Just as I have been challenging others to join God in their neighbourhoods, I have been seeking to join God in my neighbourhoods - the places where I live, work, study and play.
Here are the things I’m learning along the way, some of which are surprising and some of which I’m sure you’ll say “Of course, I knew that already!”
1. It is a long term commitment – It is harder than I first realized. The way most of our lives are set up it takes a long time to get from a wave, to a chat, to a coffee, to a visit in each others’ homes without it seeming overly awkward and forced. I moved into my current neighbourhood in 2011, even as I am typing I’m thinking “Has it really been five years already?” and yet, how little I know those I see every day in their comings and goings. We all drive in our private cars, pull into our private driveways, open & close the door to our private garages, so we can run into our houses and get some privacy. It is easier to keep to ourselves and only let people see what we want them to see about us. It is possible to connect, but it is much more a long term investment than I first realized to really lean into a community – whether that is a community where you live, work, study, play or go about your other weekly rhythms.
2. Play to your strengths – I’ve been telling others this joining God where you already live, work, study & play is not meant to be an extra thing you have to fit into your schedule, it is a “as you go”, leaning into the places & people where you already are in the regular course of your life. However, after telling people this I started to see how many connections people with kids make in the course of a week…waiting at the playground to pick-up kids, cheering on sports teams, car pooling, commiserating over trying to figure out the parenting thing, waiting to pick-up kids, waiting to pick-up kids, waiting to pick up kids… So for a while, I tried to find a way to connect with the young families in my neighbourhood – which is ridiculous because that is not who I am. Don’t try to be someone you are not. I’ve learned to play to my strengths and enjoy the neighbours God puts around me in the natural places I connect and go. Being single makes it easy for me to be a regular at a gym, a coffee shop, a small group and to have time to linger when conversations pop up, invite someone for a run. I’m learning to play to my strengths. Do the same and you’ll enjoy joining what God’s doing in your neighbourhood much more.
3. A little goes a long way – Even simple, genuine friendliness can start to make a big difference. In the places where I go every week - to the gym, to work, to get coffee, to run, to eat, to get groceries - it is easy for me to keep in my own head, keep my head down and just get the task done, instead of noticing and connecting to the people around me. There are two ladies that are usually walking their dogs in my neighbourhood right when I finish my morning run, I’ve started slowing my self down to have a little morning chat before I rush inside to get on with my day. Now we look for each other and if I miss a morning run the next day they’ll ask “Where were you yesterday?” I see God’s goodness in our kindness to each other. I silently pray for them each morning after I see them. I can seek to be a blessing and show God’s kindness to those around me every day. Little things like - smiling, tipping well, not rushing, asking someone how their shift or day is going, buying someone a coffee, letting them cut in front in line – can all open doors for connection and show God’s kindness to others. We’ve got to build these connections, these relationships with our neighbourhoods, before we have the trust to talk about deeper things. Usually, we have got to show them God’s kindness, before we can have the opportunity to tell them more about Jesus. Be a blessing.
4. Receiving kindness - Receiving the kindness of others matters just as much as giving it. One night a sweet lady in front of me at the check-out counter at the grocery store turned around to buy the cashier a chocolate bar to keep her going during her shift (good neighbouring idea!) When she saw me she said "You look like you need one too, you're not going to survive off that (looking at all my fruit and veggies)." We chatted a little as she was pay for her groceries, and some more as I was paying for mine, then she asked me a little bit about myself and what I do. She was curious, saying she didn’t believe in religion, but was a spiritual person. We sat on the bench between the exit doors at the grocery store and had quite a chat. She recited to me a poem she had written, with such clear themes of longing for healing for our world and the brokenness of humanity. It was an amazing conversation. On more than one occasion receiving others kindness, others help, has open the door to a deeper connection with a fellow neighbour on this earth. I’m learning to humble myself and receive kindness from my neighbours – let them and thank them when they snow blow my driveway, receive the extra cucumbers from their garden, receive their smile and interest in what I’m up to, receive their invitations…to receive this gift of community is a spiritual act of worship.
