I’ve lived in 3 neighborhoods in the last 5 years, and in every neighborhood I have set out with intentions of being “missional”. Each neighborhood was a fresh start and a new people to engage with the gospel. How exciting!
But it didn’t take long for the excitement to run dry and for me to find myself wanting to give up. It has started the same way every time….
“Hey honey, will you bake some cookies so that we can take them over to our neighbors this weekend”, I’ve asked my wife.
My wife (who bakes great cookies) joins me as we take them over to meet our neighbors. Three knocks on three doors and we come home with three plates of cookies in all three neighborhoods we’ve lived in.
Maybe my neighbors just don’t like cookies (or us), so we try something different.
“How about a neighborhood cookout”, I said to myself.
I moved my grill from the back yard to the front yard. I remembered one of those guys at Verge said that was a good way to be missional. (They also were the ones who said taking cookies to my neighbors was a good way to be missional).
“They will see me cooking and smell the delicious burgers and will stop to say hi”, I thought. Once they do that I will invite them to join us for dinner. To my surprise…no one cared I was grilling burgers in the front yard, and we had dinner alone.
I’m persistent, so when that didn’t work, I decided I would invite my neighbors over for a game watching party (everyone likes football, right?). This time one of the five neighbors I invited said yes. Awesome! But when he only stayed for 10 minutes I realized that he only came because he felt sorry for me.
I am dejected. Disappointed. Slightly embarrassed now. I put myself out there (for Jesus) and now I just look like the guy who is desperate for friends.
“I have plenty of friends”, I reassure myself. The temptation now is to give up on my neighborhood. I tried right?……
If this (exaggerated) story resonates with you, here are three things you need to know.
1. Neighborhood mission is more like a marathon than a sprint.
What did you expect? Did you really think that because you are friendly toward people one time they will open their life to you and listen to you share how they need to repent and turn to Christ? I live in the suburbs, and in the suburbs people are incredibly self-sufficient. They have their friends, their money, their houses, their cars, their kids, their DVR, and their hobbies. They usually don’t have time in their life for new friends…especially the overly-friendly guy on the corner with cookies and an agenda.
Commit for the long haul. Understand that mission happens in seasons. You have to plow and sow before you can harvest. Listen and learn the story of your neighborhood. What do people value? What are the needs? Who are the people on the margins? Who sets the culture of the neighborhood? Prayer walk your neighborhood regularly.
2. Be a really good neighbor first.
Being a good missionary starts with being a really good neighbor. Get involved in neighborhood events, attend HOA meetings if your neighborhood has them, play outside with your kids, etc. Every neighborhood is different and every neighborhood has a different definition of “good neighbors”. If you recently moved into a neighborhood you have a great advantage. As you meet your neighbors, ask them about the people who used to live in your house. Their answers will tell you what “good neighbors” are to them. As I have asked this question over the years I have heard things like:
-They were really nice couple that used to baby sit for us a lot…we were sad to see them move…
-They were loud and never mowed the grass…
-I don’t really know much about them, they never came out of their house…
If you have been in a place for a while, as new people move in, ask them about their old neighborhood. What were the things they liked and disliked about it? These answers will tell you how to be good neighbors. Being a really good neighbor opens up more doors for the gospel than cookies and random cookouts.
3. Love people in a way that matters to them.
One big mistake that any missionary can make is to assume your preferences on to the people you are trying to reach. This is a mistake I’ve made many times. There is a reason that my neighbors didn’t respond to my cookouts and cookies. Cookouts and cookies didn’t matter to them. After several months of living next door to one neighbor, I observed that he was working every weekend. Money was tight, bills were barely getting paid, and his kid’s birthdays were both in December….along with Christmas. He didn’t have time to come to my cookout. My “missional living” didn’t matter to him…it wasn’t missional to him to because it didn’t communicate love to him. But when my wife and I bought birthday presents for both of his boys he broke down in tears. He couldn’t understand why we would do that. We got to tell him that Jesus calls us to be good neighbors, and this is what good neighbors do. It was a start….only because we loved him in a way that mattered to him.
I hope that these things help. Don’t give up. Press on. God has placed you in your neighborhood/apartment to use you. May the lost be found, Christ be proclaimed, and God be glorified among your neighbors!
*disclaimer…I love the guys at Verge!