First Posted 06-Jul-2014
At church today we started our conversation on missions to our neighbors. It was the same old same old. Lots of brainstorming around our strengths, how to make ourselves more attractive to our neighbors–like some dejected debutante who is freaked out days before the cotillion because no one has invited her. We talked about stuff we’d done in the past and I got kind of annoyed at all of it.
The big problem is that we go into our own neighborhood with the wrong attitude. We want them to come to us, to be part of our church and don’t pay much mind to who they are, what their strengths are, their hopes & dreams or whether they are already part of a church. It’s an altered version of the Jehovah’s Witness door-knock bit. We go through the neighborhood, knocking on doors, wondering if we chose the right dress, if our hair looks good, if we picked the right perfume, nervous about what to say . . . all about us.
We’ve been a church at this location for 75 years. The neighborhood knows who we are and they don’t like us. By now, we are that bible toting old bitty in the ill-fitting blonde wig and crooked lipstick who accosts each neighbor she encounters with, “are you saved?” We park outside their homes instead of across the street in front of our own building or in our own parking lot. We make noise at times when they wished we were quiet. We don’t bother asking if they are Episcipalian. No, we hire expensive, outside consulting firms to compile census data and tell us the demographics of our neighbors. We think we are great and wonder why our neighbors don’t agree. We really haven’t changed, in some respects, in 75 years. We are still annoying.
What’s the answer, then? We are pretty enough, or were at one time. The attitude we fail with is the assumption that we are there to meet needs that remain hidden behind locked doors so that more folk will fill the pews on Sunday morning. We are not. We are there to identify strengths to be enhanced and ways in which our needs can embolden our neighbors to take care of themselves[Lupton, 2012]. We are there to help them help themselves.
It doesn’t matter that all of our best dresses are in the cleaners and we can’t afford to get them out. That we haven’t had our hair done in a month because pesky things like the mortgage and the car payment, the Internet and light bill, got paid first. They don’t care that our French manicure is two months old for similar reasons. What matters is what we can help them do for themselves. Regardless of the holes in our jeans and the rips in our flip-flops, we can still provide knowledge and resources. Also, I’d bet, behind those doors are strained relationships no less intense than what we might find in “ghettos”. Upper-middle class life comes with its own traps and chains. The only reason we don’t see addiction, abuse, abandonment or adultery is because this crowd can afford to hide it better. It’s there and through seeking to serve them, to build on their strengths, the needs will reveal themselves.
So, yeah, do events, wear last year’s dress and ask that pimply, near-sighted, scruffy guy if he’ll go to the cotillion with you; find ways to engage in conversations with our neighbors. But, in the talking, remember that we are not selling timeshares in the Bahamas or indulgences assuring entrance to Heaven. We might discover, by listening, that the pimply guy put out a Kickstarter proposal for an animated watchband that was a $50,00.00 ask and raised 5 million. That pimply guy, cleaned up, ain’t half bad. That the sudden windfall of wealth has created unintended problems you can help with. We should be humbly seeking ways to serve through identifying the strengths of our neighbors and ways in which we can build on these strengths.