This week, my dear friend and former neighbor, Katie Chew shares with us how as Christ-Followers we are created for and called to community! She and I met and were neighbors at Fort Polk, so I can testify to the truth of what she shares! That duty station was special!
Called to Community
by Katie Chew
Something beautiful happens when people living near one another have come together. In our time in the Army we were stationed at Fort Polk, LA, a training base where the soldiers are often training more than two weeks of every month.
This left the spouses, wives in the case of my neighborhood, home and drew us to band together.
I will never forget moving into our house. My husband was deployed and I didn’t know anyone on the base but that night I went outside for my first experience with Table Time.
Table Time turned into a near-nightly gathering where all the neighbors would hang out around a table outside watching the kids all play together on the cul-de-sac. When the neighbor that started Table Time moved, the tradition continued and eventually turned into a Bible Study. Every post after that and now that we are out of the Army, I have been drawn to turn the neighborhood I’m placed in into something of that beauty that I found in Fort Polk.
I never had much trouble finding community with my neighbors in the Army because of our shared stories and experiences, but let me tell you, the civilian world has forgotten about community within our neighborhoods.
Don’t get me wrong, you can find community in the civilian world, but you often have to go somewhere to find it. Whether it is to a playgroup or a special interest class or a workout class, you can find people that you have something in common with and form community that way.
But what about our physical neighbors? What about our actual community?
God has a Purpose for Your Neighborhood
Technology and industrial advancements are amazing but I think they have isolated us because we get to pick and choose with whom we interact. We get to find people that are like us and have our interests, all the while missing out on the very people that God has placed in our vicinity. Because if you believe the Bible, then you believe that God is Sovereign. And if God is Sovereign, then he has placed you in your specific house in your specific neighborhood with a purpose to either grow you or use you to help grow someone else. Most likely both.
But that is hard, right?
At least it is for me. You see, I want my home to be my oasis, but community with my neighbors forces me to make my home their oasis. Everything in me wants to run inside and not enter into their lives, their hurts, their hopes, and their stories. But, and allow me to be very blunt, that isn’t Christlike. And if I’m honest, in every neighborhood I’ve lived in, I have found at least one person who could desperately use an oasis. I’ve never left a neighborhood unchanged by at least one neighbor.
There is a purpose, friends, to why you live where you live.
Before we get into some practical steps, I first want to point out this flaw in our desires to only be friends with those that share our interests. The commonality I had with my neighbors at Fort Polk was that our husbands were gone. Other than that we were as different as could be. Your neighbors live by you, that may be the only thing you have in common from the outset. But as you get to know them, I promise you will find other things you share. You see, you’re sharing the human experience with them. Sometimes we forget that we all go through similar things in different ways. The cliché that we are all part of the same story is true, and we need to remember that as we forge these relationships.
Now, in this day and age, we have forgotten how to be physical neighbors. I know I did before my eyes were opened at Fort Polk. So I have compiled some practical ways that you can meet and interact with your neighbors without going door to door and creeping everyone out (though I have done that, too!). This is in no way a total list, but after years of trying different things and failing a whole lot, I’ve found these to be the biggest helps.
1. Play outside in the front
This is a pivotal move if you don’t know your neighbors. One of the first things I noticed in the civilian world was that I never saw people outside. For over four months of living in our new home, I didn’t know what my neighbors looked like. So instead of using our backyard, I started to make the kids play out front. Suddenly, we were visible and able to catch people as they came to and from their homes. If you don’t have kids, go on a walk. Or spend extra time doing weeding. I found that once we became visible, people started to stay out longer as well.
I don’t think I can overstate this enough. If you feed them, they will come. Before your stress levels rise, please know that I’m no gourmet chef. I’m talking hot dogs on the grill or pulled pork sandwiches or pizza. The longer I have done this, the more I have realized that even my mediocre food is good when it comes with community. Once, our family decided that we should create a Neighbor Night because we didn’t know any of our neighbors. We handed out flyers (this is where I went door to door) and invited everyone. It was insanely awkward at first. But I know my neighbors now. If the door to door seems like too much, just set up a table and start grilling. As you see people pass by, invite them to eat. I bet you’d be surprised how many people show up.
3. Stop to notice and ask
I think this should be a natural thing, but it is something I had to teach myself. Again, every part of my introverted self would love to duck into my house some days. I have found, however, that when I notice things about people or remember what we’ve talked about before and ask them follow-up questions, their self-worth begins to rise. They know someone cares about them and feel important and safe. This is something we do when we’re seeking friendships with our co-workers but we often forget to make these moves with our neighbors. Probably because we can’t choose our neighbors, but when we trust that God has chosen them, we have to make these moves.
4. Step outside your comfort zone
Allow me to dissolve any illusions you may have: this will be hard work. We have become so ingrained in our isolated ways of living that we almost fear community. It is our second year in our house and I am just beginning to feel like I know some of my neighbors. It took a long time to earn trust and respect and even acknowledgment from some. This will take effort and most likely a lot of time before you see any fruit to your effort. Make the effort anyway. Count the small victories. The smiles and waves. The questions or stopping for small talk. No friendship builds overnight, especially when it takes a while to figure out what you have in common with your neighbors. Trust the process and keep coming back. Some people just need reminding that they are worth not giving up on.
5. Go first
It needs to be you. Don’t count on your neighbors to make the first move, they almost never will. Once, when we moved into a new home, I waited for people to come meet me and welcome me to the neighborhood. They never did so after two weeks I just baked cookies and took them to people to introduce myself. I know that is a little out there, but I couldn’t think of another way at the time so I went for it. If you are a Christ-follower, you are called to community. It can’t just be community with your brothers and sisters in Christ because if it were, the church would never grow. We need Christians to start making differences in their neighborhoods. We need Christians to create community where they live to become that city on a hill, those difference makers, those light-bearers.5 Practical ways to build community right where God placed you! #community #christ-followers #handsandfeet Click To Tweet
Community is vital, friends.
We all deeply need it and we are all called to it. If you are a Christian, think of the fellowship and community you gain at church. Then remember that most people don’t attend church and have no way to get that community. This is where the church needs to leave the building. This is where Christians need to become the hands and feet of Jesus in the practical, hum-drum, everyday-ness of being a neighbor to our physical neighbors.
Meet your neighbors where they are today.
You know what, just meet them.
It will be hard.
It will seem futile.
It will cost you something.
But if it leads someone to Christ, isn’t it worth it all? If it brings someone comfort or a friend, isn’t it a sacrifice worth making? Die to yourself and your comfort zone today, friends. Be a neighbor and watch as Jesus begins to move in your neighborhood.Christians need to become the hands and feet of Jesus in the practical, hum-drum, everyday-ness of being a neighbor to our physical neighbors. #community #christ-followers #handsandfeet Click To Tweet