Yesterday I addressed how we can love the church by loving the neighborhood of the church. Today I want to talk about ways that we can benefit the neighborhoods where we live, and in so doing, love the church.
Think about what it must have felt like to live in exile. Everything must have felt hostile and unfamiliar. Perhaps faithful Israelites would have wanted to cloister themselves and create a kind of Jewish ghetto within the city they unwillingly inhabited. You know, circle the wagons and keep to themselves. Instead, God says they must get out and live life to the fullest within their current context. They are to have families, build up the economy and be a blessing to all around them.
Unlike the Israelites, most of us don't feel that we're living in exile (though perhaps some transplanted Southerners in New England might feel that way!). But do you ever feel tempted to circle the wagons and keep all to yourself? Do you find your neighbors scary? Are you just much more comfortable with your Christian friends?
Here in New England, being a Christian is not very -- how shall we say it? -- normal. When I talk to people around the neighborhood or at the playground and tell them that we go to church, it is seen as somewhat of a curiosity. While our part of the country is heavily Catholic, many I have met no longer attend Mass, or only do so in the most perfunctory way. And when I tell people that my husband is a pastor? Conversation killer. True story: when we moved here in the 1990s, I taught in a public high school and John was attending seminary. When some of my students (and a few colleagues) learned that John was studying for the ministry, they asked in whispers, "But...is that allowed? Can priests be...you know...married?" In fact, I had the mother of one of my children's classmates tell me that they would like to visit our church someday "just so we can show our kids that there are actually people who do that!" Wow.
All that to say, I think that in our context, my family and I can go along way in loving the church by showing our neighbors that Christians are normal, loving, caring, not-too-weird citizens. We can be true to our identity as believers, and yet show our neighbors that we are also very much like them, not perfect or plastic, not judgmental or fun-hating.
What does this look like practically? It means hanging out outside when your neighbors are out there. It means doing favors for neighbors when you can: shoveling snow, raking leaves, bringing meals, driving kids, babysitting, bringing in mail, feeding pets, running errands, loaning your belongings (not all at once, of course!). It means being honest about your convictions, but in a winsome and humble way. It means not apologizing for why you do things differently (for example, our neighbors think we're crazy for letting church take up so much of our Sundays), but also being able to laugh at yourself.
It means asking real questions about how your neighbors are doing, and the things they might be struggling with. Case in point: one night our neighbors had a campfire in their yard, and we were sitting around with them and some other folks from the block. Two of the husbands get to talking and reveal that they really don't have close friendships with other men, and aren't sure how to find them. Talk about an opening for more meaningful discussion and ways to serve!
It also means being humble about our shortcomings. It is embarrassing enough to be caught sinning in public; when it is in front of our close neighbors, it can be even more painful. As believers, we must live in the truth of our being completely forgiven, and therefore apologize freely when we wrong someone near us. (Easier said than done! Jesus help!).
When we live our lives honestly and openly in our own neighborhoods, when we speak freely about our churches, when we show our unbelieving neighbors that we love them, and want to be in their lives, we in turn love the church.
What are other ways to love the neighborhood?
This is the 11th part in a series. Go here to read 31 Days of Loving the Church from the beginning. Go here to read over 700 other 31 day series.