Be the Best Neighbors
Churches that grow young recognize the careful dance that values both fidelity to Scripture’s commands for holiness and knowing and graciously loving their neighbors… Much more than developing detailed policies or releasing theological position papers, these churches train and infuse their young people with an integrated discipleship that enables them to thrive in our complex world (237).
A congregation is not just composed of those named on a membership roster. A congregation is a living organism, composed of people of all ages, from all backgrounds, first time visitors, recurring visitors, family members, friends, life-long members, and newly committed members. A congregation is part of the body of Christ, also a living organism in the world, composed of a variety of backgrounds, theological understandings, rituals, and of course, people. Lots of people. The movement of these people within congregations and throughout the world as the body of Christ is the life of the Spirit.
When it comes to being part of a congregation, there is no us and them. There is we. We are God’s own creation. We are neighbors, every day – that never changes. When we see ourselves as neighbors, we find commonalities, hospitality, and welcome. We see opportunities for service and opportunities for support. We see that it’s not just about “me and my needs.” We are moved beyond our own personal relationship with Jesus and live because of this relationship with Jesus, for and with one another, as Jesus lives for and with the Trinity.
Chapter 7 is not just focused on what it is to be a neighbor, but what it is for a congregation to be committed to being the best neighbors. This commitment will pull the community into new spaces, sometimes uncomfortable, so that new room may be made for these neighbors, their stories, and their gifts. This commitment also means going out to spaces already created to be part of how God is calling them to become something new.
With a commitment to neighborliness, we demonstrate a generous spirit toward one another. The churches in the Growing Young study landed on all sides of complex cultural issues, bu they were “united in their commitment to informed, respectful, and thoughtful dialogue” (246). A commitment to dialogue is intrinsically connected to a commitment to being good neighbors. We are generous in our conversations, generous listeners, generous in our respect of one another’s journey. We can live this generosity for one another because it flows from the generous love of the God in whom we put our faith and trust.
To be committed to being the best neighbors is to be prepared to face challenges. We will be put into positions where we will see things in a new way. We will be put into positions where we will have to confess our failures and our need for one another. This is vulnerable stuff and that makes it counter-cultural. The call of Jesus leads us to live counter-culturally. Though in many ways we are pushed apart from one another, to prove our strength and independence, to do it all on our own, to argue our perspectives at each other, and to always be right; Jesus has shown us another way to be, Jesus calls us to be another way to be, together. Being a neighbor isn’t just about me choosing to be nice to the person right in front of me. It has to do with a communal commitment to reconciliation and how this is lived out together.
You can’t separate a deep commitment to discipleship from a deep commitment to reconciliation. If a leader can’t handle that level of tension, they’ll talk about unity and harmony without going really deep into reconciliation for fear of implosion. This limits how much you can bear one another’s burden’s (249).
Being a neighbor is about bearing one another’s burdens as well as one another’s triumphs. Can you commit to that?
Chapter 7 offers some helpful, practical ideas on how you can build this commitment personally and within your community. Some of my favorite ideas for action:
- Know your neighborhood (256)
- Diversify your contacts (257)
- Tackle a difficult topic with grace (260)