God did this crazy thing a year ago when he brought together wacky group of people through a Lenten study. We started by meeting in person at three different group times throughout the week. I was so excited for multiple people to have the opportunity to all study the same thing together. I geek out when people are able to grow to be more like Jesus in small groups. I’ve seen God do so many amazing things through groups of people transforming through a collective knowledge, experience and heart to be more like Jesus.
Then global pandemic hit.
And what does someone who lived and breathed video calls while connecting across an insane amount of distance in her last job do?
Invite everyone into online groups.
I’m still thanking God that people actually accepted that invitation only two weeks after everything shut down in Kansas City in March 2020.
We are such an eclectic group of believers and it still takes my breathe away at how God led each of us to this group and how God keeps connecting us. I will always be mesmerized at how intensely the Holy Spirit can show up in a Zoom meeting space. Maybe meeting in the beginning it was truly out of discipline to finished what we started in the book Renegade Gospel. Maybe it was this feeling that we were in the right place. Maybe it was a feeling no one could explain. Each of us has a difference perspective on that, but truly, I know that it was the Holy Spirit bringing a group of believers together who were committed to being more like Jesus…in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our city…throughout our world.
Once we finished Renegade Gospel, I looked at everyone and said, “Well is this it? Are we done? Or do we feel like God has something more to do in this space with this group of people?”
It was a unanimous, and somewhat enthusiastic yes, which led us to ‘The Art of Neighboring’ by Dave Runyan and Jay Pathak.
Friends, that book wrecked us, but we stuck with it. The stories of neighboring that came out were painful and joyful, and all the in between emotions. We listened. We offered advice. We added our help when needed. We challenged each other to not give up on this neighboring thing.
One found out that a neighbor was going to be evicted soon for not being able to pay rent for several months. It is a great example of not knowing what your neighbors are dealing with unless you ask the right questions. It all came out because the neighbor what church they went to, because he felt he was missing something. Just by the image of being people who go to church the neighbor sought them out. This story gets super complicated, and honestly, doesn’t have a great ending. But it is also proof that being neighborly is never easy or comfortable. God doesn’t tell us to ‘Love your neighbors when it is convenient and easy for you.’ The Bible says, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ in Matthew 5:43, Matthew 19:19, Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:8-9, Galatians 5:14, and James 2:8. Just in case you needed some quick reference points.
Jesus himself says, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” [Mark 12:29-31]
No other commandment, friends. None.
As our small group continued through the book, we had other stories emerge. I had recently moved to a new apartment and would share the funny conversations with my downstairs neighbor who had a TV on his patio and would sit outside watching everything happen. It takes intentionality and time to get to know new neighbors. We also had those in the group that would take their neighbor to doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, and we had a constant conversation around taking cookies and pies to neighbors. It is a consistent question of how do I bless those around me?
We had a lot of conversations about who is our ‘neighbor?’ Not as in the looking for a loophole to get out of it kind of way like the ‘expert in the law’ in Luke 10:25-37. At the end of this story of the good Samaritan, Jesus says the one who showed the hurt man on the side of the road was the good neighbor. So clearly, we are not just talking about proximity.
I do not think for a hot second that it was coincidence all these conversations were happening through a global pandemic. When you are tethered to home, doesn’t it make more sense to focus on your neighbors more?
When I first read ‘Art of Neighboring’ sometime in 2013, it astonished me that things that should have been common sense to me and things that should have been a natural extension of who I am as a follower of Jesus were not happening around me.
Of course I should know the names of all my neighbors.
Of course I should have an idea of what kids belong to what family.
Of course I should know when my neighbors are struggling so that I can use my network to help them.
It seems like it should be a default, yet none of that was happening. I was watching neighbors open their garage, drive in and then close their garage while telling myself they didn’t want to be known and I didn’t have time.
Instead of sitting in the muck of my emotions over this realization and allowing shame to wash over me, I chose to be more intentional with the people God has placed around me.
Creating new rhythms for your life and shifting your perspective to be more present and aware in the lives around you takes time, patience, and grace. And, friends, it is so much more fun to do it in a small group. God created us to be in community with one another. We are never supposed to be alone. Individually the enemy will tear us apart, but together…together we are stronger. It might not always be fun when God is convicting you of something or you get asked to lead somewhere else because of how God is revealing himself in you…but I can guarantee there will be a healthy dose of laughter and shenanigans.