Neighborhood Observations and a Theology of Neighborhoods

At the beginning of the week, I committed to walking our neighborhood every day-focusing on the poorer parts.  I usually took at least 1 kid or husband and 1 dog (our smaller one because she’s cute and less intimidating than our bigger one).  Some observations:

  • I live in a racially diverse neighborhood- White, Latino and African-American
  • People work on their cars in their yard/driveway.  I don’t work on my car-I’m certain I would kill it if I did but if I didn’t have the money to get it fixed-I suppose I’d have no choice.  My neighbors likely don’t have a choice.
  • People grill in their front yard-not their back yard.  (Have we always grilled in the backyard?)  We grill in the front now.
  • People spend time outside-whether it’s hot or not.
  • Clotheslines.  I’ve observed many clotheslines in our neighborhood.  They aren’t just for decoration.  They get used and seemingly used often.  Thinking that through….it means they are used because of lack of funds, space, availability of a clothes dryer.  Something I never even think twice about having and using.
  • Kids (and some adults) like our dog and she likes them.  Having the dog with us creates opportunities to meet people.  Example:  my husband and I were walking through the parking lot of the neighborhood laundromat.  There was a Latino family inside.  Their 3 kids saw our dog and started pointing and getting excited.  We came toward the door and indicated that we’d be happy to let them meet Ginger.  The family came out and we had a 10ish minute conversation with them-turns out they immigrated from Honduras.
  • Trash cans are left in the front yard.  In my old neighborhood, we received nasty letters if a trash can was left out.  I’ve heard my old neighborhood referred to as Disneyland.  The place where everything is perfectly manicured and landscaped.  We definitely don’t live in Disneyland any more.

Yes, my neighborhood has a laundromat and many more check cashing, pawn shops and title loan places.  It’s very different from where we used to live and I’m thankful.  I guess you’d say my ‘theology of neighborhoods’ has changed.  I don’t think of ‘bad neighborhoods’ the way I used to–as places to avoid at all costs.  I think of them as places where the brokenness of sin is on display to the outside world–as opposed to hidden away behind manicured landscaping and closed, attached garages.  I think of them as places to shine the light of Gospel truth rather than places to be written off as Godless and hopeless.

Live Sent

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“Because God by nature is a sender, it implies two simple ideas.  First, there is One who sends; and second, there are people to whom we are sent.  But, it is not that God just sends us anywhere; God sends us somewhere.  You are called and sent on mission; the only question is where and among whom.  It could be the Pokot in East Africa or to a cultural mosaic of urban Los Angeles.  We are called because we have a sender, but we also have a people to whom were are sent.  This is the reason we plant or lead so many diverse churches, because ultimately God is a sender by nature.  When you understand that God is a sender, you are simply responding to the character of God and His purpose for His world when you live sent.  And because you live sent, it means you will live and lead differently.”

Ed Stetzer

http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2011/june/missional-idea-in-scripture-developing-missional-churches.html?paging=off

What would it look like for you to ‘live sent’?

For me, it’s waking up everyday to the view of the picture above and making a choice (however imperfectly) to befriend, love and serve my neighbors in the name of Jesus.

It means praying for my neighbors and neighborhood and those our family comes into contact with.  It means being intentional about getting to know them and befriending them.  It means seeing people as image bearers and valuing them as God’s precious creation.

Yes, I believe every Christian is sent somewhere to represent Christ.  My questions:  are we living as if we’ve been sent?  And once we realize we are sent–are we representing Him well?

Evangelism by J. Mack Stiles

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I had been looking forward to reading this book for awhile.  I honestly don’t know why I waited so long!  It’s a very quick read.  My husband and I actually read it out loud to each other together over a few evenings.

Stiles defines evangelism as ‘teaching the Gospel with the aim to persuade”.

Stiles’ main focus in the book is the importance of building a culture of evangelism within the church.  This will not happen primarily through evangelism programs that are sponsored by the church (an excellent point).  Stiles intimates that church leaders long for a culture of evangelism in their own churches.  My question is:  are church leaders willing to do what it takes to achieve this?  Even if it means cutting long standing programs or reducing the amount of formal meetings on the church schedule?  Are they ready and willing to release their people for the work of the ministry outside the brick and mortar church building?

