If you take the time to walk the streets of your community, I guarantee you will make some interesting discoveries.
If you take the time to walk the streets of your community, I guarantee you will make some interesting discoveries. Earlier this year my church conducted a winter appeal (Australia’s winter is from June to August). A month in advance we dropped leaflets in letterboxes, explaining that in four weeks time we would knock on their door and if they had any unwanted clothing we would collect it and pass it on to people in need.
As I commenced my walk on collection day I was shocked to discover that a number of people had gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent visitors from coming to their door. They had wrapped and then padlocked chains around the gate at the front of their house, preventing anyone from walking the path to approach their front door. The cynic in me is quick to suggest that this elaborate security was put in place in time for the door-knock. In reality, the fortress-mentality of people in most of our communities has existed for much longer.
We live in a culture where home is a fortress and refuge from the outside world. Sure, we might make a dash for work each morning, and to the shops or gym as required, but then we quickly return, lock the door, close the curtains and try to ignore the people who share our streets and apartment buildings. ‘Cocooning’ is the term used to describe this behavior, and it’s killing our communities.
For most of the last century, and for every century before it, justifying the value of community would have seemed as unnecessary as justifying the importance of friendship. Yet today, we need to be reminded that community is important on a number of levels.
First, we are relational beings. We need relationships. The three Persons of the Godhead exist in relationship and as creatures of this God we have been created in His image. God knew our need for relationships when he created Adam—it wasn’t good for the man to be alone, the animals weren’t able to provide the kind of relationship Adam required. So, God created Eve
Second, Jesus’ instruction for his people to be salt and light are active instructions for us to be a positive influence on the world around us. We’re not to hide from the world or escape from it, but seek to do good. We can do this because we are liberated from the fear of death, the fear of market uncertainties and every other fear because our future is assured.
Third, and this is perhaps the biggest incentive for Christians to remove obstacles to community, God’s news of salvation through Jesus is for people and must be communicated by people to people. If you are a Christian holed-up in your bunker, your opportunities for relationships where you can communicate the saving work of Jesus are severely limited. Knowing the people in your community is an essential starting point to making Jesus known in your community.
So how do we break through the cocoons that have established themselves in our neighborhoods to restore community and introduce Jesus to the people who need him? Here are five very practical, very achievable steps you can take to love the neighborhood you live in.
Do you know what happens in your community each week? Each month? Find out and go. In my community there are art and craft markets, classes at the community center, performances at the theater, meetings of the small business council and coffee with the book club. Some friends of mine go to the local pub every Tuesday night for dinner and trivia—certainly not for the food, partly for the trivia, but mainly for the opportunity to get to know people who live nearby. If you have hidden inside your own cocoon you might not be aware of these events. Discover what events are happening in your community and show up.
Don’t skip introductions
I’ve got to know the baristas at my local cafe quite well. We don’t usually chat about anything deep and meaningful—usually it’s about our weekend plans or the sports results (although, when reading my Bible one day I was asked if I’d give them a verse for the day!). In a culture that seems to thrive on anonymity I admit it’s not always easy to introduce yourself and it can seem unnatural outside a work context, but this is a valuable step.
(Know and) love thy neighbor
Literally. Most of us live with a neighboring house or apartment on either side (or both sides) of our home. Do you know the name of these neighbors? Do you ever speak with them? Have you thought about having them over for a meal? Some of the best opportunities for relationship exist on the other side of our bathroom wall and could easily start up with a simple “hello” in the carpark or at the mailbox.
Communities exist with different people groups and generations. However, it’s easy to notice the people who are like us and ignore those who are different. Up the street from my church is a retirement village and nursing home. It might as well be in a different country for the amount of interaction the people in this nursing home have with the rest of the community. Our culture wants to ship people off once they are no longer useful. As Christians, we know that the common category of usefulness (i.e. ability to work) is not where the inherent value of people lies, and that people of all ages need to be loved. Getting to know people who are older (or younger) than you doesn’t have to be intensive and could be as simple as a monthly visit to the nursing home to sit and chat or read with some of the residents.
I love my iPod. It’s great carrying 2,000 songs in my pocket so that at the end of a long day I can go wherever my mood takes me as I sit on the train and drift into my own world. Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but it’s very difficult to strike up a conversation with someone if you (or they, and especially if both of you) are listening to an iPod. Yet, many times when we shut out the world with our cell phones or mp3 players we are ignoring the very people God has placed in front of us.