Over a decade into their church’s journey of serving their community, it came as no surprise when the city phoned Brian Mavis, Director of Externally Focused Ministry at LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, CO. “The city had a problem with one of the residents. The grass was over five feet tall and they had sent this homeowner several letters asking her to take care of it. So, in a last-ditch effort before placing a heavy fine on her, they called us,” said Brian.
As Brian (photo on the right) drove, he spotted the house from a few blocks away.“Just by knocking on her door, I learned that this young woman in her 30s recently survived stage four cancer, and she was taking care of a nine-year-old girl who was in foster care. She was tearful and embarrassed about her yard but would literally die if she tried to take care of it herself,” said Brian.
He gathered a dozen people and soon the yard looked good as new. “I was proud of our people, and glad the city could count on us to take care of it. It was fun to pat ourselves on the back,” he admitted. Then, Brian said he was thrown for a loop. “Over the next year, I called her a couple times just to see how she was doing. After the second time calling and silently congratulating myself, the Holy Spirit said, ‘This is nothing to be proud of. This should never have even happened.’ I immediately knew the full meaning of this gentle rebuke,” he shared.
There were several church families living within a couple blocks of her house. “Truth is, if we (as a church) had done a better job of helping people love their neighbors, I never would’ve even gotten a phone call from the city in the first place. What if the grass never got an inch too tall because neighbors knew one another and knew as soon as she was diagnosed with cancer? For years our church was serving the community, but were we doing the very things that Jesus said mattered most—loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves?” said Brian.
Rick Rusaw, (on the left) senior pastor at LifeBridge and co-author or The Externally Focused Church shared, “As neighboring came into view, it landed on our agendas and in our leadership conversations very intentionally. It had to. We just couldn’t see through any other lens now that the Great Commandment captured Brian and the LifeBridge leaders. Similar to externally focused, we speak of it in every staff meeting. We tell stories and ask every ministry area to give us ideas on how they are doing neighborhood engagement as part of their ministry (i.e. children, student, and seniors). Most importantly we have asked everyone on staff to be a better neighbor. We share a lot of stories in weekly staff devotions about that.”
As LifeBridge has moved further on this path, they have connected to other leaders zeroing in on neighboring as well. Rick shared, “What could happen if we ALL got better at loving our neighbors? LifeBridge has influence and opportunity through the ‘public’ ministry of our church by engaging in community matters. More importantly we now see that we are within a neighborly, loving arm’s reach to 48,615 households—over 120,000 people. What could happen if every church and Christian got better at this?”
Brian Mavis and Rick Rusaw have written about implementing the neighboring value into their personal and leadership lives in a new book called, The Neighboring Church (a Leadership Network series publication with HarperCollins). Also included in the book are interviews by Krista Petty with dozens of neighboring church leaders from across the nation.
Author Bio: Krista Petty is a Community Connector for Simon Solutions, Inc., where she writes about community transformation and collaboration. She resides in Spirit Lake, IA.