Culturally, it’s become more and more uncomfortable for people who follow Jesus. Christianity is called exclusive. Christians are called intolerant. Christian ethics are considered outdated. And, so, before we open our mouths to share the good news about Jesus many people have already made up their minds. Some Christians respond by retreating. We take a defensive posture toward society and assume that we should just focus on protecting ourselves and consoling one another. When we do, our faith becomes a shell of what the New Testament describes. Remember that Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The true church is on the offensive, seeking to rescue those held in darkness, and nothing can prevail against it.
It wasn’t a coincidence that Christianity was born in the midst of persecution. Jesus’ entire ministry was played out against a backdrop of people trying to discredit and eventually kill Him. And the story of the early church was one of constant persecution, marked by riots, beatings and imprisonments. How did they cope? What was their plan?
As you examine the New Testament for clues, there’s no talk of jockeying for political power or looking for clever PR strategies. Instead, they kept on sharing the good news about Jesus and believed that as they were rich in good works, God would affirm their message. For instance, Peter said, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). The Christian rejection of idolatry and emperor worship labelled them as a dangerous sect that some called, “evildoers.” But while the church couldn’t accommodate its message, they could adorn the message with good works and so demonstrate the reality of their faith and the goodness of their God. Peter learned this firsthand from Jesus who said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Part of the challenge today is how to do this. How do we let our light shine in a fragmented society where people don’t trust each other and are reluctant to open up? How do we show good deeds to people who seem to have all their needs met? The church’s ministries to immigrants and seniors are good examples of ways that we can connect. But to reach the core of our community, we need neighbourhood mission projects. We need to love our neighbours.
This past month, our life group experimented with a fall clean-up. While Canada is blessed with beautiful fall leaves, many homeowners are burdened with the task of endless raking. I created a door hanger, introducing our group and offering to help rake leaves and distributed it to 40 neighbourhood homes. To my disappointment, not a single neighbour responded. When I reported this to our group, one of the members enthusiastically suggested we just go out anyway and offer our services. On Saturday, about a dozen of us headed out with rakes and bags and started knocking on doors on a side street near the church. I’m so glad we did!
Wherever people were out in their yards, they smiled and gratefully received our help. One car stopped and asked what we were doing. When I explained, he asked whether we could help with his home as well. One woman who answered her door was visibly moved by the offer of assistance. Several offered donations which we refused. And many were eager to talk: about who we are, about the church, and about our parking lot. The conversations were warm, personal and positive. We didn’t experience conversions or revival but that wasn’t our goal. With a simple investment of a few hours of our time, we sent the message to a half dozen neighbourhood homes that we’re a church that cares about people and wants to help.
I can’t help but think that as we engage in more and more neighbourhood mission projects and work together to love our neighbours and share our faith as God gives opportunity, that God will do His part in changing people’s hearts and drawing them to Himself.
What are you doing to love your neighbours? Do you have any ideas for neighbourhood mission projects? Let’s encourage each other because Jesus is still building His church and the gates of hell can’t stop Him!
In awe of Him,