Love your Neighbors: Practice what’s preached

Acting on sermons about loving your neighbors is easier if you see yourself as able to give, join others in serving, and see your loving service as an act of worship.

Acting on sermons about loving your neighbors is easier if you see yourself as able to give, join others in serving, and see your loving service as an act of worship.

“Everyone has gifts”

At Harbor Life, a new church plant in Grandville, Michigan, pastor Robb Kornoelje meets people who don’t always see the potential in themselves that God sees.  “We believe our light should shine brightest on those closest to our church. We’re starting to see more neighbors walking or biking to church. About 80 percent of our congregation is younger than me—and I’m only 36,” he says.

The neighborhood demographic includes 35 percent single parent households. Almost 60 percent of elementary students qualify for free or reduced lunches, and more than half the families earn less than $35,000 a year.

“We’ve had to walk people through very difficult scenarios, but we try to give everyone dignity and respect. I’m trying to empower people to be the church, not just go to church. Every Sunday in prayer, we celebrate how many people came. We celebrate all who serve to make worship happen and help people see Jesus.

“We talk about how everyone has gifts and has something to give. At our monthly communion we take a Christian aid offering for people who come to us for help,” Kornoelje says. Those bills and coins add up. Harbor Life has been able to help neighbors with gas, groceries, a water heater, and rent.

Hearts and hands to God

On every fifth Sunday of the month, worshipers at First Presbyterian Church in Bend, Oregon, receive a numbered slip when they enter the sanctuary. They sing, pray, give offerings, and hear a brief message related to community needs. Then they go to assigned tables set up throughout the church to do a hands-on project. People of all ages have helped stuff teddy bears for abused children and filled bags with toiletries and other things that local homeless youth can’t buy with food stamps.

While they work, table leaders ask specific questions, such as “How have you been blessed by serving others?” and “How can we as a church bless our neighborhood?” Everyone at the table writes a prayer together.

“We gather back together in the sanctuary, where we bless the work we have done, pray for those who will receive it, and listen as someone from each table reads their prayer. We close with a blessing and music,” says Jenny Warner, pastor for justice, spirituality, and community.

The Bridge, a church plant in Allegan, Michigan, uses the motto “serve your community, change the world.” They switched from fifth Sundays to third Sundays so that they could combine worship and service more than once a quarter. Last year the 120-member congregation logged more than 6,000 volunteer hours with Habitat for Humanity, a summer “weenie wagon” for kids who depend on school lunches, a concert to raise money for the local hospice, and other outreach.

The Bridge’s website explains, “The act of loving and serving people is sharing the gospel. When people are shown love and compassion, it stirs hope within them and the desire to seek this God whose people love them so much.”

Abiding in Christ

Sharing Christ’s compassion for and with neighbors can be hard. You may feel used, abandoned, torn by competing loyalties, dismayed by systemic sin, unsure what to do next, or burned out.

“Besides our Sunday worship gatherings, we have another gathering time called Starfish Community. Every other Sunday night, we meet to focus on being God’s mission in our neighborhoods by engaging in practices shaped by three postures—living among, abiding in, and serving with,” says Karen Wilk, pastor of community life and discipleship at The River Community Church, in Edmonton, Alberta.

The Starfish Community name reminds people that some species of starfish can regrow an entire body from a cut-off arm. Those who gather on these nights share a meal and study the Bible together to send, encourage, equip, and develop their competencies, content, and character, to be multiplying disciples in their neighborhoods and communities.

For example, as Wilk wrote on the Parish Collective Facebook page: “When I need an egg and could easily go to the store, I don't. Neighbours are learning to do the same. Yesterday those across the street came looking for cupcake liners.…We have the snow blower, another neighbour has the chainsaw, etc. We buy in bulk and divide it up. Conversations about neighbouring trees, fences, and visitors are all a part of the dynamic.”

 

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