelites succumbed to the dour report of the 10 spies instead of choosing the faith and hope of Caleb and Joshua. They cried and groaned all night and once again asked why they couldn’t have just died in the land of Egypt or in the wilderness. After all God’s faithfulness, they still did not believe. Their hearts were hard to the Lord.  

The Israelites serve as a warning to us. Though we are quick to criticize them, they represent us. In Psalm 95, we are warned not to harden our hearts. How do hearts become hard to the Lord? The Psalmist says that hearts harden when we hear the voice of God and choose unbelief instead of belief, when we put God to the test, and when we go astray in our hearts. The Lord was certainly worthy of the Israelites full-hearted faith. Nevertheless, they chose fear over faith; they chose to complain instead of pray; they chose despair over hope.  

As Christians living in the year 2020, have we seen God’s faithfulness? Have we experienced his gracious provision, his mercy, and his love? If so, how do these experiences shape our response to the Coronavirus? As we see the people of the world around us panicking, retreating, and lamenting, do we join them or do we take a posture of trust in the sovereign Lord? Do we move into complete dependence on him and into continual prayer? I am not saying we won’t have a range of emotions. We are human, and those emotions are normal and even healthy. It is what we do with those emotions that makes all the difference. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). We can choose to dwell in the perfect love of the Father or we can choose to camp out in fear. Love will keep our hearts tender, soft, and dependent on the Lord, while fear will harden our hearts and cause us to seek comfort in idols and the things of this world.  

So, what does faith look like? Solitude, contemplative prayer and meditative Scripture reading are Christian disciplines that have been lost in our day and age. We are constantly busy with our agendas. If it is not work, school, family, or friends then we find ourselves lost in social media. What if we used this extra time in our schedules to get truly still and quiet before the Lord? What if we turned off all our technology for certain hours of the day so that we did not have the constant distractions? What if we read a passage of Scripture, then re-read that passage asking the Lord how he wants to speak to our hearts and lives through his words? What if we sat before the Lord without a major list or agenda and just invited him to speak? What if we spent some time journaling, allowing our thoughts and feelings to be released, knowing that God sees, knows, and cares about each and every one of those thoughts and feelings? 

What does fear look like during this time? Fear can take many shapes and forms. It can look like the person obsessed with the next announcement by the CDC, absorbed by the media, and consumed with all the unknown. It can look like choosing to put our trust in busyness to keep our minds occupied and to keep our hearts hard and unknown, even to us; it is looking to our ways of comforting ourselves – food, alcohol, internet, online shopping, exercise, etc. You know your go-to. We all have them.  

What if God wants to take this time to expose our idols so that we can turn aside from these lesser things, these things that never truly bring comfort and healing, so we can fix our eyes firmly upon him? What if God wants to use this time to search us and know us, to reveal the things in our lives that rob us of true intimacy with him, of living his abundant life so that we can choose life, so that we can choose faith, so that we can choose him? 

Today, let’s make the choice to not harden our hearts. Let’s ask God to soften our hearts. Let’s allow him to work through the trials of this Coronavirus to draw us to the only true hope in himLet’s trust him to provide what we need, to comfort us in our sorrow and fear, and to lead us through these uncertain times knowing that he is good, that he sees all of it, knows all of it, and will love us in the midst of it.  

“Oh come, let us sing the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (Psalm 95:1-3). 

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Who Is In Your Formation? Growing Better Because We Are Together
Who Is In Your Formation? Growing Better Because We Are Together

March 04, 2020

By Christine O'Brien, Hearts Alive General Manager

One particular morning, several weeks ago, I saw Jesus in the sky. Stick with me here-I’m not entirely crazy!

As we were driving to school, we saw birds in the sky. The kids said, “Are those bats?” Another one said, “No, those are ducks!” To which I responded, “Look at the geese! They’re flying in a V-shape.” I said the V-shape is what shows that they are geese. From there, a conversation started about why geese fly in a V formation. Nobody quite knew the answer, so the only solution on this particular Wednesday morning was to ask Siri.

“Siri, why do geese fly in V formations?”

She answered us by sharing that there are two reasons why geese take on these formations while migrating. My thirteen year old was quick to point out his brilliance, as he had stated migration was why they fly in this shape prior to us involving Siri!

Siri said that the first reason was for aerodynamics. It’s much easier for geese to fly in a V-shape, as each goose helps direct the air flow around the geese behind it. This takes the pressure off and allows them to fly easier, more gently, and faster.

The second reason was for protection. It is much safer to be with the group than it is to be flying solo, because predators can’t take on an entire flock.

It was in that moment when God spoke to my heart and said, “I’m not done with you yet. This is for you. I’m getting your attention through a flock of geese!”

It began to resonate deep within my spirit that we each need to be like a goose in that pattern. We need to be in formation with others. We need to be in formation with others so that when we are tired and weary and don’t feel like we can go on anymore, you and I will have others beside us. Others who are Aarons in our lives, ready and willing to assist and carry one another’s burdens. To make the flight feel shorter. Less heavy. Less burdensome. To take that weight and share it with others. It might not change the flight, but it sure would make it easier to feel like we’re not so alone.

The second way we are like that goose is because We need protection. It matters who we are giving a seat to at our table. If I am alone, not protected and flying solo, I might as well have a giant bullseye on my back. If we have people that are surrounding us, that are protecting us, that are building us up, we are much less likely to allow an open spot for the enemy, with his lies and schemes, to attack. I don’t know about you, but I know that if there are open seats all around my table, it’s really easy for the enemy to creep in and start to devour my thought process, my emotions, my senses -- what I see, feel, hear, believe. All of those are areas where, if I’m sitting at a table alone and the enemy takes a seat -- beside, before, below, beneath me -- he could devour me.

How much more difficult is it for somebody to find a seat at a crowded table?

If there are people around our table who are surrounding us with Christ-like relationships, what a different outcome it would be.

There is strength in those numbers. When those geese were in the sky that morning, it took them a little while to get into formation. At first my kids thought that they were bats because they were scattered all around. They were flapping their wings every which way. They looked to be on top of each other. They simply looked to be chaotic.

As those geese got into their formation, their plan of action seemed so much more clear. It was evident that they were organized, they were unified, they were working together. They had a similar shared vision that they were trying to accomplish. Those geese will migrate somewhere together, and they had an end goal in sight.

If our end goal on this earth is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, pointing others to him, we need to be surrounded. We need to be rooted and grounded in Jesus, in the Word, with his Holy Spirit inside of us, sensitive to his nudgings and his leading. You and I also need to be surrounded by other geese who will get in formation with us. Who will occupy space around us, and who will remind each one of us of who we are in Christ and what we are doing, especially when we are prone to wander?

Who are the “geese” around you? Are you flying with the right crew? Is your vision aligned or might it be time to either refocus or reposition yourself? 

If you don’t have them around you, if it feels lonely, if it feels wavy, if it feels hard, try to identify some people who could come alongside you.

As leaders, let’s humble ourselves to say, “You know what, I need you… We’re better together… Let’s do this life together… We can accomplish more together than we ever could apart.”

Will you join me in this spring of a brand-new decade, in either finding “geese,” tightening up your formation, and/or being a “goose” for someone else? We have so much to glean from one another as we stay yielded to Jesus, and consistently remind others to do the same.

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