Caught not taught: Mission and neighboring

What were you doing twenty years ago? I felt compelled to start my sermon with this simple question.

Rob came up to me after the service. He reeks of cool. He’s the dude playing bass with his hat on backwards. He had that look that he had something to say. Twenty years ago today, I overdosed on heroine, ending my career as a rock star and leading me to Jesus. In a few weeks he will stand before our people and tell his story.

People have always gathered around campfires to stay warm and hear a good story. You will find employees gathered around water coolers, a pack of retired men in a breakfast joint or friends huddled over a cup of coffee doing the same thing. Stories can be powerful containers of meaning and mission. But I have a gnawing fear; stories are becoming scarce in the church today. One of the greatest tools for engaging people in mission sits unused on the shelf.

As pastors, we think if we tell people what to do hard enough and long enough they’ll magically “get it.” Perhaps a few will. Most will not. Stories of living on mission are explosive. When I tell about an unfolding story in our neighborhood, people look up from their phones and listen up. People forget the rest of my sermon (I know, sad fact), but they remember stories that smell like the gospel in real life. They ask about my neighbors months later. They wonder what our next crazy idea will be. Now they are starting to try their own crazy ideas.

Show and tell
One of the few things I remember from Kindergarten is “show and tell”. We brought something from our toy bin and explained what is was and why it was special to us. As pastors we could take a few lessons from kindergarteners. We need to learn to show and tell the unfolding story of the gospel.

We don’t graduate from the gospel. I will it preach every week. But people need church leaders to translate what the gospel looks like in the busyness of our weeks in our noisy and skeptical culture. Without real stories, we simply don’t believe something is possible. Devoid of stories, congregations become classrooms of passive learners. Instead, we need labs full of risk-taking apprentices learning from Jesus, our master. It’s easy to find our minds stuck in the Old Testament or awed by Jesus, forgetting he commanded us to live like he lived.

Here are four ways to infuse the love of our neighbors through story.

1. Spread out teaching on neighboring.
You can’t hotwire neighboring; it always takes time. Don’t cage neighboring as a sermon series; it should be a continual thread running through the life of your church. What’s the rush? We’ll be in process of learning to love our neighbors our whole lives. Stories inspire more stories. Be ready for people to slowly begin taking courageous steps to love their neighbors.

2. Lace sermons with stories of real people.
People are hungry for two things; real stories and current stories. Tell your own stories of living the gospel among real people. Even if you don’t yet have a presence of blessing your neighbors, tell stories about who you are praying for and meaningful encounters you have with the lost.

3. Tell stories of victory and struggle.
Part of authenticity is sharing “the real story.” If you want your people to embrace risk you have to expose them to both sides of the coin, the hard and the good. I tell about Jenny’s life change, but I also have to tell about Brenda’s cold shoulder.

4. Give others permission to tell stories.
Leave space in your gatherings for people to tell stories. Make it an integral part of your small groups and missional communities. Neighboring isn’t something we will ever master; it’s something we will wrestle with every day of our lives.

Pastor, do you want to be a church that neighbors well? Become a good neighbor yourself. Loving our neighbors isn’t a sermon series; it’s part of the greatest commandment Jesus gave us. Show snapshots of your journey to love your neighbors; then tell them why it matters.

Published February 28, 2017