I don’t think anyone has ever mistaken one for the other. College kids never flock to Willow Grove in search of night life. The closest thing that we have is Mad Mex, but you’ll have to fight with senior citizens going to CVS for a parking spot. The folks on my block don’t seem as concerned about the latest fashion trends or what’s hot on the music scene. My neighbors are mostly blue-collared, hard workers by day and Bud Light connoisseurs by night. My neighborhood represents all different colors, ages, and religions. I love Willow Grove. I’ve told Sherin that I would be happy living on this street for the rest of our lives.
Willow Grove is not Center City. The way Willow Grovers think, set their priorities, live their lives, and respond to struggles can look very different than those who live in Rittenhouse. Why does that matter? If we’re called to engage our communities with the gospel, it’s important that our communication reflects the culture of the people we’re trying to engage. Hear me out. I’m not saying that the gospel changes. The truth concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ is unchanging and life-giving to people in any context. And yet, being clear on the questions our neighbors are asking can help us in determining how we can best communicate the gospel in ways it can be understood. Some call this “contextualization.”
Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, defines contextualization as: “giving people the Bible’s answers, which they may not at all want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and forms they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them” (Center Church, 89). That’s a mouthful. But here’s what I think we need to take away: in order to engage our neighborhood with the gospel, we need to know our neighbors.
Maybe the first question that comes to your mind is “how?” How do I get to know my neighborhood and my neighbors? I’m glad you asked. Here are a few suggestions:
1) Read. Subscribe to a local newspaper or find one online so that you can keep up with current events in your area. We can learn much about the mindset, passions, and needs of our neighbors by something as simple as reading the paper.
2) Participate. There’s probably a lot going on in our neighborhood that you may not know about: festivals, clean-ups, meetings, associations. You’re not going to get to know your neighbors by staying in your living room.
3) Serve. Maybe you have an elderly neighbor that could use an extra hand. Or maybe there’s a single mother two doors down who would love to have break while you babysit. A great way to love our neighbors is to respond to their needs.
4) Invite. Are you going to be watching the Eagle’s game this Sunday? Why not watch it with some of the folks from your block? Food is another great reason to gather – invite your neighbors over for a Saturday brunch.
5) Pray. Mission is God’s idea and requires God’s work. Ask Him to provide you with creativity, opportunities, insight, and a heart that loves your neighbors.
As we launch our new GCMs in October, our smaller communities will be intentionally considering ways to engage and redeem our neighborhoods with the gospel. As we prepare to launch, let’s pray that God would give us hearts that love our city and a desire to want to see more people come to know Jesus.