Indisputable 21st Century Facts:
Relationships in our neighborhoods with our neighbors are characterized by three things,
They are not natural
They are not normal
They are not necessary
The first two items are a product of the third. Because our relationships with our neighbors are not necessary to our lives or our neighbors, almost all interaction seems unnatural and out of the norm. If you went to work, came home, and got up the next day for a year, the change or impact in your neighborhood would be negligible. Because of refrigeration and transportation, we can go and get food that we don’t grow, catch, or butcher from places and people once a week or sometimes once a month and go back to our nondescript lives in our single family homes or apartments.
No real relationship with other people is really necessary which make any interaction with people on a more than superficial basis feel odd–not normal or natural. In the first century, it was different.
Indisputable First Century Facts:
Relationships in the ancient world of Jesus day were characterized by three things:
They were necessary
They were natural
And they were normal
Without refrigeration and transportation, most people lived the main part of their lives with their extended family and neighbors. The fish merchant, the baker, the seller of lamb, the dyer of clothes (the baptizer), the blacksmith, the leatherer, etc.–these were necessary relationships. The first-century neighborhood was composed of natural contacts and normal relationships that were necessary to one another’s lives. In such an environment, when a person came to know Christ and experienced the life transformation that the gospel brings to our motivations and interactions with others–everyone in the neighborhood knew it and knew it pretty quickly.
Not so today. Today, if someone comes to believe in Christ, it often times occurs in a location apart from where they spend the bulk of their lives, among people they only see once a week (if that), and when they get back to their neighborhoods, there is very little interaction with anyone.
This is what the modern church needs to overcome.
15 thoughts on “Necessary, Normal and Natural–NOT!”
So true! You don’t even have to go back to the 1st century. Go back 150 years and the women quilted, canned and cooked together and the men harvested and built things together. What we need nowadays is a good neighborhood project to do together as nothing builds relationship like working together.
Amen. When the world sees believers, shoulder to shoulder serving together in intensely local projects that benefit the whole community (not the church) they will begin to see the radical difference that Jesus makes.
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This whole post really puts a heavy perspective on every interaction we have with people. Our once a week interactions could have eternal impacts, so we shouldn’t waste them–in either talking to Christians or non-Christians.
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Spot on. You are absolutely right. We need to pray over the whole of our days, ask God for favor, expect God to answer, and boldly look for the opportunities he supplies.
These are the very things I have been thinking about since you started writing about the church being intensely local. Knowing you Marty you will be writing more on this, but just in case, what I am struggling with understanding, is with our society being how it is (as you have described), how can we as Christians break through this barrier that is so strongly intrenched in the fabric of our society, maybe most strongly in suburban America?
Shannon, I think part of the answer is in finding the right “nut cracker” (Tool) for each particular “nut” (Neighborhood). This is why being intensely local is so hard and so exciting. It is not a cookie cutter. It is not plug and play somebody else’s success story.
It is you and I praying through and observing our neighborhoods and asking the Spirit to both reveal and empower us to do what the local situation needs. In Nebraska, it might be getting four Christian families to go out and paint barns for farmers together. In Chicago, south side, it might be four families saying, we are going to provide child care for two mothers who want to get a job and work to provide for their family.
It is whatever the local situation needs. Sibyl, (see above) is right. [See also my comment to her.]
We need a radical new dependence upon the Holy Spirit for wisdom and provision.
It seems to me that the key to breaking through this barrier is time. Simply being around and getting to know the people and culture around you.
My church is located in a neighborhood that has a lot of churches. Most of them dead or dying. All of them with a reputation for “charity”. They come with their idea and thoughts and “help” the neighborhood with food or money or whatever without investing. They stop in on Sundays and spend the rest of their time elsewhere. Maybe Wednesday nights too.
As a church we have made an effort to live within the community so that it is our community, our neighborhood and not just the place we go on Sundays. And because of this we know the people and they know us. We get involved in the schools as volunteers on an individual level. And we know that in our neighborhood one way to build relationships it to teach English classes.
In the end it all boils down to time. Churches and individuals need to intentionally (and it has to be intentional because as the blog talks about it is no longer natural) invest in their neighborhoods so that they know the pulse of the people around them. And the time to become family.
Time is a big factor. See comments on http://is.gd/bJVei.
Bottom line, churches need to stop thinking that people are going to miraculously show up at their doors and ministries. That goes for traditional churches as well as house churches.
Get out into the neighborhood and begin to love some people. But don’t forget to tell them the gospel.
We have to do necessary things in seemingly unnecessary relationships. That’s what I’m gathering out of all this. Great article…challenging.
Aaron, yes, we need to find ways to make connections with neighbors that build relational value for our neighbors.
Perhaps on a country-wide scale, perhaps even within many cities, suburbs and towns, your premise is validated. My personal experience does not fit. I could not continue to heal as a widower without my neighbors, Catholic, agnostic, Mormon, retired Presbyterian minister and wife, retired city Chief of Police and all.
True, I don’t know everyone within 2-3 blocks of my house east, west, north and south, but I know many and likely many more know me or of me and my family. We have together done neighborly things, like playing together with our children, babysitting, lawn care, cleaning up fallen trees after a wind storm, chatting around a bonfire, finding parts for an anime costume. In the doing is a chance to pray without ceasing, to love unconditionally, to listen, to harmonize in empathy with sorrow, joy, curiosity, worry, and therein to meet God together. I don’t know about natural, or normal, it is necessary for me and seems to be so for my neighbors, as they take the effort also to seek out chances to be together, and it is real.
Happy for you that in your grief you have found neighbors stepping into your world. That is magnificent but, it is also not the normal experience of most.
You actually make my point Gary. I think our neighbors need all the things you talk about in your second paragraph and I think the process you describe is part of the means to obtaining it. As Christians, we need to de-clutter our lives so that more of these kind of interaction can take place with our neighbors.
So true. I met a woman at my church a few months ago who is a new believer. I asked how she came to faith, and she told me the story: she and her daughter moved into a new house. A neighbor stopped by to welcome her with some cookies, and told her to come by if she needed anything at all. The next week, the woman’s childcare fell through. (She was a single mom, and neeeded before and after-school care for her daughter.) She ran into her neighbor again, and asked if she knew anyone who did daycare.
The woman volunteered herself, and they became friends. Turns out, when the house across the street from her was vacant, this woman began to pray for whoever might move in — that she would be able to share her faith.
The new believer said that she had been restless with life for months, and didn’t know what was missing. Her neighbor boldly told her about Jesus, and they started doing a bible study together. Today, she’s a member of the local church and growing in faith.
I was so inspired by her story, and convicted because often when a house is vacant, I pray for a fellow christian to move in. The house behind us is a rental, and is vacant, and I’ve changed my prayer.
May God give us boldness and courage to live differently.
Amen Marty. I just posted an article on how God used the ‘wrong people’ in the 1st century church and how we need to get back to reaching all with the gospel. Then I read your blog post – I love your article here…our lives are filled with substitutes for really knowing people and entering their life. Technology is great, but when it becomes our only means and mode of interaction with others it takes on a very unhealthy model.
Nothing like entering a person’s life as we get to share tears of sorrow, trials and joy! Brother, thanks for your articles, and though I am a late comer to your blog, I enjoy reading the older articles as you post them. As I repent, may the Lord begin with ‘me’ to turn the tide of failing in the necessary, natural and normal model of biblical relationships. Time to pray….
Making a presentation in two seminar breakouts at the Great Lakes District Conference of the Evangelical Free Church this Tuesday.