3 Tips for Neighborhood Missionaries

I’ve lived in 3 neighborhoods in the last 5 years, and in every neighborhood I have set out with intentions of being “missional”. Each neighborhood was a fresh start and a new people to engage with the gospel. How exciting!

But it didn’t take long for the excitement to run dry and for me to find myself wanting to give up. It has started the same way every time….

“Hey honey, will you bake some cookies so that we can take them over to our neighbors this weekend”, I’ve asked my wife.

My wife (who bakes great cookies) joins me as we take them over to meet our neighbors. Three knocks on three doors and we come home with three plates of cookies in all three neighborhoods we’ve lived in.

Maybe my neighbors just don’t like cookies (or us), so we try something different.

“How about a neighborhood cookout”, I said to myself.

I moved my grill from the back yard to the front yard. I remembered one of those guys at Verge said that was a good way to be missional. (They also were the ones who said taking cookies to my neighbors was a good way to be missional).

“They will see me cooking and smell the delicious burgers and will stop to say hi”, I thought. Once they do that I will invite them to join us for dinner. To my surprise…no one cared I was grilling burgers in the front yard, and we had dinner alone.

I’m persistent, so when that didn’t work, I decided I would invite my neighbors over for a game watching party (everyone likes football, right?). This time one of the five neighbors I invited said yes. Awesome! But when he only stayed for 10 minutes I realized that he only came because he felt sorry for me.

I am dejected. Disappointed. Slightly embarrassed now. I put myself out there (for Jesus) and now I just look like the guy who is desperate for friends.

“I have plenty of friends”, I reassure myself. The temptation now is to give up on my neighborhood. I tried right?……

If this (exaggerated) story resonates with you, here are three things you need to know.

1. Neighborhood mission is more like a marathon than a sprint.

What did you expect? Did you really think that because you are friendly toward people one time they will open their life to you and listen to you share how they need to repent and turn to Christ? I live in the suburbs, and in the suburbs people are incredibly self-sufficient. They have their friends, their money, their houses, their cars, their kids, their DVR, and their hobbies. They usually don’t have time in their life for new friends…especially the overly-friendly guy on the corner with cookies and an agenda.

Commit for the long haul. Understand that mission happens in seasons. You have to plow and sow before you can harvest. Listen and learn the story of your neighborhood. What do people value? What are the needs? Who are the people on the margins? Who sets the culture of the neighborhood? Prayer walk your neighborhood regularly.

 2. Be a really good neighbor first.

Being a good missionary starts with being a really good neighbor. Get involved in neighborhood events, attend HOA meetings if your neighborhood has them, play outside with your kids, etc. Every neighborhood is different and every neighborhood has a different definition of “good neighbors”. If you recently moved into a neighborhood you have a great advantage. As you meet your neighbors, ask them about the people who used to live in your house. Their answers will tell you what “good neighbors” are to them. As I have asked this question over the years I have heard things like:

-They were really nice couple that used to baby sit for us a lot…we were sad to see them move…

-They were loud and never mowed the grass…

-I don’t really know much about them, they never came out of their house…

If you have been in a place for a while, as new people move in, ask them about their old neighborhood. What were the things they liked and disliked about it? These answers will tell you how to be good neighbors. Being a really good neighbor opens up more doors for the gospel than cookies and random cookouts.

 3. Love people in a way that matters to them.

One big mistake that any missionary can make is to assume your preferences on to the people you are trying to reach. This is a mistake I’ve made many times. There is a reason that my neighbors didn’t respond to my cookouts and cookies. Cookouts and cookies didn’t matter to them. After several months of living next door to one neighbor, I observed that he was working every weekend. Money was tight, bills were barely getting paid, and his kid’s birthdays were both in December….along with Christmas. He didn’t have time to come to my cookout. My “missional living” didn’t matter to him…it wasn’t missional to him to because it didn’t communicate love to him. But when my wife and I bought birthday presents for both of his boys he broke down in tears. He couldn’t understand why we would do that. We got to tell him that Jesus calls us to be good neighbors, and this is what good neighbors do. It was a start….only because we loved him in a way that mattered to him.

I hope that these things help. Don’t give up. Press on. God has placed you in your neighborhood/apartment to use you. May the lost be found, Christ be proclaimed, and God be glorified among your neighbors!

*disclaimer…I love the guys at Verge!

Understanding Mission: Seasons of Mission

As we plant missional communities we want every MC to be a family that understands that mission is an ancient work, we want to approach mission reactively and proactively, and we want to accept that mission happens in seasons. To finish out my series on “Understanding Mission” I will unpack seasons of mission.

