Developing an “intensely local” vision for church planters and others who just want to make a difference.
Thesis: To really get to know a community, you have to “press the flesh.”
You need to develop real relationships with real people. This will involve changing both our mindset and our behaviors. Some of the guiding biblical principles of that changed mindset are:
- God is sovereign over the place of peoples in a neighborhood. (Acts 17:24-26)
- God is calling men and women to himself. (Acts 17:27)
- God has fixed a day when all men everywhere will be judged. (Acts 17:31)
- He calls us to be fishers of men. (Matthew 4:19)
- The field is white for harvest, but the workers are few. (Matthew 9:37-38)
- Disobedience to his call to fish for men retards our growth in Christ. (John 14:21)
In addition to a change in perspective we need a change in behavior if we are truly going to incarnate the gospel and get to know our neighbors. The following list is suggestive of the kind of new behaviors that we will seek to both model and inculcate into our launch team. It is not enough that the church planter does these things. When it comes to our neighbor and neighborhood, all launch team members in a church plant will be trained to:
- Serve your neighbor. i.e., shovel his driveway, cut his lawn etc.
- Invite your neighbor into your home, backyard. i.e., BBQ regularly.
- Accept every invitation to visit with your neighbor, even if it means canceling another engagement. i.e., Christmas and New Years parties.
- Don’t wait for them to come to you, you go to them.
- Coach kids if you have the skill.
- Become a community organizer for block parties, golf outings, etc.
- Look for opportunities to visit with neighbors.
- Be completely upfront about your Christian faith. Give the neighbors spectacles with which to view your life.
- Initiate with your neighbor. i.e., “What is your favorite pie?” Pecan. “Great. Sometime soon, let’s get together for some pecan pie.”
- Don’t expect your non-Christian neighbor to behave like a mature Christian.
- Pray not only for your neighbors but with your neighbors.
- Welcome new neighbors into the neighborhood and then into your home and lives.
- Make it your ambition to be his best friend in the neighborhood.
When individuals begin to do these kinds of activities they begin to uncover the hurts, the pains, the disappointments, the joys and the victories of their neighbors. When this happens, we are much closer to figuring out the contextual forms most appropriate to ensuring that the gospel is heard clearly.
This type of caring and involvement in the community has the added benefit of not only expressing care but also of supplying a kind of reconnaissance into the interior of the neighborhood’s soul. We discover what its idols are. We find the captivities of its spirit and the things that cripple its discernment. This is part of what the apostle Paul was doing while he waited in Athens for his associates to arrive from Berea (Acts 17:16-34).
 Two books that are helpful though somewhat different in approach are: Bill Hybels and Mark Mittleberg’s Becoming a Contagious Christian, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1995) and Halter and Smay’s The Tangible Kingdom, (2008).