Love God and love your neighbors. In the Great Commandment, Jesus boiled 613 commands down to these two. He went on to say, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:34-40, NIV). In other words, if Jesus’ followers do anything, they should focus on these two things. The Neighboring Life focuses on the second commandment in order to follow the first one.
Who is My Neighbor?
The act of taking time to learn a neighbor’s name demonstrates obedience to Jesus’ command. Once a believer knows their neighbor’s name, then they can pray for their neighbor. Pray for their lives, their families, their jobs, and even an opportunity to get to know them better.
Neighboring is also serving next door neighbors. By offering a helping hand, often the next step is offering a listening ear. “We love our neighbors because we are Christians, not because we are trying to make them Christians,” says Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis, co-authors of The Neighboring Church. “We need to stop hijacking the endgame with other things. It happens so subtly. We love our neighbors so they will go to church. We love our neighbors so they will join our small group…Those motives turn people to be loved into projects to be directed…People will know when they are a project.”
The Neighboring Life is the creation of Rick Rusaw, Brian Mavis, and the team at LifeBridge Christian Church, Longmont, CO. Built on the foundation of The Externally-Focused Church, co-authored by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson (Group Publishing 2004), LifeBridge along with many other churches, has sought to transition ministry from missional, community-wide, Service Day approaches to a more granular form of ministry. Rather than donning matching t-shirts, serving for one day, and making local headlines, The Neighboring Life is a daily, personal experience with one’s neighbors. More importantly, it adds the relationship component to serving.
“The bridge between being missional and incarnational is relationship,” according to Scott Campbell, The Ascent Church, Colorado Springs, CO. “You can be missional without being relational. You can’t be incarnational without relationship: ‘love neighbors as you love yourself.’”
“For years [LifeBridge Church] had been getting into the stream of our community to serve. A city employee asked if we would take care of a woman’s yard for her. I said I would look at the situation and get back to her,” said Brian Mavis. “As I was driving up, I spotted the house from blocks away. They weren’t exaggerating. The grass was almost as tall as I was. I knocked on the door and a woman in her young thirties answered. Standing next to her was a little girl. I learned that this woman had recently survived stage-four cancer, and she was taking care of the nine-year-old girl, who was in foster care. This woman was tearful and embarrassed about her yard, but she said her health prevented her from trying to take care of it.
“My heart broke for her, and I was happy that our church was going to help her. I gathered a dozen people and they brought their own equipment. A few hours later we had the yard looking almost as good as new. We came back the next week to put down some mulch. We prayed for the homeowner, and we felt great about what we had done. I was proud of our people, and I was glad the city knew they could call us and count on us to take care of it.
“Over the next year, I called the woman a couple of times to see how she was doing. After the second call, while I was silently congratulating myself, the Holy Spirit said, ‘This is nothing to be proud of. This should never have even happened.’ I immediately knew the full meaning of this gentle rebuke by God. The woman’s grass should never have grown more than six inches tall.”
What should have been done differently? “First,” said Mavis, “I wouldn’t just ask a dozen people from our church. Instead, I would look to see who lived near her. We have several families within a couple blocks of her house. I would’ve called them and asked them to help me help their neighbor. Then I thought I would go one better. I would ask them to help me, but I would also ask them to knock on their neighbors’ doors, no matter if they were Christian or not, and invite them to join in helping this woman…If the church had done a better job of helping our people learn to love their neighbors, then I never would’ve received a phone call from the city in the first place…For years our church was serving the community, but were we loving our neighbors?”
A dilapidated house or an unkempt yard are easily recognizable signs of a family in crisis. But, not all needs are revealed from the curb. Needs are revealed as neighbors are known. Since neighboring is not a program and neighbors aren’t projects, the focus on neighboring is more of a spiritual discipline than a ministry initiative. Neighboring is moving life from the backyard to the front yard. It’s taking time for a neighbor when they are outside. The heart of neighboring is putting others ahead of oneself.
Neighboring requires no special talent. Anyone can be a neighbor. Neighboring does require a shift in thinking for pastoral leadership. Emphasis is given on scattering equal to the emphasis on gathering. This is not to discount the value of gathering, but to balance receiving and giving.
