the shape of leadership

Like a Good Neighbor

Neighboring as Essential Leadership

Chris Railey on April 28, 2017


Neighboring is essential in fulfilling the Great Commission. Throughout Scripture, you see the principle of living together as integral to the revelation of God’s plan of salvation for a lost and dying world. God placed Israel in the Promised Land to be a light and a good neighbor. Through them, He would bless all nations (Genesis 22:18).

Jesus stressed the importance of neighboring with the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). In Acts 2, we see how Early Church members took care of one another and met needs, not just in their own pews but in their community as well. It was part of why they grew daily! Paul says in Galatians 5:14 that the whole law is summed up in the command to love your neighbor as yourself!

So, here’s the question: Do you know your neighbor? God has placed you where He wants you for a reason. Are you a good neighbor?

Every neighborhood has good neighbors and bad neighbors. Good neighbors take care of each other, checking in on people when they’re sick or looking after their homes while they’re away. Bad neighbors? Well, we probably all have one or two of those as well. My wife recently became president of our homeowners’ association and quickly learned who the difficult neighbors are.

Neighboring is messy. It requires sacrifice and effort to be a good neighbor — and patience to deal with the difficult ones around you. Regardless, God calls us into the mess. He has called your church to be a good neighbor. Too often, our churches are invisible to their communities. If your church ceased to exist tomorrow, would anyone know you were gone? That question haunted me while pastoring in Mesquite, Texas.

A Story of a Church and a Community
In 2010, my wife and I replanted a church in Mesquite. It was in an urban area with a diverse group of people and needs. With over 160 churches around us, we felt like just another one in a big bucket of options. But we knew God had called us there; we just weren’t sure why.

We prayed and listened, and prayed some more. God was telling us something, not only about our church but also about our city. We learned that He was calling us to revitalize not just a congregation, but a whole community. With such a strong calling, we couldn’t give lip service to serving our city. We needed a strategy.

We had to ask: How are we a good neighbor? How will we engage our community and earn its trust? We learned to focus on three things that provided clarity about our place as good neighbors in our neighborhood.

1. God’s Word. Being a good neighbor starts with finding your prophetic voice in the community. What is God saying to your city? What was God doing before you got there? What’s going on in the city now that shapes what God wants to say and do in the future? How can He use you to accomplish His purposes?

We learned there was an ethos in our city that God wanted to speak to, a message of hope and reconciliation regarding some specific issues and pain points in our community. Remember that He has called you to your city for a reason. There’s a fresh and timely word that God wants to use you to speak to the people in your community, and part of being a good neighbor is discovering your prophetic voice in your city.

2. Community need. Along with the unique way God positioned us to declare His Word, there were some unique needs that He wanted us to meet. We didn’t know what they were on day one, though. It took a process of discovery. We looked at demographic studies and met with key leaders in the community. The whole time, we were listening to the community, but also listening to God. When we heard the two messages start to sync up, we knew we were on the right path.

If your church ceased to exist tomorrow, would anyone know you were gone?

The needs in our community revolved primarily around four things: families, poverty, education, and clear and authentic presentation of the gospel. There was a lack in our community for systems and organizations to help in these things.

We began finding ways to meet the needs of families, address the concerns caused by poverty, and assist in increasing education, all while remaining clear of our intention to tell others about Jesus. We found that none of these were contradictory; rather, they all worked together. And it was because we were being good, loving neighbors in the process.

3. Strength of Leadership. Good neighboring doesn’t just happen. It takes effort. For your church to be a good neighbor, you must have the will and determination as a leader to make it happen. You must be willing to accept your uniqueness and the conviction of God’s Word. And you must be clear about your vision.

A clear vision from the leadership will lead to defining moments, events that can change the course of your ministry. Those events provide ministry momentum that keeps you moving down the field. The goal is not creating an organization, pursuing charitable good or even gaining a good name in your community. It’s making disciples.

But the leader’s strength is not enough. All the team members must buy in and dedicate themselves to being good neighbors. Knowing your role and performing your role are two separate things. But when it all comes together, God can use you right where you are to change your community. And that’s the essence of being a neighbor.

Key Questions to Ask
Consider these questions as you transition from simply being a presence in your community to being a good neighbor.

•  What do we want to be known for in our city? Think through that first question I gave you above. If you ceased to exist as a church, would you be missed? Make an impact on your community with God’s glory as your focus.

•  What need is going unmet in our community? Look around. There are plenty of needs that you could meet, some of them without raising any additional resources!

•  What are we going to do about it? What’s your action plan? Whether it will take years or you can accomplish it overnight, the key ingredient is action.

•  Who can we partner with to meet the need we see? You’re not in this alone. Not by a long shot. Who’s already doing what God has led you to do, and how can you join in?

Being a good neighbor isn’t all about keeping your lawn clean and staying up on your HOA dues. It’s about shining the light of the gospel into the darkest spaces. It’s about loving others as you love God and yourself. If we remember that, then good neighboring should become second nature.

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