Exponential 2012 – These are the People in Your Neighbourhood (Guest Post by Kristin)

This past April I had the joy of attending Exponential, an American church planting conference, alongside Ryan.  I say it was a joy for many reasons; three days together – just the adults, warm Florida weather, great vacation before heading back to work, and of course hearing from some of the legends of church planting.  I decided that if I was going to invest 3 days at this conference I needed to jump in with both feet, and look for workshops that would teach and challenge me.  One such workshop did just that.  Ryan asked me if I would write about it and be his first guest blogger!

The workshop title was “The Good Hood: Major on the Majors by Loving Your Neighbours”.  The description grabbed me right away; challenging us as the church that if we can only be good at one thing, it better be the most important thing to God.  Brian Mavis, Externally Focused Director of Life Bridge Christian Church in Colorado, proposed that would be to live the Great Commandment in everyday ways, in our own neighbourhoods.

As Ryan and I prepare to move into a new neighbourhood, to plant a church for busy commuting families in the suburbs of Toronto, this workshop sounded like the perfect topic for me.  While Ryan seems to have a plan all mapped out, I haven’t had the same exposure to church planting literature and theory, so I was eager to be schooled.  While I was expecting to sit through a 45 minute to an hour lecture/sermon on why being a good neighbor is consistent with Jesus’ teaching, what I got was a humiliating exercise with a simple take away message.

Brian had us make a tic-tac-toe board on a sheet of paper.  In the center we wrote our own name.  The eight surrounding boxes were for each of our closest eight neighbours.  He had us write their names.  OK no problem, I can do that, there’s Paul and Mary beside us; Chris and Jennifer two doors down; Alex and…..um, shoot, what’s her name behind us; the old lady between us; and well you can see where this was going!  I managed to fill in at least one name in five boxes.  Not bad, I thought, Toronto is a busy city…we live on a busy street…We just don’t have anything in common with our neighbours…the excuses started to formulate in my head.  Then we were asked to add in each box something about our neighbours; something we learned from them personally, something that was part of their life story.  Um, OK, I know Paul goes to Czechoslovakia every summer, and that Mary likes to cook; Chris works at a University, and Alex likes to have loud parties.  Yikes…that wasn’t too good, I thought, as I started to hide my paper under my arm so that the lady beside me didn’t see how badly I was doing at this exercise.   Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, Brian asked us to add our neighbours’ hopes and dreams in each box!  Hopes and dreams, oh man, I have barely talked to these people let alone get personal enough for them to share with me their hopes and dreams!  I was officially ashamed.

The “Sheet of Shame” was the name of this exercise, and boy did it work!  While the majority of the room was unable to write any hopes or dreams for their neighbours, they didn’t fare any better than me.  While that was shamefully redeeming, the point didn’t even need to be spoken.  GET TO KNOW YOUR NEIGHBOURS!  What kind of blessings could we bring to the people living next door to us, if we just knew what they needed.

Brian offered a pattern to follow as we go out into our communities and start to make a change in small and significant ways.

1)       OBEY:  God has commanded us to go and share the Good News.  Now more than ever, our communities are filled with people who have little to no church experience, and who have never heard of Jesus.  The change starts with a willingness, a conviction, to share life with those closest to us.

2)      PRAY:  Don’t talk to your neighbours about God before you have talked to God about your neighbours.

3)      PLAY:  Be active and visible in your community.  Talk to your neighbours, don’t just wave from across the street as you drive into your garage.  Use your kids.  Invite people over for dinner.

4)      STAY:  Invest in your community, if this is where God has called you.  Plan to stay in your house for sometime.  Stay at home on the weekends, instead of rushing to get out of town.  Never go to Home Depot – ask around, every neighbourhood has that guy with a garage loaded with tools.  Sometimes this means staying around Sunday mornings, to understand what other do, and find a different time to worship.

5)      SAY:  When the time is right and the opportunity presents itself, share the good news of Jesus Christ.

I left this workshop energized and excited to meet up with Ryan again and share what I had learned.  While some may say this sounds contrived, I like to think of this as a renewal of social norms.  Nowadays, Facebook, Twitter and social media tends to take the forefront in our social interactions with others, and while they have their place, they are no substitute for face to face community.  I am ready, for our move and new community; and ready to be the best neighbour my neighbours have ever had!

I hope you’ll learn the same, if you try the Sheet of Shame.  How did you fare?

Photo Credit: Rachel via Compfight