Stay, Pray, Play, and Say
Neighboring almost seems to harken back to years gone by when neighbors knew everyone and helped each other. It was the norm. Today, the norm is cellphones, garage door openers, and quiet streets in neighborhoods. Neighboring requires intentional effort.
The practices of neighboring are simple, yet significant. They can be summoned up in four words: Stay, Pray, Play, and Say. Stay means being available to get to know one’s neighbors. It’s stopping to talk to a neighbor instead of hitting the garage door button. Maybe it means sitting on the front porch instead of the back porch. Pray means praying for neighbors. Praying for both neighbors who are known and those who are unknown. Praying for opportunities to connect and serve. Play is offering hospitality to neighbors from dinner invitations to backyard barbecues to small scale events. The fourth word is say. When the opportunity arises, Christian neighbors are prepared to share Christ with their fellow neighbors. This isn’t the completion of the “project.” This is the start of a new journey.
Once pastors and staff have some experience with neighboring, the entire church can be engaged with The Neighboring Life study and companion video used as a church-wide campaign, group study, or individual study. These resources are available at TheNeighboringLife.com.
Jacob & Mary Alice: An Unlikely Pair
Ever since his wife’s death, 80-year-old Jacob called his neighbor, Mary Alice, regularly. Somehow Mary Alice had broken the ice with this self-proclaimed “crotchety old Jewish man who doesn’t make friends easily.” The two were quite a pair in the neighborhood: a mom of two teenagers chatting the ear off the grumpy old man.
When Jacob’s number came up on caller ID, she answered it, but on this evening, when she picked up the phone Jacob wasn’t talking but she could hear difficulty in his breathing. Rushing over to his house, she found Jacob at the bottom of the stairs and quickly called 911. The paramedic in the ambulance, the emergency room receptionist, the technicians drawing blood, and the doctor all asked her, “Are you his daughter?”
“No, I am just his neighbor” she answered every time, as she kept Jacob calm and answered their questions about his past medical history. As Mary Alice left the emergency room after Jacob was fully stabilized, the doctor asked her with a smile, “Will you be MY neighbor?”
Neighboring requires no special talent. There are no scripts or methods to follow. The heart of neighboring is taking an interest in one’s neighbors. Pastors can start their own neighboring movements by encouraging their members to take a few minutes to talk to their neighbors when they see them outside. This might be an introduction to a new neighbor or a bit of an apology for living next door for so long and having never met. This shouldn’t be embarrassing. It should be a start.
As churches embrace neighboring, any step toward a neighbor: a conversation, a meal, a prayer, or an act of service should be celebrated. What pastors tell stories about will cast vision to their congregations.
If pastors are ready to get serious about neighboring, then some tough questions must be answered – How can you be the best church for your community rather than just the best church in your community? What if you got better at the two things Jesus said mattered the most – loving God and loving your neighbor? How can the church put equal energy into scattering into the community as they do gathering for weekend worship services?
If your members move out of their neighborhoods, would they be missed?
How do you make a disciple? If you don’t know how, you may be living in disobedience.
Jesus in the Great Commission told us, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, NIV).
This is one of those passages we’ve read so often that we don’t really think about it anymore. It’s become, “Yada, yada, yada” to us. Let’s pause for a minute to answer our question about how to make disciples.
If we share the Gospel with someone, and they pray to receive Christ (or whatever vernacular your theological tradition dictates), have you made a disciple or a convert? Are they the same thing? It seems that a disciple must be a convert, but could a convert not be a disciple? Let’s look at the “recipe” for making disciples.
Baptism is in there. Whether you dunk, sprinkle, or pour is determined, again, by your theological tradition. Get them wet. Step one.
Now, here’s the kicker, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Notice the wording here. Jesus did not say, “teaching them…everything I have commanded you.” He said, “teaching them to obey.” That just upped the ante. Just teaching them doesn’t guarantee obedience.
When I studied Christian Education in seminary, we learned a lot about outcomes. Do we want the student to have a change in knowledge, attitude, or behavior? The default tends to aim us toward a change in knowledge. It’s easy to portion. It’s easy to measure.
How many verses have you memorized? How many chapters have you read? Do you read through the Bible every year? How many classes did you attend? We can measure these things. But, if this is the sum of our disciplemaking, then we are either assuming what we are teaching is sinking in, or we are offering a placebo for making disciples.