5. Connect to community events - Connecting to existing community organizations and happenings is easier than I thought – every where I look there is something going on in the community or some organization looking for volunteers. It is not hard to be more involved in my community and community events, the hard part is choosing which one, where and when. There are even things I am naturally draw to – like chocolate festivals and road races! I’m learning the key for me is to intentionally put these things in my calendar so I’m connecting and investing right in my neighbourhood.
6. It is a great responsibility – As followers of Jesus we are commanded to love our neighbour, fish for people, make disciples. I’m learning that showing and telling the Gospel is a daily joy and a daily commitment. It is not always easy. It is not always comfortable. It is not usually popular. It often takes more courage than I think I have BUT, I realize, I have to join God in my neighbourhood. I cannot just sit back on my heels and expect others to do it. I have to be God’s good news to the people I meet in the places I go every week. They might not ever get to taste and see God’s goodness otherwise. God has given me unique circles of influence. God has given you unique circles of influence. God’s got you planted in the places He has you for a reason. I’m learning we are living in the “show me” generation. They need to see, through us, that Jesus is good, they need to see God’s kindness through us, they need to see Jesus makes a real difference in the world here & now, and in our lives here & now, through us.
7. People are open to spiritual things - There is greater openness than I realized to spiritual things. People really are open to talking about spiritual things and about Jesus…it has come up at the gym, among the fruit and veggies at the grocery store, in the line at the bank, after a movie, on road trips, at coffee shops, during dinner parties… People have always been encouraged when I’ve said “I’ll pray for that” or “I’ve been praying for that, how’s it going?” or “Can I pray for you now?” There is less openness to Church, denominations and institutions, but there is great openness to talking about the spiritual life, Jesus, Jesus’ teaching, prayer and God’s Kingdom breaking into earth.
8. Guilt is real – As you likely know, I have been challenging people all over to join God in their neighbourhoods. I’ve also been challenging churches to equip people to join God in their neighbourhoods. After challenging others I’ve driven home on more than one occasion with the nagging question “and Renée, how are you doing in your neighbourhood?” Guilt can be debilitating - thinking we’re not made for this, we’ll never be good at this, we’ll never get it right. I’m learning to turn my guilt into prayer and answer my guilt back, by naming all the places I’ve seen God at work in the places where I live, work, study and play recently. I use my guilt to renew my commitment to be who God created me to be, where He has currently placed me to be, for the sake of His Kingdom. I use the guilt to say, “God my eyes are open, this is on YOU God show me where you are at work around me and I will join you.”
9. Fear is real - I’m learning that in connecting with my neighbours in the places I live, work, study and play, particularly if the conversation turns spiritual, I am the one that is most scared! They are not, they are curious. So if I can just get over my sacredness, take courage, and lean in a little bit more to the people already around me I will see God at work.
10. God’s faithfulness is real - God does bring Himself up in conversation. God does show us where He is already at work around us in our neighbourhoods. God is good. God is always at work. God is redeeming and renewing all things, including the people and neighbourhoods around me and you.
Will you join God in your neighbourhoods?
Will you join God in changing Atlantic Canada one neighbourhood at a time?
What are you learning as you do? Please leave your comments below.
Here is a tool to help you join God in your neighbourhood: http://cbacyf.ca/1month
October starts in just a few days. For the month of October we are doing “Neighbouring Month”, daily challenges that help us open our senses to where God is at work around us. You can take on the challenges as an individual, group or church. The calendar of daily challenges, a promo video and four devos to go with the month are all available here: http://cbacyf.ca/1month
Please let us know if you join us for Neighbouring Month because we have a goal of seeing 50 groups/churches joining in Neighbouring Month. Use the #1neighbourhood on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and you’ll be entered in the draw for prizes during the month. The prizes help you reinvest in your neighbourhood!