To Know and Be Known

Just yesterday we were watering the plants in the traffic circle on the street in front of our townhouse. We have adopted that circle and know it needs watering every day. While we were manning the garden hose, a couple walked by and thanked us for our efforts. I introduced myself, and they gave their names, Gene and Jimmie. We engaged in some small talk, and I learned that they are renting a room in a house on the corner. When I went back inside, I wrote Gene and Jimmie’s names on a map of the neighborhood. This morning I prayed for them.

Iris and I have been doing this in our neighborhood for eight years, and now I know the names of the neighbors in about 40 households. Of course, knowing people’s names isn’t the same as knowing them, but it’s a start. Now whenever we encounter Gene or Jimmie, we can ask other questions and perhaps share a bit about ourselves. We can ask them if they’ve joined our neighborhood group at NextDoor.com and invite them to our next neighborhood block party. We get to know our neighbors one relational step at a time.

In my last blog, Fully Engaged, I began to look at how we can flourish as we engage with and minister to our neighbors. One of the points is the importance of becoming excellent practitioners of our Calling right where we live. While this isn’t all we ask Nav Neighbors staff to do, living out our Calling in our own neighborhoods is foundational to the other tasks, including coaching and coming alongside others. We must coach out of our own lives. This is what I mean by being an excellent practitioner, and knowing one's neighbors is the first step. 
 
In addition, serving as excellent practitioners means taking on the role of shepherds in our neighborhoods. When Jesus saw the multitudes, He felt deep compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36; Mark 6:34). He asked His disciples to pray for laborers in the harvest. Laborers must address the issue of shepherdless sheep; otherwise, Jesus' whole prayer request makes no sense. When Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd, He adds, "I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14b). This “knowing” is a huge part of being a practitioner of our Calling in a neighborhood. It’s not enough for us to know about our neighbors; we must know the people around us and they must know us.

In The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship, and Community, authors Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens, and Dwight J. Friesen ask, “Are you a character in your neighborhood? A character is a person who is known, quirks and all.” The story of God, the story of the incarnation, and the true story of the Kingdom is being played out right where you live. Each person is a character in that story. Are you a known character in your neighborhood?

Finally, we need to pray regularly for our neighbors. Knowing them naturally leads to praying for them. It’s important for us to establish rhythms in our lives that allow us to pray for our neighbors. The neighborhood map is one tool I use to help me pray for my neighbors. Another is the habit of prayer walking through my neighborhood. This I aim to do every Tuesday and Sunday that we are in town.

As much as I want my neighbors to know Iris and me, my deep desire is that they might know Jesus. “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1, ESV). I believe the two most effective means of introducing people to Jesus are prayer and love. Notice that both of these only happen in the context of relationship.

Which of the above hits home for you right now? Is it knowing and being known by your neighbors, serving as a shepherd in your community, or fighting on your knees for the salvation of those who live nearby? What's your best next step?

Al Engler is the Mission Director of Nav Neighbors. You can learn more about him and his heart for the neighborhood and contact him here.

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