Well, it’s happening again - a new church is coming to Cleburne, Texas. I started seeing the signs posted everywhere and I even ran into a large group of people all with the same t-shirts on and out promoting the new congregation. I wish I could say that my most immediate reaction was a positive one, but it wasn't. In my flesh, my first reactions was, “Another church! Doesn't our town have enough of these already!” In truth, my heart was actually crying out, “I hope this new church doesn't take people away who might come to my church.” In other words, it wasn't that I wasn't actually upset that there was another church option for my town, it was that I was feeling threatened and fearful about what repercussions a new church might possibly have on the attendance of my church.
Some of you might think poorly of me for thinking such things, but it’s in addressing these wrong thoughts and feelings that has helped me realize a few important things that I think need to be brought out into the light.
I was recently given the book “The Art of Neighboring” by Jay Pathak & David Runyon. I’m still working my way through it, and I plan to share some sermons in the coming weeks over some of the things I’m leaning, but one thing is for certain - this book will cause anyone who reads it to fall under a great personal conviction. Let me share with you the brief intro to the book.
“What if the solution to our society’s biggest issues has been right under our noses for the past two thousand years? When Jesus was asked reduce everything in the Bible into one command he said: Love God with everything you have AND love your neighbor as yourself. What if he meant that we should love our actual neighbors? You know, the people who live right next door. The problem is that we have turned this simple idea into a nice saying. We put it on bumper stickers and T-shirts and go on with our lives without actually putting in into practice. But the fact is, Jesus has given us a practical plan that we can actually put into practice, a plan that has the potential to change the world. The reality is, though, that the majority of Christians don’t even know the name of most of their neighbors.”
Take a moment to think about this. If I asked you to tell the name of the people who lived in each house around you, could you? Honestly, I couldn't tell you all the names of those who lived around me. I’ve met most of neighbors at one time or another, but I can’t say that I really know them. Sure, there’s a courteous wave hello when we see each other in passing, and we might share a few words if time allows, but I have not involved myself in their lives or taken it upon me to see that they are saved and in a growing church family.
This brings me back to the thought that started all of this. Why in the world would I be threatened by a new church coming to town when on any given Sunday there’s only around 10,000 of the 135,000 people that live in my county attending a church? By those statistics, we need all the help we can get!!
My selfish heart has awakened a couple of much needed reminders for my life and I hope for all of us.
1. Instead of worrying about other churches are doing, I should be thinking about what I’m doing to get people into church. There’s a huge field of harvest awaiting before us and we can’t just sit idly by waiting for people to come to us! Christ told us to love our neighbor - so let’s start with our actual neighbors! Let’s get involved in their lives, take time to be there for them in times of need, and be ready with an invitation to hear and receive the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.
2. I must stop being afraid of those around me and welcome more workers to the field. I just spent a week on a retreat with fellow pastors, from various denominations, and one of the items we constantly discussed was learning how to trust and work with one another. These barriers are not easily broken down, but they must be shattered. Each church is going to reach a different group of people and we need to celebrate how God will use our differences to reach all kinds of people through the unifying message of salvation through Jesus Christ.
So to my brothers and sisters in Christ who are starting a new church, I say welcome! I hope that you will find success and that your are able to reach out and meet some people from the Lord. I won’t feel threatened by the work you are doing, but instead I will encourage you and pray for you. However, I want you to know that I’m making a new commitment to reach out to those around me. So, when you come walking down my street to meet new people, you’re going to encounter my neighbors who I will know by name and they will know me. May God bless us as we work together.
Pathak, Jay, and Runyon, Dave. The Art of Neighboring. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2012