“Oh! I have to tell you about my neighbours”’ a local business owner told me the other day. He launched into a comical story of two parents trying to be at three different hockey games. He described his next door neighbours and an evening of difficulties with transportation and texting. He spoke of them in a way that revealed a strong mutual affection. These weren’t neighbours who gave a quick wave as the garage door closed. From what I know of this business man, he is not a believer. What I know about his neighbours is that they are believers and members of a church in Kitchener. This glimpse into one Christian family’s relationship with an unbelieving neighbour made me think of the many lessons we examined as we studied the book, Everyday Church.
How significant is a relationship like this one when it comes to Scripture’s call to bring the gospel to the nations? Can and should a Christian family be involved in reaching out to their neighbours and communities? Everyday Church captured some important teaching on this subject beginning with biblical principles that clarify the importance of relationships like the one mentioned above. The book also presented principles that are helpful on a practical level. I will summarize these lessons and share some of the things our family has been doing to build such relationships with our neighbours and community.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9 ESV)
The authors of Everyday Church observe that, like the early church, Christians are surrounded by people that do not encounter the gospel because it is not proclaimed by the culture around them. And, like those early Christians, Christians today have the duty of proclamation. One main thesis of Everyday Church is that this does not occur primarily in church meetings but rather through the Church-the people of God. When discussing 1 Peter 2:9, the authors explain that, “Peter is talking about our corporate identity as God’s priestly people whose life together commends the goodness of his kingdom.” (pg. 87) In 1 Peter 2:10-3:7, Peter goes on to highlight the witness of Christians in their society, workplaces, and homes. The authors of Everyday Church conclude, “The gospel is a word, but the primary context in which that word is proclaimed is everyday life.” (pg. 88)
Everyday Church argues that our response to this call should be woven into all aspects of our lives. It is an intentionality we bring to all the things that we are already doing. Everyday Church gives us this list: Love Jesus, love people, love life. (pg. 92-93) This list must start with Jesus! What we have comes from him and we seek to share this with others. We also acknowledge that he is our joy and strength –something that helps us in the face of discouragement or fear of man. The second principle is to love people. Those God has put around us have many needs that we can strive to meet and, most of all, they need to know the Lord. Thirdly, we delight in creation and enjoy many things. This is the area where we can ask ourselves, “what do we enjoy”, and then seek to share that activity and delight with others. One final principle to remember, before we look at examples, is that families are not called to do this alone –we can call in the support of our church family. So, we end up with four items on the list–love Jesus, love people, love life and get help. These are principles that motivate and equip us to cultivate relationships where the gospel is lived out and proclaimed before others.
Here are some things we do as a family that have been deeply influenced by these ideas:
Neighbourhood Association: This was recently formed in order to address City Council on some developments proposed for our area. We strive to help out when called upon by them to write letters or speak before Council and encourage them when they are feeling despair.
Neighbourhood Soccer: Our family loves soccer. We issue an invitation to play in the summer on a “come-as-you-can” weekly basis. The participation of our church family has been a great support. This part of summer life fulfills many “purposes”. It provides the opportunity to spend time with neighbours and fellowship with our church family, all in the context of enjoying a great sport and getting some exercise. This is time well spent!
Neighbourhood Christmas Gathering: Many years ago, we had the idea to invite our neighbours over for a time of singing and mingling. Here is a point of self-criticism – we didn’t start when we first had the idea because we were awkward about singing without music and felt it would be too stressful to host with young children underfoot. We waited several years when, really, we could have asked for help! In fact, the main encouragement came from members of our small group who liked the idea and offered to bring the food. A feast was produced! Some small group members stayed and helped us by meeting, eating and singing with our neighbours.
Neighbourhood Children: As a family, it is our children who often bring us the opportunity to develop relationships with our neighbours. When our youngest girls, began playing with the children of our Muslim neighbours, we found that our families enjoy “hanging out” by gardening or going for walks together.
Neighbourhood Solicitors: Imagine if an unbeliever were to regularly knock on your door and ask what you thought about life, death, God, and ethics! We are in the jurisdiction of a friendly JW couple who are warm and easy to speak with openly. Their visits were quite frequent but always unexpected making it difficult to get into a deeper dialogue without derailing part of the day. So, Jason invited them to meet with him at set times and they readily accepted.
Neighbourhood Businesses: We have become loyal customers to several great businesses in our area over the years but two warrant special mention:
- Saturday mornings at the Diner: As our children became older, a tradition began that Dad would rotate through the roster taking one child out for breakfast on Saturday morning. The staff now know him (combo #3 to share with a tea and hot chocolate). Without words being spoken, the staff have learned of a father’s commitment to cultivating relationships with his children and have commented to him on how unusual this is.
- Hairdresser: We have all been going to the same hairdresser for 6 years. Because we are there as a family and for long stretches of time, we now know our hairdresser fairly well. We are there in large enough numbers to change the conversation from the usual salon talk to subjects of interest or delight to us. Being there as a family makes this natural and not awkward. Let me close with one last story:
“Jason, which product would you like to try in your hair?” our hairdresser calls out across the salon.
“Oh, Sue, c’mon they are all the same and none of them work.”
Sue gives a mock gasp, a few of her staff turn pale and clients chuckle. “It is a good thing you are not a hairdresser! I am sure you would never treat your patients the way we moody stylists treat our clients.”
“Oh sure, I do! When I see a patient, I just ask what they feel like trying today!”
In the midst of the laughter, one of our children remains immersed in a book. An elderly lady begins a conversation with her, which leads to the child sharing that she is a Christian in a Christian family. This was an opportunity for our family to proclaim Christ by our lives and declare him with our words.