Seasons of Mission

Being a good missionary isn’t only about leading people to Christ and baptizing them. There is much more to it. It is helpful to think of it this way—a good farmer does much more than just harvest his crop. He invests his life into farming and knows the importance of every season of the harvest. Good farmers spend months preparing and cultivating the soil. This means hard work plowing the ground, turning over the soil, and removing the rocks.  Once the soil is cultivated and ready, then comes the season of sowing the seed (whatever he hopes to see grow). This time of sowing also means the hard work of watering, nurturing, and protecting the seed as it takes root and begins to grow. When the crop is ready and mature, then comes the season of harvest. Harvest involves carefully reaping the crop and producing it in a proper manner (i.e. grapes become wine). In the same way, good missionaries invest their lives into gospel ministry and know the importance of every season of mission. I think that it is important for a missional community to always be identifying what season of mission they are in. I have seen and lead many groups that “spin their wheels” and never make any missional traction because they are sowing gospel seeds without having done the hard work of cultivating the soil first.

Below you will find a description of the three seasons of mission that I hope you will find helpful. At Redeemer, our hope is that every missional community will always be in one of these three seasons of mission. An important thing to remember is that not one of these seasons is more important than the other. They are all equally necessary to making disciples that make disciples. What is most important is that your missional community is able to identify what season you are in, and then you allow the Holy Spirit to lead your MC as you cultivate, sow, and harvest for God’s glory in our city!

Cultivating– cultivating (or plowing) is the part of the discipleship process where we are praying for our focus area, making friends, learning their stories, and finding people of peace in our missional communities’ focus area. We are building relationships, listening to the Spirit in prayer, and focusing the majority of our time together in relational settings that connects us to the people we believe God has called us to reach.

Key Activities During This Season – praying for people by name, prayer walking in our focus area, building relationships, throwing parties in order to meet people, and including our new friends with the family. During the season of cultivating a missional community should spend less time in the living room and more time out making friends and building relationships. 

Sowing– sowing is the season where we begin to share our lives with the people we have connected with and sow “gospel seeds”. We are sharing our story, speaking of Jesus, and displaying a gospel centered life to our friends.  Remember, because we have done the hard work of plowing our friends trust us and love us at this point, so us sharing of Christ is only natural. As the Spirit leads, we are beginning to invite them into our expression gatherings, missional community meetings, Sunday gatherings, and other social activities in our church family. Sowing also involves nurturing, watering, and protecting the “gospel seeds” we have sown. This might look like additional conversations, clearing up any confusion, praying fervently for salvation, and serving the people we are sharing with. During this season a missional community might spend more time in the living room and around the dinner table discussing the scriptures, going through the Story of God, and planning proactive mission.

Key Activities During This Season – sharing the gospel in conversations and through everyday rhythms, inviting friends into the life and gatherings of church family, deepening relationships and trust, and fervently praying for friends by name.

Harvesting– harvesting is the season where we see our friends come to believe in Christ and trust in him for salvation and life. This usually happens in mini-stages, but we know we are in the season of harvesting because we see the Spirit at work in our friends lives. We know we are in the season of harvesting when we are seeing our friends responding to our sharing the gospel in positive ways. They have recognized their need for Jesus in their lives, they are reading the bible and praying with us, and they are motivated to serve with us. The pinnacle of the harvesting season comes when our friends officially repent and believe in Christ and are adopted into God’s family! Once this happens, we continue the discipleship process as we live life as a family.

Key Activities During This Season– sharing the truth of the scripture, praying with our friends, serving others with our friends, encouraging faith decisions, and calling our friends to believe.

One last thing that is important to remember in regard to the seasons of mission is that God might be asking us to share in the harvest with other believers somewhere else.  This happened to me once with a neighbor. I spent two years doing the hard work of plowing and sowing. I prayed for my neighbor, got to know him and his family, shared with him over and over again about Jesus, cared for him during tough times—only to watch him move to another city right as I sensed the Spirit leading us into the season of harvest. During this time I had to trust that God’s work is an ancient work and rejoiced that I got to play a role in the harvest that would come. It has also been my experience that I have met neighbors who are already immediately open to the gospel, because others have done the hard work of cultivating in their lives. Consider John 4:26-38 and 1 Corinthians 10:10.

How would your community function differently if you embraced the seasons of mission?

Understanding Mission: Reactive and Proactive

Reactive and Proactive Mission

Not only is it important to understand that we are joining God in an ancient work, but we must also understand that our missional activity is dependent upon the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Throughout the book of Acts and the Epistles we see the Holy Spirit acting as the guide, compass, and fuel; empowering, leading, and directing the church in the mission of God. We want to try and understand this leading of the Holy Spirit in mission as Reactive and Proactive mission.

Let’s begin with definitions. Reactive mission can be defined as mission in the moment. This would include the opportunity for gospel conversations that the Spirit provides in the “everyday” moments of life (on a lunch break at work, in line at the grocery store, at the park while your kids play, with a neighbor while you are working in the lawn, etc.) Reactive mission happens in the moments of life that we have little control over, so it is critical that we are walking in Spirit and have eyes to see and ears to hear the Spirit as he leads us into reactive mission. We must be careful not to become so busy and consumed with our selves throughout our day that we are not open to opportunities for reactive mission.  On the other hand, proactive mission can be defined as mission by design. This means organizing the controllable aspects of our lives (spare time, weekends, hobbies, where we live and work, meals we eat, celebrations, vacations, how we spend our money, where we shop, etc.) around the mission of God. Proactive mission requires a team that is committed to God, each other, and disciple making. Together as a family, we should always be asking how can we organize our lives in such a way that those around us will know the gospel? This involves sacrifice, but remember, in Christ we are servants—and what better thing to sacrifice for than the mission of God!