As D.L. Moody once said, “The Bible was not given for our information, but for our transformation.” Why? The Bible tells us, “Knowledge puffs up, while love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). If the end result of our Bible studies and classes is a group of people who are proud of their biblical knowledge, then we have missed the mark. Unless we have to win “Bible Jeopardy” to enter the pearly gates, what good is more information doing for anyone? After all, some students of the Bible are not longing for transformation, they are Bible connoisseurs searching for something new to learn.
Howard Hendricks took things a little further when he stated, “In the spiritual realm, the opposite of ignorance is not knowledge, it’s obedience.” Now, we go back to the words of Jesus, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Discipleship is more than “book learnin’.”
A disciple is more than just a brain. Sometimes we learn to obey when we serve. Other times we learn to obey by processing strong emotions. When was the last time you poured high voltage chemicals into a low voltage situation? Why did you react that way? Did it trigger something? Did you slow down long enough to process it?
I’m not against education. I do have a few problems with how we make disciples. As a whole being, we worship and love God with our whole selves. Why can’t we learn to obey that way as well?
In looking at effective discipleship methods, I have found something new that’s actually very old. Mizizi was brought over from Kenya by Kenton Beeshore and Mariners Church in California. Known in English as “Rooted,” it focuses on experiential learning. There are large group experiences, small group experiences, daily reflection, and dedicated times of prayer, serving, and celebration. The ideas practiced in Rooted go back to the First Century church, the Moravians, the Celtics, and the early Wesleyans. Rooted is a non-Western approach at making disciples, and it’s working.
Mariners Church has seen 90 percent of their Rooted participants continue in on-going Life Groups. They are also serving more (70%) and have increased their generosity (82%). But, beyond statistics, the personal stories of life change are remarkable. There is something to the rhythms of a variety of experiences in making disciples and teaching them to obey.
Making disciples could never be summed up in one blog post, not even close. There will be more. I hope you would leave a few thoughts of your own in the comments. Please understand often the way I state things is to provoke people to think, including myself. If I’ve provoked you, please let me know.
Pastor Kenton Beshore and Mariners Church started something six years ago that intrigues me.
I’m more than a little leery when a ministry presents a new strategy which they claim is the best thing since sliced bread. (I also wonder what the best thing was before sliced bread). I’ve been in ministry for a long time. I preached my first sermon 34 years ago. I’ve been part of the small group movement for the last 20 years. It’s not that I’m old — I’m only 51 and I have a two year old — I was called to ministry early in life.
There have been so many faddish things over the years. Some of them produced temporary results. Some produced no results. Just a few produced lasting results. I’m talking everything from the launch of bus ministry to the introduction of praise music to the comfort of seeker services to the impact of church-wide campaigns. Each one of those basically claimed their own decade from the 1970’s on.
People were saved. Churches grew. Impact was made. But, then they disappeared. Some strategies and ministry ideas had a much shorter shelf-life.
So, now that you understand my jaded, skeptical point of view, you can certainly understand why I very rarely endorse anything. I want to see how it plays out. Is this just the next new shiny thing that we pastors tend to chase after? Is this an attempt to copycat what’s working somewhere else in hopes it will work here? Then, I get real honest — is somebody just out to make a buck?
My Introduction to the Rooted Experience.
About nine months ago, Caleb Anderson, Lead Pastor of Mariners Church, Huntington Beach, CA, introduced me to Rooted. I was blown away. It’s not a program. It’s not merely a curriculum. It’s a catalyst that produces dramatic transformation. He had my attention, but I did go to school in Missouri, so he needed to show me.
Then, I began to hear story after story of transformed lives. People coming to Christ. Marriages saved. Addictions forsaken. Bodies and minds completely healed. Lives and finances surrendered to God. But, here’s the most intriguing thing — all of this was happening over a 10 week experience. Now, I really had to see this to believe it.
I was part of the Rooted Training in November of last year and met churches of many denominations, sizes, and locations who were telling similar stories. I’ve spent the last month on the phone with pastors from across the country talking about how lives are transformed, congregations are emboldened, and communities are impacted because of a simple 10 week experience in Rooted. My doubts were quickly erased.
What a Kenyan Church Taught Kenton Beshore about Discipleship
In partnership with a Kenyan church, Kenton Beshore was introduced to a non-Western, experiential learning process which was seeing dramatic transformations in Africa. Having exhausted many means of discipleship, assimilation, and church growth in the U.S., Kenton thought, “Why not bring Rooted (or Mizizi in Swahili) to Mariners?” The results have been remarkable.
