Thanks for following along as we continue to discuss the principles outlined in Making Neighborhoods Whole (2013) by Wayne Gordon and John Perkins. The sixth principle in our series of Christian Community Development is being church-based. In a society full of nonprofits, government agencies, and other community programs, it can be difficult for churches to figure out exactly where they fit in the puzzle of community transformation. The Christian Community Development Association recognizes that “the church, followers of Christ gathered as a community, is God’s chosen change agent” (120). The church is not just one piece of the puzzle in community development, it is the very framework, coming together to give structure, reference, and unity to all of the other pieces. God has uniquely designed the church to be a vehicle of His transformation in our communities.
Throughout scripture, particularly in the book of Acts, we catch a glimpse of how the church is divinely positioned to be a central hub for caring community and discipleship. In this close-knit community, there was radical sharing as believers sold their own possessions and collaboratively cared for one another. Needs were met, unity was established, and the body of believers continued to grow (Acts 2:42-47). Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, many of us have forgotten this transformative example and Jesus’ command to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:39). We have relegated our responsibilities to outside entities. The government is now expected to find caring families for children in our community, nonprofits are supposed to feed our hungry neighbors, and supporting and advocating for our local schools is often left to elected officials. Gordon and Perkins state, “People don’t feel a responsibility to the community they’re in, and consequently churches wind up being commuter-friendly rather than community-friendly (124).” If churches are unaware and uninvolved with the needs of the community around them, they can quickly become bad neighbors.
At some point in time, you have probably encountered a bad neighbor. The one who is hardly ever seen, except quickly leaving from the driveway. They have no idea that the neighbor two houses down welcomed a new baby and they were nowhere to be found when the block came together to help care for Ms. Johnson’s yard after she broke her hip. The kids toting fundraisers always skip over their door because it won’t be answered, and rumors circulate regarding what the interior looks like because no one has been invited inside. Hopefully you didn’t just come to the realization that you are in fact a bad neighbor (there is still time to change Ebenezer). What about your church? Have our churches become places where the community simply sees cars come and go? If so, we need to reclaim our responsibility for our communities (123). We have to start living like a good neighbor.
Reclaiming our responsibility involves getting to know our community. Like a good neighbor, we need to know who lives there, what needs are present, what gifts and talents neighbors hold, and how we can best support each other. Churches offer a unique ability to promote unity, engage in empowering relationships, and of course provide spiritual direction. “As a microcosm of God’s kingdom, the church welcomes everyone-people of all ethnicities, rich and poor, strong and weak, powerful and powerless (126).” The church is perfectly designed to be the epicenter of true community development. Through intentional relationships, it can seek to create a culture of caring community that supports all people through all stages of life by coming together to mutually meet each other’s needs, whether someone is needing help finding a job or looking for further discipleship (124). Instead of zipping in and out of the driveway, let’s do more front porch sitting and take responsibility for our communities. Let’s live like a good neighbor!