What is a culture of evangelism you might ask?  The characteristics of a culture of evangelism are, according to the author:

  1. A Culture Motivated by Love for Jesus and His Gospel
  2. A Culture That is Confident in the Gospel
  3. A Culture That Understands the Danger of Entertainment
  4. A Culture That Sees People Clearly
  5. A Culture That Pulls Together as One
  6. A Culture in Which People Teach One Another
  7. A Culture That Models Evangelism
  8. A Culture in Which People Who Are Sharing Their Faith Are Celebrated
  9. A Culture That Knows How to Affirm and Celebrate New Life
  10. A Culture Doing Ministry That Feels Risky and is Dangerous
  11. A Culture That Understands That the Church is the Chosen and Best Method of Evangelism

While there’s a lot to like in this book, there is one rather glaring point that is missing and I would argue that it is a serious oversight.   Stiles’  writing came across as if he was blaming the average church member for the programmatic culture of evangelism that is the current norm in most churches.  There is no mention (that I noticed) of how pastors and other church leaders contribute to and perpetuate this problem.  The author says “a culture of evangelism is grassroots, not top-down.”  I strongly disagree.  Leaders must model and disciple their people in evangelism in order to grow a culture of evangelism.  What leadership celebrates and models, the church will become.

An area where this oversight stuck out for me was Stiles’ point that many Christians are isolated from non-Christians.  One reason he gives for this is that we can become too busy with ‘ministry’.  This is another area that I see as, in part, a failure of church leadership.  Many churches have a packed schedule of formal gatherings throughout the week.  What if we freed up our church schedules allowing members more time to pursue friendships and activities with unbelievers?  Does the leadership make it clear to their people that every believer is a minister and that ministry does indeed happen outside the walls of the church building?

Until church members AND church leaders recognize their own contributions to the problem of lack of evangelism in church culture, we can not move forward with solutions.  Every believer needs to take responsibility, repent where needed and seek to move toward obedience in evangelism by faith, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Living as Sent Ones

“How should we define the term missional? And, where are we going to find what it means to be missional?

The starting place should be with what the Scriptures say about God as sender and His purpose for sending as a place to begin. As Christians, we generally agree that we are ‘sent.’ But, affirming this is only a small first step. Being missional means having one’s identity shaped by being ‘sent.’

We have too long lived with a wall between our public and private lives. Our Christianity too often and too easily gets identified with our private life, our behavior, and our church activities. So, privately and perhaps even corporately as a church, we know that we are sent. But, the truth has not captured how we live. We too often engage our community as consumers and/or as a necessary evil. We rarely engage our community as a missionary. One of the problems in the church is that when we talk about the necessity to engage our community as a missionary, members hear requirement to put something else (another church activity) on an already crowded schedule. In that, the challenge is revealed. It is not about adding something else. It is about being something–a missionary–as you go.”

Ed Stetzer

http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2011/june/developing-missional-churches-for-great-commission-part.html

A Hole in the Wall Place

My husband and I and two of our kids were working at the house a few days ago.  Every time we see a neighbor outside, we are seeking to be faithful in meeting and greeting them.

On Sunday, we had an opportunity to meet neighbors across the street.  As we progressed into conversation after initial introductions, one of the ladies asked “Why would you move to such a hole in the wall place like Carrollton?”.  What a great question!  (Don’t you love those obvious opportunities the Spirit puts right in front of your face???)   My husband proceeded to tell them exactly why we are in the process of moving to Carrollton.  We are hoping and praying for more chances to meet our neighbors and befriend them.

Good News to the Poor: Social Involvement and the Gospel

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Good News to the Poor:  Social Involvement and the Gospel by Tim Chester

I don’t believe I’ve read one single book on the topic of the poor- I am sad to say and a little bit ashamed.  The poor and the marginalized are near and dear to God’s heart, so why do so many Christians ignore them (including myself)?

If you’d like to explore a Biblical response to reaching the poor, this is the book to read.  Steeped in Scripture and with a Biblical world view, Chester does a masterful job exploring this topic from start to finish.  Here is the point and purpose of the book in the words of Chester himself:

“Is social involvement something we do as well as evangelism?  Is it another way of doing evangelism?  Or perhaps it is a distraction from the real job of proclaiming the gospel?  This book explores these issues.  My aim is to look at the issue of social involvement and our responsibility to the poor in the light of the nature, content, and priorities of the gospel.”

Now for a bit of reflection on my part.  This is a helpful book and I am certain I will be referring back to it as we plant a church that is aiming toward reaching a poorer area of Carrollton.  It made me think outside the box and really take a hard look at motivations as well as methods for ministering to the poor.   If you are looking toward this type of ministry, I hope that you will pick it up.

Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow. Isaiah 1:17