After six years of leading the congregation of Mariners Church through Rooted, 90 percent of Rooted groups have gone on to become on-going Life Groups at Mariners Church with 90 percent of the group members continuing in the Life Groups. Rooted graduates have increased their giving by 82 percent and 70 percent have increased their serving. Now, imagine those kinds of results in your church.
Here’s the thing about Rooted, if you just perused the curriculum, you would probably find it fairly unremarkable in and of itself. In fact, at first glance it appears fairly uncomplicated, and yet those who have completed the 10 week Rooted journey have discovered the experience is bold, focused, and powerful. They have seen health in their members, their churches, and their ministries unlike what they’ve seen before.
Like I said, I am leery of new shiny things. But in Rooted, I have found something so remarkable and so special that I actually joined the Rooted Team for a season. And, I’m still a huge advocate.
If you’re a parent, most likely you joined the parenting ranks with good intentions and excitement. But then somewhere along the way, you lost your confidence. If this describes you — don’t worry — you’re not alone. Every parent struggles at some point because the truth is, parenting is difficult! After all, our children didn’t arrive wrapped in a how-to instruction manual.
So it makes sense that most of us wind up relying on something we refer to as Quick-Fix Parenting, which is exactly like what it sounds — a quick fix to a problem. It’s not necessarily a good fix or a healthy fix or an empowering fix, and it’s definitely not an effective long-term strategy.
At its foundation, Quick-Fix Parenting becomes about stopping your children’s behavior or the agony connected to it — which is often the your pain. It focuses on fixing your kid’s problem behavior, usually through verbal reprimands (often out of anger or frustration), negative instruction, and discipline for the sake of compliance.
But using these quick fixes to solve problems does not help kids grow up to become healthy and independent young adults.
So why do we resort to Quick-Fix Parenting?
Most parents embrace Quick-Fix Parenting for the following reasons:
• Their parents modeled it, and that’s all they know.
• It’s easier, more convenient, and relies on impulse rather than intellect.
• It can be effective in stopping and correcting a child’s behavior in the moment to quench potential conflict.
So, how about you – do you frequently find yourself using Quick-Fix Parenting? If you do, that’s okay for now. Most parents start here… but we don’t want you to stay here. Instead, we’d like to suggest that there’s a better way to navigate through the parenting landlines we all face with an intentional approach.
In contrast to Quick-Fix Parenting, which is reactive and spontaneous, Intentional Parenting is about having a long-term plan for how you want to parent your kids.
All of us have dreams for our kids. And caring parents passionately want their kids to become a certain type of person — one that’s prepared and well equipped to succeed in life. But they won’t actually become that person unless we as parents first define what we want them to be like.
To be an intentional parent, we would encourage you to make a plan for your children by beginning with the end in mind. Think about what types of qualities and values that you want you children to have by the time they get out of the house. Then, write them down.
These qualities should be based on inner values and not outer performance (i.e. grades, athletics, popularity, etc.). For instance, we decided that we wanted our kids to possess the “5 C’s”: Confidence, Character, Convictions, Compassion, and Competence. Yours could be similar or completely different. What’s important is that you articulate the qualities you’d like for your child to embody.
Deciding which qualities you want to instill in your kids for life will inform everything that you do as a parent, whether it’s being a role model, creating a peaceful home, using encouraging words, or providing discipline. We can’t promise that being an intentional parent will always be easy, but if you keep the end in mind and ask God to guide you along the way, you are on your way to having a huge, positive impact on the life of your child.
Doug and Cathy Fields
Doug & Cathy Fields have been married over 30 years and have three grown children. Their primary passion and joy have been family, but along the way they spent their years helping others — especially young people. They have worked at both Mariners and Saddleback Church in Southern California for three decades as youth, family, and teaching pastors. Doug is an author of more than 60 books, consultant, co-founder of Downloadyouthministry.com, and he the Senior Director of the HomeWord Center for Youth & Family at Azusa Pacific University.
Cathy and Doug speak together on marriage and parenting and have more information available at www.DougFields.com. For more information on Intentional Parenting pilot: allenwhite.org/ip-pilot
Life change happens in small groups. If we ask ourselves and our groups the right questions, we can create environments for transformation.