Consider for a second the disciple making movement that explodes in the book of Acts. We see both proactive and reactive mission working together like it should, leading to fruitful ministry.  In Acts 1:8 we see mission by design: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.  The plan is in place—receive the holy spirit, begin in Jerusalem and then move outward from there with the gospel. But as you keep reading the book of Acts you see persecution and other unexpected events that develop along the way. It might seem as if the plan is falling apart, but we know that the Spirit constantly leading, guiding, and fueling the church the entire time. The disciples are forced to become reactive missionaries following the leading of the Spirit in the moment, yet always looking to reorient their lives together around disciple making (proactive mission). We can also point to the numerous examples in the Epistles where we see Paul stating his plan and strategy for mission, but always being open to the possibility of the Spirit opening new doors of ministry (see 1 Corinthians 16:6-9 for one example).

What we can say then is that the key is to look for where God is opening up the opportunity to develop reactive mission into proactive mission. This could be as simple as your missional community committing to eating weekly and tipping generously at a specific restaurant because one person in the group recently had the opportunity to share the gospel with a waitress while eating there.  It could also be as complex as planting a new missional community in an apartment complex because the Spirit is constantly leading a group member into gospel conversations there. Either way, the only way that we will have success in reaching the lost around us is if we are looking to the Spirit to lead us, guide us, and fuel us in both reactive and proactive mission.

Questions for MCs to Consider:

1. What in your lives keeps you from being a Reactive Missionary?

2. How are the definitions of reactive and proactive mission helpful to you?

3. Why is reactive mission without proactive mission dangerous? Why is proactive mission without reactive mission dangerous?

4. What can you plan this month to turn reactive mission into proactive mission?

Understanding Mission: What is it?

One of the things that I have learned over the last few years of leading and planting missional communities is that getting people to understand their missionary identity in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-21) is challenging. This challenge can often be credited to our western culture that has taught us that we exist for self. This leads us to naturally worshiping comfort and convenience– two of the biggest obstacles to missionary work (see Jesus and the rich man or any other new testament passage for that matter). So, as we have all experienced both personally and corporatley, sin and heart idols oppose missional efforts.

But there is one other major challenge to helping Christians learn their missionary identity— a lack of understanding the mission of God. There is a good chance that there is confusion among the people in your church or MC right now as to what God is working to accomplish in the world. If you don’t believe me then ask your people next time you gather, “What is the mission of God?” and have them write down their answers. You might be shocked at the different responses you get! Therefore, it is hard to call people to be on mission together, if you are all on a different page about the mission God is on.

So…What is the mission of God?

The way we answer this question will ultimately form and shape the mission of our churches. Therefore, we want to make sure that everyone is on the same page and working toward the same goal as God’s family of missionary servants. We also want to be careful and make sure that we are leading a church that is about what God is about.

As we think about the mission of God we want to do so with the whole of scripture in mind. We want to think about the Bible as one big story about God and what he is doing in the world. It could be said that the entire bible can be summed up in four words—Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. God created man and woman in his image and gave them the command to be fruitful, multiply, and cultivate the earth. What we see in creation is God’s desire to fill the earth with his image and glory (Genesis 1:26-31). You don’t have to read much further into the story to see the fall. Adam and Eve choose creation over the creator. They choose to disobey God’s one command and in doing so sin and death fills the earth rather than God’s image and glory (Genesis 3). This is bad news for everyone. But the story doesn’t end as a tragedy; God shows his great love for his children and begins to write an epic story of redemption. He promises to create a family that he would use to bless the nations (Genesis 12:1-3). He promises a savior that would come from this family that would bring rescue and salvation through his death and resurrection. In Christ he is creating a new family, his church, which he has empowered through his Spirit and is using to bring good news to the world (John 20:21, Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8). And he has shared with us how the story will end—with a new heaven and new earth. Total restoration. Worshipers from every tribe, tongue, and nation filling the earth with God’s image and glory.

This is the mission of God: redeeming and restoring a broken world full of sin by replacing it with his image and his glory once again.

He is doing this through transforming his people in Christ and using them to bring renewal to our cities and world by making disciples. God’s mission won’t stop until the earth looks just like heaven. What a beautiful day that will be!

Now that we have defined the mission of God, we need to begin to understand our role in it. Over the next few weeks I will be posting a 3 part series titled Understanding the Mission of God that aims at giving practical handles to how we should relate, think about, and participate in the mission of God.