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: An Ancient Work

In my last post, I shared the importance of clearly defining the mission of God with the people you are leading. We will not be able to get people on mission, unless everyone understands what God is doing in our world through the gospel. In the next three posts I want to share a few things that we are beginning to teach our church to help us better understand how we relate to and participate in mission.

At Redeemer, we want 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. Lets start with Ancient Work.

ANCIENT WORK

From the moment that Adam and Eve sinned against God in the garden, it could be said that God’s missionary work began. It started when he pursued Adam and Eve in the garden and provided them with clothes to cover their shame, continued to a promise that through Abraham he would bless the nations, culminated in sending Jesus into the world and to the cross, and now sits with the church that has been tasked with making disciples of all nations. God’s commitment to his glory in all the earth is the foundation of our understanding and engaging of mission. What we must first realize and digest is that mission is God’s work and it is an ancient work. We must be certain that God is committed to accomplishing his purposes and he will bring it to completion!

I think that the enemy wants to make mission feel weighty to us. He wants us to feel burdened and overwhelmed by the task of making disciples of all nations. Are you familiar with this feeling? I once went on a short-term mission trip to Tokyo, Japan and while I was there I became overwhelmed with the reality that there were millions of people in this country that had never heard the gospel in their lives. As I tried to share my faith with people I remember thinking— there is no way I can lead these people to Christ…they believe in other gods and are clueless when I try and talk about Jesus. The truth of the matter was that I was right. There was no way I could do it. But God on the other hand, has promised from the beginning of time that he will accomplish his purpose of making disciples of all nations and he is doing it and will complete it (Ephesians 1:10)!

We must learn and believe that mission is not up to us. It is something that God has been doing throughout redemptive history and he is simply calling us into. Mission is more about our obedience as disciples than our production of disciples.  We must value missional obedience more than we value missional activity. This means that sometimes we will labor and see no fruit—but that is okay because God values our obedience. Other times we will immediately be thrown into a harvest—and we rejoice because we know that God has been doing something great and we got to share a small part in it. When we view mission as an ancient work of God, rather a new work of man, it isn’t burdensome or overwhelming to us. Instead, mission becomes about journeying with God, enjoying God, and joining God in his work to redeem and restore brokenness—and that is beautiful!

Some Questions to Consider

1. Do you feel overwhelmed or burdened when you think about living on mission? What is making you feel this way? Sin, lack of equipping, wrong perspective?

2. Does the task of making disciples in your neighborhood or city seem impossible to you? Do you need to repent of thinking it is your work(a new work) rather than the Spirit’s work(an ancient work)?

3. How does the truth that God is at work and has been at work in your city relieve you of missional stress and pressure? (Our job is to investigate where we can join HIM in what he is doing. A good missionary is a good investigator!)

4. What do you (or your MC) need to do in order to investigate where you can join God’s ancient work in your neighborhood/city? Do you need to spend time praying, listening, learning stories of people who live in your area? How are you going to do this?

5. Do you value obedience over production? What if God asks you to labor for 5 years in your neighborhood without any “results”— would you be okay with that?