If you lead a small group, one of your goals might be to help those in your group grow spiritually–transformed spiritually, even. As leaders,
we want to take people on a journey of transformation. But in order to do that, we ourselves must be on the journey.
After all, the Bible tells us that transformation should happen as a result of our encounter with Christ. Like vinegar on baking soda in a kid’s science experiment, our bland lives should bubble up when the Spirit is poured out on us. But in order for that to happen, we need to create an environment where there is space for God’s Spirit to come in.
Two verses about transformation:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)
I spoke recently to a gathering of small group leaders at Christ Community Church in St. Charles. What an eager and receptive group of women, who are prevailing against the gates of hell by simply gathering women into groups and loving them toward a new life in Christ. I was impressed by their love and commitment. We talked about how our lives, our circumstances form us–they cause us to be formed. Sometimes our lives are shaped by love, other times by shame. Often, it’s a bit of both.Every situation, every challenge, all the voices that spoke into our lives, whether positive or negative, have formed our spirits, molded our souls.
As Dallas Willard wrote in Renovation of the Heart (a book which has, indeed, formed me in so many ways):
“Spiritual formation, without regard to any specifically religious context or tradition, is the process by which the human spirit or will is given a definite form or character. It is a process that happens to everyone. The most despicable as well as the most admirable of persons have had a spiritual formation. Terrorists as well as saints are the outcome of a spiritual formation. Their spirits or hearts have been formed. Period.”
In small groups, we lead people who have been formed, for better or worse. Their families (of origin and of right now) have formed them. Their traumas and their triumphs. Every incident and casual word influences, shapes.
What about when it comes to Christian spiritual formation. And how do we facilitate that in our groups? Willard goes on to write:
“We can say, in a preliminary manner, that spiritual formation for the Christian basically refers tot the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself…Christian spiritual formation is focused entirely on Jesus. Its goal is an obedience or conformity to Christ that arises out of an inner transformation accomplished through purposive interaction with the grace of God in Christ.”
Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart
As I led these small group leaders through a discussion of how to create environments for transformation, I reminded them first that growth–given the right conditions. Happens. For example, my children, when first born, were tiny. I fed them, kept them warm and fed. I loved on them, guided them. And they grew. I didn’t “mak
e” them grow, but I tried to provide an environment conducive to growth. As a result, my son who was 21 inches long when he was born is now 6’4″. I can’t take the credit–God did that. But I did provide the right conditions for growth to occur.
To talk about how we can help our small group members to grow, I asked leaders to grapple with four questions:
I believe it is when they fully embrace and own the fact that they are deeply loved. Being deeply loved changes everything.
1. What motivates people to be transformed?
The Holy Spirit is ultimately the one who changes us. So in many ways, the pressure’s off. But we need to create the right environment for growth and change.
Ironically, when people know they are loved just as they are, they are more motivated to change.
2. Do we expect transformation?
Are we clear that change is the goal? How do we communicate that? Is transformation “normal” in your group? How often do you cast a vision that reminds people God loves them as they are, but loves them too much to leave them there?
3. Do we model transformation?
How are you, as a leader, changing and growing? Do you share your victories and your setbacks with small group members, reminding them that your goal is to be formed into the image of Christ?
If you find yourself stalled out, look at the pace of your life. The biggest barrier to spiritual growth is hurry. Slowing down will allow you to model spiritual transformation.
4. Do we celebrate transformation?
One of our most important jobs as small group leaders is naming what we see in people’s lives: noticing and affirming both steps of growth and obvious struggles, and walking with them through both. Celebrate transformation by telling people what you see, where you notice God working in their lives.
One way we can celebrate transformation is to make a regular practice of Gratitude in our groups. And that gratitude not only celebrates transformation, it facilitates it. Grateful people experience God and they grow closer to Him. If you lead a small group, your mission is to help people to be attuned to the work of God in their own lives. What better way than to celebrate this regularly?
Our lives and souls are going to be formed, whether we are deliberate about it or not. Why not help your small group to be formed into the image of Christ, to find the freedom that the Spirit wants to give them?
PLEASE COMMENT: Are you a small group leader? Or in a small group? How has the group helped you to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”? What questions does this post raise for you?