I heard a story the other day about a man who had written off a church in his city.
“I live a few houses down from that pastor, and I can’t even get the guy to have a conversation with me,” he said as his explanation to why he wouldn’t attend the church.
His comment has rolled around in my head for some time because, in it, I heard his cry for a relationship. And, it intrigued me that when going to church was mentioned to this man, his first expectation was actually relationship; when basic elements of a relationship weren’t met, he lost trust in church in general and backed away.
And what do we make of that, fellow Christians?
Does it help to better our sound system or dig deeper theologically or pave the parking lot if none of that translates into a type of living that reflects Jesus to our neighbors?
I wonder if we Christians don’t miss the forest for the trees when we labor over certain passages, meet in small groups over them, research the words in their original languages – only to discover that when Jesus said love your neighbor, He meant love your neighbor.
Let’s not miss the obvious truth that we should be friendly, relational folks who, at the minimum, have conversations and friendships with our neighbors. Let’s not analyze the simplicity out of the call to love – to love neighbors and strangers and immigrants and refugees and children and families, as many and as much as we can.
Building relational bridges means being a good neighbor, one who chooses to engage and share life with a variety of people.
Because bridge-builders understand that community has been God’s idea from the beginning and when we seek to build it, we align ourselves with His divine work. Community allows people to experience being Loved, and community points people to Jesus.
A church gathering that lacks community is like an empty gallon of milk; it has the appearance of milk, but nothing can be poured out for anyone’s growth or nourishment or sustenance. It’s not really milk at all. Likewise, church without community is not church at all; it’s a wonderful conference, a beautiful show, a positive message, excellent teaching, or a nice atmosphere – but it’s not, in its truest sense, a church family of God-honoring relationships with one another and with God through Jesus. It may look like a church building, and it may do a church service – but it’s not church family that feeds souls and welcomes the lonely and praises Jesus together and weeps together and rejoices together and challenges one another and prays over one another and ministers to one another.
To be fair, most churches do a good job of “getting people plugged in” or “getting people connected” after newcomers show up for a service. But what about the individuals, like Jay and me, who were too broken and burned by religion to show up on our own? Bridge-builders know that the journey into a church family, maybe even into God’s family, is not as easy as just checking the church’s service time and driving on over to “join the fellowship.” That journey needs to be traveled with a companion, a good neighbor – one who is dedicated to a relationship, not an agenda.
And so I ask us all, as we represent a variety of churches across states: how many people in your church walked into the building and your church family with little to no prior commitment to church life and/or Jesus? Children of church-going types are willing to risk some awkward moments at a new church, and they likely make up the base of newcomers in any congregation. But what about the outsiders, strangers, the ones without an obligation to find “a good church home,” the ones wounded and wandering away from organized religion?
In other words, what about people like Jay and me? Because we never would’ve stepped into that church 10 years ago without a relationship first. Friends, maybe there are some folks like us in your community, in your neighborhood. How might God work through you to engage them?
My guess is it will take being a good neighbor and building some relational bridges.
Write me! We represent churches across many states, and I’d love to know your thoughts and hear about your church families. Are you seeing new people who’ve walked into your church building and your church family with little to no prior commitment to church life and/or Jesus? If not/if so, why do you think that’s the case?
Here are 10 short – but never simple – ideas for loving the people around you. Each one begs for surrender and intentional focus. And, while relationships can never be about a numbered list, maybe the words below can cause us to think critically and prayerfully about loving well.
Pray for people. Ask God for love for your neighbors.
Research your neighborhood and community. Who lives on your block? In your community?
Mentor others and be a student of others. Engage in people’s lives. After all, disciples make disciples make disciples.
Intentionally make new friends often – people outside your culture/subculture and socioeconomic status, just for the sake of being friends.
Appreciate another culture’s contributions. Listen to music in another language. Eat new foods. Watch international movies. Choose to enjoy, not compare.
Examine your attitude. Be grateful rather than resentful for the way God has brought the nations to the country in which you live.
Embrace children and invest in the lives of a young person, or two. Love kids because Jesus loved them.
Choose purpose-filled everyday living over scheduled programs. Be available to people and be relational as you go about your average day.
Preserve the dignity of others by empowerment rather than just aid. Value individuals and their God-given potential.
Give. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
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This month’s series is on being a bridge-builder. In short, it’s about how to be like certain individuals who let God show up in their words and deeds and forever changed our little family. But, it’s not a series about our story; it’s as series about how Redemption made our story useful, even valuable, in a greater story.
If Jay and I know anything about being a bridge-builder, it’s because we were the ones stuck on an island. If we understand anything about the power of meeting people where they are and standing in the gap, it’s because that’s how we were rescued – by God, through average people.