The end of the year is always a time to reflect over what went on and what you’ve learned from the past year. For me, this is an opportunity to reflect over the last 15 months of being in New York. These are lessons we have learned personally and from watching and interacting with others in the city. I posted lessons 15-11 on Monday and lessons 10-6 on Wednesday, and here are lessons 5-1.
5. To be “For the City” you must be “For Your Neighborhood”
The good news is that most churches have recaptured an understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ that leads to a huge concern for and move to act on behalf of the poor and marginalized. As a result there are many churches that are seeking the physical, emotional, and spiritual welfare of their city. They are being “For the City” by advocating for the human flourishing of every person in the city.
This is the vision of a church truly being Jesus to their city, but practically this must be worked out in neighborhoods. In Manhattan, it seems that every 10 blocks is telling its own story, presenting a message of its worldview that is different from the surrounding area. It’s no different in the suburbs as subdivisions present a fairly consistent message about what is important.
Each neighborhood has beauty to it and each neighborhood has brokenness. To seek the human flourishing of a city, you must start next door or down the block. Begin by answering the questions “What do I love about my neighborhood?” and “What is the one thing I would like to see improved that would heal the brokenness of my neighborhood?”
Our city is 8.5 million people with the matching problems. Until “the city” becomes smaller and more tangible through our neighborhood, the task of seeking human flourishing is too daunting, but a community of people working together on the issues of their neighbors can see beautiful change.
4. To be “For Your Neighborhood” you must enjoy your neighborhood
The unfortunate side of recapturing a gospel vision to care for the poor is the ability of the human heart to make a good cause a duty to perform. A duty attitude prevents you from investing in your neighborhood the same way you would if you enjoyed it.
We only live for and give ourselves fully to things that we enjoy. So what do you enjoy about your neighborhood? What do you enjoy about your neighbors? If you spend all of your time commuting to another part of town, why don’t you move there?
I’ve seen this attitude change our way of life and the way of life of others in our community. In New York, you can live your whole life within a 10 block radius, it is built to be a walkable and enjoyable community, but if you only see the brokenness and never look for the beauty to enjoy, you will despise your neighborhood and never care for it in a way that could improve it.
3. Community is part of the mission
I am a huge advocate for missional communities, the idea of a community of Christ followers extending the message and mercy of Christ together. Unfortunately, the pendulum seems to have shifted to only beating the drum of mission at the neglect of community. It has become more about “being missional” than being a community…on mission.
Building a healthy community is just as much a part of the mission as reaching and caring for new people. Sacrificing community for the sake of mission will lead to burnout, bitterness, hurt and sin that goes unaddressed and never gets healed.
The communities I’ve seen that flourish on mission usually flourish as a family caring for one another. The habit of loving others becomes so ingrained in the community it naturally overflows to those outside of the community.
You don’t JUST aim for community or JUST aim for mission, you aim for the gospel of Jesus Christ, which invites people into a loving family and sends that family on mission to care for others and invites others into that family.
2. Community takes 6-9 months to establish, another 3-6 is a lot of fun & then it gets messy
We left a lot of great friends and family when we moved. Initially, we were wondering who might replace them, but you don’t replace old friends, you make new ones. It’s “not the same” as it was and it shouldn’t be. There’s no need to replace, there’s need to establish new relationships.
It takes a while, usually 6-9 months, then you have fun for a while, but then it gets messy. It seems like we have been taught that messiness should never happen in friendships, but you handle the messiness (the somewhat annoying habits, the differences of opinions, the correction conversations) and work through the messiness, the relationships are better on the other end.
Community takes time, sometimes it’s awkward, messy, and not always fun, but eventually becomes a joy to those who pursue it and commit to it.
1. Despite all the challenges it’s worth it
The last 15 months have been amazing, but they have also been incredibly challenging, and at times painful. We left behind friends, family, and what seemed like the American dream with a house on a cul-de-sac, but it’s been worth it. It can be challenging to be a family in the city, there are plenty of shocking looks and comments about having such a huge family, but it’s worth it.
We are incredibly thankful that we have been able to grow as a family while being a part of a church that cares for one another like a family, but also seeks to care for the neighborhoods of this city as is they are our family as well.
Jesus died on a cross and promised His followers a joyful life, but also that it would involve sacrifices and those would at times be painful. Saying goodbye and missing friends and family has been painful, but there has been a greater understanding of the Christian faith and a greater opportunity to share our faith because of the sacrifices we have felt God has called us to.
There are many more lessons that I have learned and surely many more that I will learn. I hope you have enjoyed my processing of the last year plus and would encourage you to do the same.