Cracking the Nut of the Neighborhood

Monday is for Discussion

View on my block in Bolingbrook, IL ::  Saying goodbye soon.
View on my block in Bolingbrook, IL :: Need to get a new picture of our Watseka, IL address.

On Friday I wrote about meeting Barbara. The incident raised a whole new set of issues for what it means to be INTENSELY LOCAL in ministry.

Two Categories:

  1. Personal issues, and
  2. Neighbor issues.

In the first category are those things related to heart, motivation, and creativity. (Here’s a starter list)

  • How do we overcome our own lack of care for those around us who need Jesus and the Gospel?
  • How do we stay motivated in the task of being salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:14-16)?
  • How do keep from growing weary in our prayer that the grace to believe would be given to our neighbors (Acts 16:14)?
  • How do we come up with the ideas that will help us to interact with our neighbors naturally?
  • How do we overcome the “fear of men” and become the bold witnesses for the gospel and our Lord that we know we should be?

In the second category are those related to the hyper-individualistic and hyper-private reality of life in America. (Here’s another starter list).

  • Many neighbors don’t want a relationship with anyone.
  • Most neighbors are suspicious of the motives of neighbors they don’t know who initiate with them.
  • Many neighbors are closet anti-supernaturalists. They say they believe in God but they always assume naturalistic causes for most elements of life. They don’t really believe God will intervene in their lives.
  • Many of our neighbors have loyalties to perspectives and traditions that sometimes insulate them from the power of the gospel story.

If all of the things that I did for the last 18 years to trying and “crack the nut” of my neighborhood (see the Barbara story link above) were less than effective*, what would be a better “nutcracker?”  How do we begin to work a strategy by believers to truly impact our neighborhoods for Christ?

* We have seen one family come to faith, two families begin attending worship, and one man who is engaged in a search for truth with whom I have frequent conversation. Update: He came to faith before he went to be with Jesus last year.

8 thoughts on “Cracking the Nut of the Neighborhood

  1. I’m going to beg to differ. I think MOST people DO want relationships with their neighbors. Or maybe that’s just my experience?

    Or maybe it’s the kid factor? We spend enough time outside that we know all of our neighbors quite well. I’ve never deliberately gone out to “share Jesus” with them. But I’ve brought countless meals, walked kids to school, babysat, shoveled driveways, and when asked, prayed. I think this is what neighbors do.

    Maybe it’s just my neighborhood? Or the fact that we go to the neighborhood school and are constantly engaged with people.

    It doesn’t feel hard. It just feels like “life.”


    1. Amen. I think the stage of life you are in and the situation you are in, coupled with your personality is a wonderful combination. Having children, being local (i.e. the school and being outside-especially boys, [I know, steriotype]), and your great hospitality skills, creates more opportunity. Plus, I for one, love your sense of humor and honesty.

      But that’s why I said “many” not “most” of our neighbors don’t want relationship. Keep up the good work. Keep looking for the opportunity to be verbal. The oft quoted St. Francis, “Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words” has three problems. One, he never said it; it is an apocryphal story. Two, It was not the method of Jesus and Three, it doesn’t work.

      People need to hear the words of the gospel story. They need heralds of and for the gospel.


      1. Thanks for your thoughtful response and kind words.

        I’m not sure my neighbors need the words of the gospel story…not everyone…not right now. They need to see it lived out.

        In the words of one of my neighbors (about a year ago), “I’ve already heard the ***da*n good news.” She was venting her irritation at someone who keeps persistently telling her about Christ and then acting like a jerk.

        I haven’t told her about Christ in words. I’ve told her in deeds. I’ve apologized for all of the “weird” christians out there. I’ve listened.

        Six months ago we were able to talk in depth about faith. She asked because I’m “not a weirdo like other christians I’ve met.” Since then, I’ve had opportunities to pray with her. It’s incredible.

        I think there are too many words, sometimes. People need to see real faith lived out. They need to be heard. They need to be pursued not because of an “agenda,” but because we genuinely want to know them.

