The Hopeful Neighborhood
By Pastor Tom Anderson
What would happen if Christians pursued the common good? What does it look like for me to love my community? What is my relationship with my neighborhood? Do I have one? Do I even want one? It’s not really culturally expected of me anymore that I invest in a relationship with the neighborhood where I live.
Our next door neighbors are great people. When we moved here 6 years ago, they immediately welcomed us and struck up a relationship with us. We talk over the fence almost every day. He’s told me great stories about his long career in the military and the many places he’s lived. They’ve shared garden produce with us. Last year, a storm took a heavy branch from our tree and dropped it on his garage. We spent hours together cleaning it all up. I love Sam and Lil and I sometimes wonder if others see in me the kind of neighbor that I experience in them?
What took us all inside? How did we become the kind of people who hurry into our houses after work and are never really available to our neighbors? Part of the problem for Christians is how we think of evangelism. We want to share the gospel with people and we think this sums up what it means to love them. So maybe we invite them to church events or we share a book with them. We think evangelism is just some words that we present to them and then we retreat back into our Christian huddles: church, study groups and prayer meetings.
A Roman historian in the first century said this about the early Christians, “They have eloquent behavior.” He meant to say that Christians were wonderful neighbors. They lifted others up. They blessed others and people were drawn to them. Early Christians lived as “exiles” in predominantly pagan neighborhoods. But they did not huddle up or keep to themselves. They followed the guidance of Jeremiah 29:7 to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
My neighbors are not a “project” for me to accomplish. They are human beings for me to engage and care about. The great evangelist D.L. Moody once said, “Out of a hundred people only one will read the Bible, the rest will read your Christian life.” What do my neighbors read in me? Do I even see my neighbors? Am I available to them? Do I know their names? Am I outwardly focused or just concerned with getting on with my agenda? Do I have eyes for my neighbors?
I believe that God has strategically placed you in the neighborhood where you live right now. There are names he wants you to learn and lives he wants you to pray for. Make yourself available. Instead of sitting on the back deck, sit on the front porch where people pass by. Chances will greatly increase for you to interact with them. Instead of putting the fire pit in the backyard, why not put it in the front–where you might offer a roasted marshmallow to a neighbor? Instead of putting the trampoline in the backyard, why not put it in the front? Your kids will have more friends than they know what to do with!
Look. Watch. Listen to your neighbors and there will be opportunities for deeper conversations and for invitations. Be ready to share your faith when they ask questions. “Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1Peter 3:15) Most people are influenced greatly by others they have come to know and trust. Decide today to form a relationship with your neighborhood. Decide today to make yourself available to be used by God in your neighborhood. Strive for “eloquent behavior” that declares a message of hope and love.