I’ve learned in difficult fashion, over the course of many years, that loving a community well is not about your preference or what you know. The hard truth is that it’s really not about you. It’s about your neighborhood. What are their needs? What would they find compelling?
We all love illusions (for example, I’m a hero) and we love to cling to them. I cling to illusions because I think they will make my life a lot easier. Though my illusions look real to me, unfortunately they are false ideas or beliefs and they really mess me up in the short and long term.
In thinking about community change, you are not interested in illusions, but in understanding what is really going on in your community. If you want to make a real difference in the community where you live, work, play or worship, you’ve got to stop clinging to a few illusions to get there.
Illusion #1: Someone else can do this for you. I’ve learned that you have to drop the illusion that someone else will do this for you. You who have to do it. No one else can help you. You have to digest your food, and in the same way you have to understand. No one else can understand your neighborhood for you. You have to seek, knock and find. I’m not saying you have to do everything, but I am saying from one leader to another, that you’ve got to give up on the idea that there is another person, program, church, ministry, non-profit, etc. that will understand and reach your community for you. It’s yours to own. You’ve got to come to grips that it is part of your responsibility as a leader to reach your neighbors.
Illusion #2: To love your community well, you need to drop the labels you’ve put on them. Just as much as you hate when people put labels on you, its best you don’t cling to the labels you or anyone else has placed on your neighborhood. I’m not saying you need to drop sociological realities. I’m saying that many of the labels we (and you) place on other people and on entire neighborhoods can and likely will give you a false narrative. A label is a phrase or name applied to a person or thing, especially one that is inaccurate or restrictive. You think you know (poverty, wealthy, race, education level, etc.), because you are familiar with the label, but you have no idea. When you identify with your neighborhood only through labels, that’s all you know. You don’t really know the people. The goal is to taste and experience your neighbors as they really are. It’s about real relationships. That’s where the gospel and meaningful service takes real root.
Illusion #3: Drop your dream for the community and instead pick up theirs. During my first pastorate, I remember imagining how much change our church could bring to the neighborhood. I’ll never forget a sobering sit down requested by a few older ladies from the neighborhood when they lovingly told me, “well, we love the energy of you young people, but you’ve never asked us what we thought about all your activity. If you really want to love and serve us, you’ll need to do better. How about you start with listening before loving?” Ouch. Once we dropped our dreams of illusion, our church was finally able so see our community for who they were. The beginning seed was planted and it has since flourished into an oak of righteousness.
There are many other illusions we could talk about dropping in pursuit of real community and gospel change. But we’ll conclude here: It’s not about your preference or what you know. The main reason we developed our Neighborhood 360 Assessments is, because it’s not about you. It’s about your neighborhood. What are their needs (spiritual and other)? What would they find compelling?