For Our Neighbors

Within this busy hub called Atlanta, it is rare that I find people who know their neighbors. Yeah, we know that someone lives there. They have a red car and a dog, but nothing beyond that. Who knows if they are a retail manager or a software engineer. Maybe they’re in pharmaceutical sales or a blogger even?

It would be cool to know their background – where they are from, how many siblings they have, what life was like growing up in Boston. Who knows? Well, maybe we could if we went for the big ask. Would you like to come over?

This time last week, I was among the 8,000 leaders that took over the Infinite Energy Center for a few days. I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Orange Conference. The Orange Conference is an annual gathering of thousands of family ministry leaders from around the world. It was fantastic as usual. The theme was “For Our Neighbors.”

We rallied around the idea of intentionally engaging our neighbors. It was great to experience speakers in main and breakout sessions share thoughts around this idea. Mr. Rogers even made an appearance (via video). Here are my key takeaways.

Jon Acuff opened will hilarity and helped us to remember that Mr. Rogers didn’t qualify who was his neighbor. Everyone was his neighbor. I love that. I think we are all guilty of deciding who we’re actually going to engage with based on different factors. What if we saw everyone as someone worth investing into?

Carlos Whitaker brought this home from a parenting perspective. He challenged us to “never let parents parent alone.” I think every parent would agree with that. Parenting is much easier with help. How can we help the parents we know?

One of the ways Carlos suggests is to help them differentiate what is fact and feeling. It can be easy to confuse the two. I reminded someone of that recently. If we think back to our childhood, adolescent and young adult phases, we can understand how maybe what we got pretty emotional about was not based on fact.

Just because they asked us to eat our veggies didn’t mean they hated us. However, at a young age, we could “feel” that. That doesn’t make it fact though. Keeping this in mind helps us parent from a different perspective.

Gerald Fadayomi reminded us of the value of listening, especially to our teenagers. We can be quick to come up with a lesson for them, but Gerald shared that “listening to teach keeps you from hearing.”

Listening is huge.

We all could listen a little more. Listening helps us to better understand. Have we listened to those we don’t understand? I know teenagers would definitely appreciate being heard. Gerald posed a great question. “What if the next generation needs to have their voice heard more than they need to hear a voice?”

Danielle Strickland was a refreshing dose of reality. She briefly shared her story of being lost to now living freely in Jesus Christ. What made it so refreshing was her candor. Sometimes we feel the need to hide our imperfections, thinking it will tarnish our value in the eyes of others. However, it is that candor that helps others relate and feel the possibility of sharing in the freedom you possess.

Danielle left me thinking about this question, “How much would your _________ change if you saw every person as a blessing from God?” Fill in the blank however you’d like: Ministry; Family; Kitchen table; Driving Style; Business; and the list goes on. Hearing her story, I believe that most people would have written Danielle off as a lost cause, but thank God for the one who saw her as a blessing.

As expected, Reggie Joiner stole the show – challenging us to lean in and really be for our neighbors. How? By starting a lot of parties. That was my favorite suggestion of the night. It’s funny because I was a wallflower growing up. But now, I love bringing people together so I was laser-focused on hearing more. Reggie gave us the following seven tips as we think about the parties we will start.

  1. Invite someone new to the table.
  2. Fast-forward someone else’s dream.
  3. Inspire every kid you meet.
  4. Create beautiful spaces.
  5. Speak up for someone else.
  6. Discover life together.
  7. Do something you don’t have to do.

Finally he dropped the mic with a statement that left me excited about future parties I look forward to throwing.

“Regardless of how you vote. No party can heal the world better than a neighborhood party.”

 

Day Two started with a bang! I got to hear Lucas Leys for the first time. He challenged us to “let people teach us who they are.” Often times, we judge books by their cover without reading them. Really building relationships requires meeting with others and learning from them.

Andy Stanley came around the idea of rethinking how we do church. What if we honored God by loving the people He created – our neighbors. Sometimes we tend to focus on God, making people a second thought. However, Jesus’ new commandment puts us together – loving God and loving people as one commandment. What would it look like for our “relationship with God to be based on our relationship with others?”

Mike Foster hit on this as well stating that, “we’re really great at believing in God, but not so good at believing in people.” His Prodigal Parties are marvelous. Throwing parties for those we would least expect to receive one is a sensational idea. Who can we throw parties for?

Ryan Leak followed up with a similar talk. He encouraged us to make room for someone new. Its easy for us to connect with the same people all the time, but being for our neighbors requires us to get out of our comfort zones. Ryan said, “if we’re going to reach outsiders, we have to go outside.” The arena erupted in laughter – most likely because we can all relate to focusing mostly on insiders (those inside our churches or our inner circles).

But if we’re following the example of Jesus, we will notice something else Ryan reminded us of – that “92% of the miracles Jesus performed were outside the presence of God’s people/synagogues.” How could our neighborhoods look if we spent 92% of our time with our neighbors?

“Something powerful happens when people who aren’t for the church realize the church is still for them.” Jeff Henderson said this as he urged us to love where we live. Being for our neighbors means that we cheer them on, walk with them through life, listen to them and love them. How can we do that today, tomorrow and the rest of the year?

We were inspired more and more as Dr. Bernice King, Jud Wilhite, Bob Goff, Lecrae and others continued to share. I think you get the picture. There are so many practical ways to engage our neighbors more intentionally.

So I challenge you to start Getting In with you neighbors. Call it Operation Own My Block, Own My Floor (if in apartments or high-rise), Own My Street. Whatever you want to call it, just own it!

Enjoy!

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