By Raymond Johnson
Right before I take the left turn onto my street, I say a quick prayer. I pray because I know that patience will be required as it takes several minutes to get inside my house from the car. It’s not the distance; the door is only about twenty feet from the car to the house door. Its the fact that I anticipate the greeting of sidewalk-chalked kids, the neighborhood basketball game taking place in my driveway—which blocks my parking and walking—the “unintentional” blast from the garden hose from my neighbor’s son who chooses to drink from it rather than ask for a glass of water, the dispute I must officiate between the kids who won’t share the tee ball set, and so much more.
So, I pregame.
I ask for grace to teach my family how to love our neighborhood at the end of a long day even when I’d rather close shop and relax.
Meghan and I have made a conscious commitment to lead our family to invest in our neighborhood for the sake of the gospel by caring for the general wellbeing of the families who live nearby. Our vision is to be a light to those who are darkness (Eph 5:7-15). But, this vision is tricky, because we live in a diverse neighborhood comprised of multiple socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities, and generations. Some of our neighbors have vibrant marriages, some of the kids come from broken homes, some of the adults are in the latter years of their life, and some of the kids are teetering on the edge of destruction as they flirt with temptations from peers.
Our vision, then, requires investment irrespective of payoff, and it requires creativity in our execution. Our goal then becomes not merely to boost our church’s attendance (though we certainly invite people to come with us). Rather, it is to model for our children what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39) so our neighbors may give glory to our Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:16). We love our neighbors (Mark 12:29-31) so that we can proclaim the gospel to our neighbors (Rom 10:17) in hopes that God may grant our neighbors “repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2Tim 2:25).
How to Love Your Neighbor During the Second Shift
The reality, however, is that a significant majority of the people in our neighborhoods are non-Christians. Yet, they long to be loved and to know that they have intrinsic worth as those created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). Our goal, then, is to create a culture in our home where we are missionally focused in the daily rhythms of our life so that by loving our neighbors they may come to know the love of God in Christ. Here are some practical principles we have adopted in order to create opportunities to love our neighbor as ourselves for the sake of the gospel:
1) We invest monetarily in our neighborhood. As a family, we recognize that reaching our neighbors will not only cost us time, but it will cost us some of our financial resources. Because our kids are still very young, we realized that there were very few toys we had for older children that the neighborhood families could play with. So, we purchased a basketball goal. Aside from officiating the Final Four in my backyard three days a week, we have communicated to neighborhood parents and children that they are always welcome to play on our basketball goal because we purchased it for the neighborhood. There will always be a ball outside for them, even if we’re not home.
Sometimes, my wife buys popsicles by the hundreds and, occasionally, cookie mix so that we have something with which to welcome neighborhood kids. Other times, we host families or kids for dinner. Through all of this, we just keep business as usual. If we’re doing a family devotion, we gather all the kids around; if we’re disciplining our children, the parents observe that we teach our kids to apologize for offenses committed. Monetary investment has enabled us to make our home a safe place for unbelievers in our neighborhood to belong before they belong to the faith-family of Jesus Christ.
2) We invest relationally in our neighborhood. As parents, we desire to model for our children how to develop relationships with non-believers in our neighborhood. We want them to observe interactions with those who do not share our Christian worldview. So, on a regular basis, we seek opportunities that will enable us to naturally mingle with our neighbors over cookies, coffee, desserts, fruit and laughter. These non-threating settings allow us to cultivate unforced interaction with our neighbors that often leads to genuine relationships in which we can clearly communicate the gospel. Other times, I ask neighbors to assist me with yard work tasks, even if I don’t need their help, simply to have a natural way to segue into a gospel conversation. On other occasions, I schedule times to play games with the kids in the neighborhood. This has connected us to families, not just neighborhood children.
3) We invest prayerfully into our neighborhood. Often, after dinner we take a family walk around the block. While walking, we frequently pray for the neighborhood. Other times, however, when we pray for dinner we pray for neighborhood families. We quickly point to one or more homes from the table so our kids know for whom we are praying. And, still other times, I simply ask neighbors how we can pray for them during our family devotion.
As a family, our vision is to serve our neighborhood. We want to foster organic fellowship bent toward gospel sharing. Fellowship forged while doing life together typically proves to be some of the most fruitful. Sometimes this fellowship slows us down and clutters our yard. In all of this, we are not creating programs. Rather, we are just inviting neighborhood families to observe our Christian lives. It’s simply business as usual. Our desire during the most important shift is to begin reaching the nations by reaching our neighbors across the street.
BIO: Raymond Johnson and his wife, Meghan, live in Louisville with their three daughters, Abigail, Charlotte, and Emily. He is a PhD student in New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is on the ministerial staff at Ninth & O Baptist Church and is the Assistant Director of Student & Alumni Services at Southern Seminary.
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