Text by Tiffany Smith, North American Mission Board
“By becoming good neighbors, we become who we’re supposed to be. As a result, our communities become the places that God intended them to be.”
– Jay Pathak, The Art of Neighboring
The art of neighboring is a skill that has been lost in our culture. Americans suffer from a unique and seemingly innate busy-ness. The proliferation of technology and online entertainment has enslaved a generation to surface level relationships layered in levels of distorted social media. But most of us want the same thing: Community.
Com·mu·ni·ty (\kə-ˈmyü-nə-tē\) is defined as a group of people who share a feeling of fellowship with one another as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. It seems to be the elusive unicorn that many individuals and churches are chasing. That makes sense, given that the desire for deep, long-lasting friendships is a core value for most people. Yet, loneliness is a part of the American ethos today.
The latest nationwide survey by Cigna found that nearly half of all Americans feel lonely with the youngest, Generation Z (18-22), being the loneliest generation. The loneliness epidemic has contributed to a deterioration of thriving communities and human flourishing. Christians have an opportunity to step into the lives of our neighbors in this cocooning society. To love them well, to cultivate deep relationships, and to share transformational hope and life in Christ. In the words of Jay Pathak: “We don’t love our neighbors to convert them; we love our neighbors because we are converted.” (Read more from Jay in The Art of Neighboring).
Your Neighborhood is NOT an Accident
God has placed you by design in your city and particular street for a distinct season to be a living demonstration of the hope found in Jesus. Acts 17:26 states, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” It follows that He has set you in your particular “boundary” in this specific time in history.
Embrace your city, street, and neighbors with the lenses of a missionary and you will begin to see endless opportunities to engage the lostness all around you. Scripture is clear on the importance of that mission: how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news! (Rom 10:15) Living our lives as mission means embracing the natural missional rhythms and opportunities that we have on a daily basis in our own city – wherever our beautiful feet take us.
Life [with] Mission vs Life [as] Mission
To clarify: mission is a posture you take toward the world, a way of seeing life. We need to make a paradigm shift from missions as a project to missions as a lifestyle; from life [with] mission to live [as] mission.
Ceasar Kalinowski created a great illustration to visually demonstrate a “reframing” of how we view our lives in relation to mission. Rather than seeing missions as one more project to add to the various activities of our lives, we can reframe our thinking to view missions embedded within the natural rhythms of our lives: where we recreate, share stories, listen, celebrate, eat, and bless.
When we do that, the essence of our entire rhythm of life becomes missional and life-giving.
Of course, neighboring and building community is a challenge. We battle conflicting schedules, limited free time, overwhelming responsibilities, and extended commitments to work, school, kids’ sports, family needs, health issues, etc. Neighboring takes time, commitment and purposeful effort to cultivate deep relationships.
Where to Start:
- Projects! Take part in a community outreach or project! Use this as a way to engage the community and develop relationships naturally. For example, 6stones offers many ways to volunteer and connect with the community at a deeper level.
- Pray! Pray for your city like you never have before! Use prayers filled with scripture and pray over your city with power and truth. (Go here for more on how to pray using scripture.) Pray as you drive by hospitals, schools, & government buildings; for leaders, teachers, policemen, and children. Pray for your neighbors, house by house. Do it as you walk the dog or wait in line at the grocery store. The key to seeing transformed lives in your city is prayer. To wit, A.T. Pierson once emphasized the power of prayer: “There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer.”
- Seek the welfare of your community and city. Participate in local government and city gatherings, festivals, or events. Join in on the activities that are already happening in the city to build relationships and trust with your neighbors.
- Practice Hospitality. Begin by seeking out ways to engage and serve your neighbors. Invite them to your home, share a meal together, join sports or hobbies to interact with various people, eat regularly at local restaurants, etc. Think long-term relationships and invest in people, not a project. (As noted above, projects are relationship launchpads, they can’t make the impact of a relationship itself)
- Margin: Build margin into your life. When you truly begin building community, people will take up more of your time in unscheduled, unplanned ways. People will have emergencies, needs, and spontaneously stop by. As a result, if you do not build margin in your life, your “community” will be calendar/event-based. It needs to be relationship-based. This approach runs counter to our crazy, busy American lifestyle. Traditionally, we move from event to event; our calendars are so full that we just do not have time to invite others into our lives. If we do not have “margin” in our lives, then we will not be able to live with a rhythm that cultivates community.
- Cultivate Community: True community is expensive. It will cost you time, independence, emotion, and effort. Community does not just happen. Instead, it is cultivated out of hard work, persistence, tenacity, love, and grace.
Go Beyond the Simple Things
When thinking about neighboring and building community, think beyond occasional volunteering and donating to your local charity (both good things!) to a deeper place where you are regularly developing relationships and discipling others (much better things!). According to Scripture, we are to pour ourselves into the lives of others, “teaching them to observe all that [the Lord] commanded” (Matt 28:20). Ask God to help you find one or two people to invest in. Make it a deep investment, flush with scripture and truths about how to live life as a Christian. This may be someone who is already naturally placed in your life, or it may be the young mother from India whose child attends school with yours.
But it always — always — requires something from you.
For more ideas and wisdom about neighboring and learning to speak the Gospel into the lives of others, here are a few books that are great resources:
- How to Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird
- Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff of Life
- Next Door as it is in Heaven: Living Out God's Kingdom in Your Neighborhood
- The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tiffany Smith serves as a National Mobilizer for the North American Mission Board & as the Strategist and Managing editor for the Send Institute. She has a passion to multiply the missional engagement of churches to live a “Sent Life.” You can connect with her on twitter or through her blog, Missional Mayhem.