Rick Rusaw is the Lead Pastor at LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, CO. He is co-author of several books including The Neighboring Church, and The Externally Focused Church, Life & Quest series of books. Rick and co-author, Brian Mavis will be leading session discussions at the upcoming Neighborhood Collective gathering, February 27 & 28, 2017 in San Antonio, Texas. Register before January 1st for the early rate of $89. Learn more at www.neighborhoodcollective.org.
A Plan: Once I started taking the Great Commandment more literally, the first thing I did, along with our staff and elders, was to fill out the Block Map that Dave Runyon and Jay Pathak introduced in their book The Art of Neighboring. I quickly nicknamed this tic-tac-toe board the “Sheet of Shame.” At an informal dinner at my house, here are three questions our leaders asked one another after we filled out the map:
- How many names do you know?
- Do you know something about each of them?
- Can you tell some hurt or hope or dream any of those neighbors have?
I was shocked that I could barely answer these basic questions. Truth is, I relied on my wife to be the relational glue in our neighborhood and had convinced myself I was too busy, had important stuff to do, and had ministry to make happen. If I was going to get better at the two things Jesus said mattered most—loving God and loving my neighbor as myself—I had to know my neighbors’ names and something about them. My plan was to look for opportunities to do just that and with the entire leadership team in on it with me, there was accountability. We were all responsible for turning that sheet of shame from blank to blessed.
A Prayer: Nearly every morning for the last three years I have asked God, “How can I love you better today than I did yesterday and how can I love my neighbors better today than I did yesterday?” That prayer causes me to pause and ask: Do I care more about the things God cares about or is my list still full of “my cares?”
A Practice: The second part of that prayer—how can I love my neighbors better—has led to a new practice in my life. Instead of closing my garage door right away when I come home, I’ve committed to always striking up a conversation with our neighbors if they are outside. This is helping me with the plan mentioned above to know my neighbors’ names and helping me know how to love my specific neighbors.
One night it was late, like 10 p.m. when I got home, and a neighbor was still doing yard work. I hadn’t had dinner and I was tempted to go inside, but I went over to him anyway. It was just a normal, short, neighborly conversation. After I had been in the house for a little while, I received a text from him asking me to pray about something specific. That wasn’t happening to me before I started intentionally praying for and connecting with my neighbors.
A Path: A lot of things start happening when your entire staff and church start taking the Great Commandment literally. Frankly, it gets a little messy. One of our staff members who started being intentional about neighboring got invited, or rather entangled, in a lot of different things. He worked with other neighbors to help care for an elderly neighbor who had a fall. He helped get a mountain lion and bear out of the neighborhood. He even stopped a dogfight between a huskie and a boxer (and his neighbors) at Starbucks. That all happened in year one of his neighboring journey!
Neighboring is equipping people to live out their faith in the context of their real lives, as opposed to always inviting people to come to church in our somewhat controlled, planned and programmed environments. It’s quite a shift in thinking and culture, at least it has been for us.
As leaders, we didn’t want to go down this path alone. In 2014 Oak Hills Church in San Antonio and LifeBridge Christian Church worked together creating an informal gathering of leaders from around the United States to learn neighboring from one another. It’s called the Neighborhood Collective and we share our collective wisdom, experiences and experiments in living and leading with the Great Commandment as a cornerstone value. Being a part of this group has jump-started our creativity, language, strategy and teaching on neighboring. If you are serious about raising the value of neighboring in your congregation and community, I invite you to join us at the next annual gathering happening at Oak Hills February 27 & 28th, 2017.
A Promise: Luke recorded a time when Jesus affirmed the Great Commandment. At the close of the conversation with the expert in the law and just before Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus said, “Do this and you will live” (Luke 10:28). That is a promise I believe Jesus longs to fulfill for every follower of Christ. Loving our neighbors is both life-changing and life-giving to our neighbors and ourselves.