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Learning the art of neighbouring
The Greatest Commandments
For those of us that know Scripture you will know the Greatest commandments in Mark 12: 30 -31 it says that we are to love God with our heart soul, mind and strength. After this it says that the second greatest command is to love your neighbour as yourself.
This is the kind of verse that those of faith and none tend to know. It is one that is so well known that it falls from the tongue. Have you ever thought what that looks like?
We live in a world of changing and challenging times. I live in the UK and we are facing challenges on our streets with terrorist threats and attacks. We face political challenges of Brexit and Independence for Scotland, all of these things cause friction, tension and fear.
Often when this happens division is created and we have seen a rise in barriers going up on every side as people opt for their stance and then put their defences up.
Sometimes the sides begin to berate each other.
How do we then align that with what the Word of God says?
A few years ago I read the book "The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door" by Jay Pathak.
This book is one that will challenge your thinking. How many neighbours do you really know? Is it just a name...do you know where they work or do you know what troubles them. It also challenges the way we sometimes do outreach. Are you happy just to hang out with someone or sweep their drive when you are doing yours. Or are you even making a judgement in your head that they really need to tidy things up every time you pass it.... not realising that they are ill and would welcome someone being kind.
Sometimes as Christians we stick with who we know and people of faith (not me I have to say.) The problem with that is that without even meaning to we actually get to the position where we have no non Christian friends and soon that thought of evangelism becomes a very scary prospect.
We have all probably at some point been invited to an event that has a casual nature and then a "God spot" at the end. There is nothing wrong with this as such but why do we do that? Is it because we feel duty bound?
What is wrong with having a coffee and connecting, share thoughts and interact. After all is that not what was done in ancient times?
I have many friends I love and respect without necessarily agreeing with them on every viewpoint.
Meeting people without an agenda or ulterior motive.
We live in a world that likes courses, programmes, statistics and measurable goals.
I hate to tell you that God does not always works like that.
He is a kind, compassionate God and there is no perfect formula on how long it takes for someone to know God. Indeed if you think you are there with that, I would suggest that there is more to learn.
There is no point in being smart on a Sunday and then being a ruthless boss Monday to Saturday. If people know you are a Christian and that kind of behaviour then you become a bad example to people.
We have all probably heard someone say "Well if that is Christianity, I don't want to know"
So who is my neighbour?
That is the question. It could well be the physical neighbour, the guy next door.. It could be that lady that sits alone in her lunch break. Or the mum you meet at the park or the playground.
Within the last few years my team has been adopting this neighbouring approach to mission.
This change of focus for our team began when we realised a few things.
First, we are a team of 3. We don't have the capacity to do what a church organisation does.
Secondly, there is no point in running an Alpha course in competition to those that are running. Even if we ran one, we would still have to link with a church at the end in order to have continued discipleship and relationship, so why not do that from the start and send people to a church based course.
Thirdly, some people start from a point that walking into a church is a big intimidating prospect, so we want to start from where people are.
Some people don't get it, they see it as something that lacks focus and structure.
Christians do like their programme events after all.
Some people see it as a bit woolly. It is however natural and intentional. Making time to meet with someone, to get to know them and see how they tick takes time and commitment.
Entering into honest, genuine dialogue, grappling with the hard stuff, showing care and love with no agenda... laughing at good times, crying in hard times and taking food to the door when people could do with that kind of break.
I lost my mum last year and we had a few weeks of hospital trips and such and knowing my neighbours were bringing casseroles for me to bung in the oven so that I did not have to cook was to me a way to show their love and concern. Or the offers of help to watch my kids in case I was not at the school run.
Those things would not happen if I had not made friends and just shut my door to people. They have seen me vulnerable and know I do not consider myself above anyone.
I shoot from the hip and say honestly the church is not perfect. It is people just like anyone else - and people get things wrong and fail. Call me a rough diamond if you like because there is still a lot of honing to do.
In some ways it is so simple. Be yourself and have no agenda and be a Christian influence in all the spheres that you live and work in.