        For me, getting less busy with church stuff and exclusively christian people has helped. I don’t make a lot of meals for Christians anymore…once in awhile I do, but I try to save enough time and energy for my neighborhood.

        Don’t get me wrong — I agree there’s a time and a place for words, and too many christians are too timid to use them. But I think we need to be sensitive to the holy spirit as to when and where to use words. Too many words are not only ineffective…they’re damaging.

        Just my two cents and experience.


  2. Here is how my mind works. The “fear of man” issue keeps occurring in my life because I don’t believe I experience the “perfect love that casts out fear”. This is related, in my thinking, to the perception that I do not experience the supernatural power of God and that I don’t perceive that I know anyone who regularly experiences the supernatural power of God. Ergo, God is not for me so I should fear. So, there is my thought process and it is probably deficient but I don’t currently know how. Because I approach God on the basis of Jesus death, burial and resurrection I believe that my problem is a lack of understanding.

    To be honest there is a portion of unbelief mixed in but I would not say that my problem is exclusively a lack of faith. So what does this mean? What does the supernatural look like in today’s world? It doesn’t look like an army of 300 men with pots and torches defeating an army of tens of thousands. Do miracles occur (Gal 3:5)? How does the supernatural enter into the discipleship process? How does this relate to love and overcoming fear? Back to neighbors; if they don’t experience the supernatural in the lives of the believers they know why should they believe we have an answer.

    I’m not trying to give an answer, just insight into how I think so that you can mull it over in relation to the above comments. I need a pseudonym before I get more honest than this. Are my comments helpful at all? I like what you are doing and don’t want to get in the way.


  3. Llama Momma, great post again. You’re right, Christians need to de-clutter their lives from all their “church-stuff” and create time and space for real interaction with neighbors.

    Analyzing what you said however, words were still present. Living out the truth was and will continue to be vital and important, but you still had to use words to make the source of your non-wierdness clear.

    We need both. Without the former we are in-credible witnesses. Without the latter we are unfaithful witnesses.


  4. I guess what I’m saying is that the words come later. Much later. Relationship without agenda comes first.

    I think that’s where people go wrong. They want relationships with their neighbors so they can share the gospel. Nobody wants to be on the other end of an agenda driven relationship.

    All those years of “ding-dong-ditch” evangelism and handing out tracts did some damage. Our neighbors have HEARD the good news.

    They need to see it.

    Without saying a word, my neighbors know I’m a believer. How?

    They’re in my house in see my bible on the counter.

    They see us go to church every Sunday.

    They come for dinner, and we let them know graciously before we sit down, “We usually say a short prayer before we eat. Is your family comfortable with that?” (Everyone has said “yes, of course,” but I think it’s courteous to let them know so they don’t just dive into the food, only to feel embarrassed when we pause to pray.)

    We live life together, and they see Christ. They ask, too, sometimes. That’s when I use words.


    1. Uggh. Friendship with an agenda is no friendship at all. I completely 1000% agree with you there. People need to be loved simply because they are made in the image and likeness of God.

      But again, your example, is exactly my point. .

      I have put it this way to my church planters.

      “Say you move into a new location to plant a church. You are out meeting people, making new friends, serving people in the community. Meanwhile, for whatever reason, your wife for whatever reason is having difficulty making connections and new friends in the community. She is getting increasing lonely, and feeling isolated.

      One day, a neighbor she has met, knocks on the door and invites your wife for coffee. You wife is pumped. She calls you on the phone and says ‘honey, I think I’m going to have a friend. Tomorrow I have been invited for coffee at the neighbors.” Weeks go by and the coffee meetings continue. Your wife feels like she is getting to know her neighbor.

      Around week 5 of this, while the neighbor is pouring coffee, she says, “Did I tell you that I’m an Amway distributor?”

      “What does your wife feel like at that moment?”

      “I’ll tell you how she feels,” I tell my students. ‘She feels used. She feels like this was never about friendship. She feels like she was never loved, never valued, never appreciated except as a new sales blip in her neighbors financial agenda.”

      I think this is what you are responding to. But it is not what I am advocating.

      Life and words must be companioned, completely honest, and consistent.


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