What does modern-day evangelism look like? I just read “The Neighboring Church”, by Rick Rusaw & Brian Mavis, and in the book they suggest that it may look a lot like “olden-day” evangelism—one that takes the Great Commandment about loving our neighbors seriously. They make a strong case that learning to love our neighbors is more effective than launching big programs in a church. I found this book challenging and encouraging, and I hope you will get as much out of it as I did. Here’s a synopsis taken right from the book.
On our journey to being a church our community would miss, we stopped asking, “Are we the best church in the community?” and started asking, “Are we the best church
for the community?”This shift caused us to do a lot of rethinking by creating a slew of follow-up questions. What does it look like to be the best church for the community? Do we know the answer to that, or do we need to be asking our community what that looks like?
We found out that being the best church for the community meant being even more aware of cultural, environmental, political, societal, and religious trends. It meant we had to know what the community needed, not just what we thought they needed. We had to go outside of ourselves to get answers to our questions.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”This verse can be interpreted with more than one meaning. It is commonly understood to mean “love your neighbor like you love yourself.” In other words, think of ways you would like to be loved, and love others the same way. The other way to understand this verse is “love your neighbor who is like yourself.”The context of the text supports this meaning.
Love your neighbors, who you think are weird, because they are human. By the way, you’re weird too. Like you, they are amazing messes and made in the image of God and have fallen short of that image. This verse is an affirmation of the Imago Dei of all humanity and a confession that we all fall on the grace of God. All people, including ourselves, are flawed and sinful, but we need to love them because we ourselves commit the same sins. We’re alike in our weaknesses and frailties. We are to love those who do not seem worthy because we ourselves are unworthy and need God’s mercy.
What do we hope to see come from this? To put it simply, we want to see changed lives and grace-filled neighborhoods. To be specific, obeying the Great Commandment can look like:
• Knowing the names, histories, hopes, and hurts of our neighbors.
• Praying for our neighbors and recognizing their gifts and encouraging them.
• Inviting neighbors over for meals, throwing block parties and playing together.
• Helping single parents raise their children.
• Taking care of one another when someone falls ill.
• Encouraging one another to pursue God’s dreams for their lives.
• Consoling one another when we suffer losses.
• Loving our neighbors because we are Christians, not because we are trying to make them Christians.
• Inviting neighbors to join us in ministries to foster children, mentoring in public schools, serving meals to the elderly, etc.
• Introducing people to Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
The goal of loving your neighbors is to be best at what Jesus said matters most. We love our neighbors because we are Christians, not because we are trying to make them Christians. We need to stop hijacking the end game 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 fall short. Those motives turn people to be loved into projects to be directed. If those are your motives, will you give up on them if they don’t cooperate soon enough? Will you stop loving them when they go to church or small group? What’s your motivation now? People will know when they are a project.
The beauty of neighboring is that it is one hundred percent comprehensive. Not everyone can be a pastor, teacher, elder, Sunday school teacher, or usher, but everyone is a neighbor. Everyone can get into neighboring and no one can opt out. Neighboring is comprehensive in that sense, too. Your church has neighbors that fit nearly every demographic: young, old, single, married, adults, teenagers, apartment dwellers, soccer moms, HOA presidents, bachelors, grandmothers, and retired couples. What you do is comprehensive as well. It’s pastoral care, divorce care, children, youth, women, men, discipleship, prayer, Bible study, sports... everything is encompassed in neighboring. No wonder Jesus said it was the Great Commandment.
Loving your neighbor isn’t about religion but compassion. The hero in the parable of the Good Samaritan is the guy who showed up and did something. The invitation for us is to get outside our transactional comfort zones and travel into a zone that is transformational. To transform something means to change or alter it, and some dictionaries even define it as “transforming through radical change.” It is being loyal to God and our fellow man who is our literal neighbor.
While we have done several series around the Great Commandment, when our church taught this series it seemed to have more stickiness than others. We explored four habits of building better relationships and contextualized them to neighboring. With each topic, we created a “be” statement to challenge us and an action step to follow, because love, by Jesus’ definition, is an action, not a feeling.
• Stay: Let’s be a people who love our neighbors by getting to know them.
• Pray: Let’s be a people who love our neighbors by praying for them.
• Play: Let’s be a people who love our neighbors by offering hospitality.
• Say: Let’s be a people who love our neighbors by sharing Christ with them.
This series didn’t end with a “bring a friend to church” day. Rather, our hope was that this series would be a launching pad to living a lifestyle of obedience to the Great Commandment.
The world is changing, and the church is competing for people’s hearts and attention in ways we haven’t had to before. What used to work may not work anymore. “What’s next?” is our rally cry. Maybe what’s next isn’t a new thing; it’s possible it is a really old thing. It’s possible that in looking forward we may need to look back. In a culture that is demanding what’s real and authentic, it’s possible that if we were better at the two things Jesus said mattered most, we just might help people find what they have been looking for. Does it cost more? Probably. Is it harder to produce? No doubt. Jesus never said it would be easy, just that everything about faith hangs on two things. Loving God and loving our neighbors. If we help people hinge the door of their lives on those two things, we may end up finding out what’s next!
Interested in reading the book in its entirety? You can purchase it here: http://amzn.to/2DFgiqX