At the end of 2020, my family moved into a new home in an under construction subdivision. Our house and the one across from ours were the only two on our particular street. But as months passed, construction continued and now what was once a field is now a street full of occupied houses. And we’ve wondered, what does ministry look like for us in our community:
- How can we be the kind of neighbors God wants us to be?
- How can we pursue relationships to whatever degree we’re able, both with those neighbors who are Christians and those who are not?
- What does it look like for us to be gospel witnesses here in this place?
Embracing the “royal law” of loving our neighbors
The best way I can describe this has been to see it as a call to embrace the “royal law” of loving our neighbors as ourselves (James 2:8). In his epistle, James contrasted the sin of prejudice and partiality against the faithful pursuit of this command. That if we are God’s people, then we must seek to obey this great command to its fullest.
So how do we do that? At the risk of being simplistic, loving our neighbors as ourselves requires us to know them. We need to go beyond a superficial wave or nod, and pursue genuine friendship with like us and unlike us. With anyone willing to engage with us in this way, in our neighborhoods, jobs, schools… in any and every area of our lives where God gives us the opportunity.
3 baby steps into neighborhood ministry
Maybe you’re in a similar situation to us. You’re in a new neighorhood trying to figure out how to fulfill your calling to love your neighbors and be gospel witnesses there. Or perhaps you’re in the same one you’ve been in for the last 20 years and are also trying to figure out how to be gospel witnesses there.
So what are some ways we can start figuring out what ministry looks like where we live? While I can’t give you a detailed step-by-step process, one that is sure to win your community to Jesus, here are a few practices we’ve found helpful since moving to our new town:
Pray for wisdom and empowerment
Learning to love your neighbors as God calls us to, pursuing ministry in your community, requires wisdom. Thankfully, God gives wisdom in abundance to all who ask. So pray. Ask God to show you the opportunities that are in front of you and to empower you for the task.
Discuss as a family
Loving your neighbors isn’t really a solo activity. It’s a family and a community effort. It’s something that everyone in who calls your home “home” should be engaged with to some degree. This is part of why we’ve encouraged our kids to become friends with people in our neighborhood. We want them to have friends, and for their friends to see how God is at work in our kids’ lives.
Go for a walk
Since March of 2021, Emily and I have gone on a walk in our neighborhood almost every day. We started walking as part of my health program, but it’s had more benefits than just contributing to my weight loss. Because we’re out and about, we usually stop and talk to our neighbors. Sometimes it’s a quick “hey, how’s it going” conversation. Other times, we wind up talking for 30 minutes or more. It’s been a wonderful opportunity for us to start to get to know the people living alongside us.
It’s probably a stretch to say even at this point that we’re friends with many of our neighbors. But we are becoming friendly. We know many of their names. We know enough details to start and continue conversations. And that’s a start. You can’t be friends with someone without knowing something about them. And if you want to know anything about people, it starts by being friendly.
Free to be patient
Pursuing genuine ministry in your neighborhood means being willing to love your neighbors. And part of loving them in the way that Jesus wants us to is doing so in the freedom we have through him.
We are free to love all people. Free to show God’s love and mercy and kindness and compassion to everyone, no matter their history, ethnicity, social status, economic status, or any other standard that falls short of God’s.
And we are free to be patient. As important as the gospel message is—and it is absolutely essential—loving our neighbors well may mean that we take our time. But as we on becoming friends with those we want to love through the gospel, who knows what will happen? Perhaps God will give us the opportunities we pray for sooner than we might expect.