Love your Neighbors, Know your Neighbors

This past weekend we joined with several other churches to canvass our neighborhood, handing out flyers to help publicize a big event we are having in the park situated right in our building’s back yard.  As a product of 90’s youth groups, I have my share of door-to-door evangelism exposure, an ever-dreaded experience. 

Although I’m seldom a proponent of ‘door-to-door’ anything, we determined this was one of the best options for getting the word out.  It also provided a great opportunity to meet some new neighbors and reconnect with old ones, which is no small feat in a culture where entertainment is increasingly privatized and many would fail to identify their next door neighbor in a police lineup, much less actually know their names. 

Despite my initial aversion to the thought of canvassing, I repressed bad memories and embraced this opportunity to continue the long process of building bridges with the neighborhood in which we’ve been placed.  Several of our volunteers had some really interesting encounters that could probably comprise a series of blog posts.  But I’d like to share one interaction I had that still occupies my thoughts.   

Fairly early in our morning of knocking on doors I approached a house that was right behind another neighborhood church.  When my rhythmic knocking failed to raise anybody inside the house, I began the walk of shame off the front porch to continue down the street. 

But as I reached the sidewalk, movement on the side of the house caught my eye.  It was a man, presumably the homeowner, walking to the large shed on the edge of his property, adorned with a large American flag.  Once again filled with hope, I started walking towards him and called out, “Excuse me, Sir.” 

No response. 

Thinking my initial call must have been too quiet, I increased the volume a tad and repeated my greeting.  He looked up momentarily and turned back to the shed to continue whatever he was preoccupied with. 

I was left with a decision:  Do I take his hint and move on or do I persist?

Against my better judgment, I chose the latter.  And I just started reciting the details of the neighborhood party. 

He stopped me without looking up and sternly asked, “Who are you with?”  I tried to respond with tact and explain that it wasn’t one organization I was representing, but that there were several churches and other community organizations collaborating to host this free event. 

Again he interrupted, “But who are you with?”  I responded I am from Solid Rock Church, we are located just a few blocks away, on the other side of Silver Springs Park.  He made eye contact for the first time and inquired, “So, you aren’t from (insert the name of the church he shared a property line with)?” 

I said, “No, I’m not.”

He looked me in the eye, reached out for my hand to shake, and asked for the details of the party again.  And we had a pleasant, though short, conversation.

I have no idea what caused such a deep rift in his relationship with his neighboring church, nor do I care to speculate.  I’m much more interested in the important lesson this interaction reinforced. 

In John 20:21 we read, “Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  Jesus grounds his command in his own example.  The Father sent me…I am sending you.  As Christians we must take this instruction to go seriously, but must not neglect to consider our posture in going. 

Whatever happened between this man I met last weekend and the church behind his house, my guess is that posture played a part.  Unfortunately, this church lost any and all influence with this man. 

I don’t share this to criticize that church.  Perhaps the church isn’t even at fault at all.

I don’t share this to give ourselves a hearty pat on the back.  I share this because we (the church at large) need to be reminded that how we interact with people matters.  What we say, our posture, our attitude, all of those things matter.  If we approach people with disrespect or from a place of perceived superiority any hope of a meaningful relationship will vanish.  Furthermore, if we withdraw from relationship as soon as somebody rejects our message, we are missing the point. And unfortunately, when that trust is broken it may never return. 

I share this because our responsibility is one of advocacy, not opposition.      

I share this because I need that reminder.