I'm so grateful for my Florida Baptist family. Our statewide meeting was as much a family reunion as it was a business session as it was a mission encouragement.
One thing that I cannot shake is a line shared at the Pastor's Conference on Sunday night.
You cannot reach who you hate.
That shook me. Because I realized it was true. We know what Jesus gave as the "Greatest Commandment" to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. We rightfully plant our flag on that. But we forget that Jesus didn't stop there. He continued, saying the second is like it. It's not really second. It's 1A and 1B. That second command? Love your neighbor as yourself.
We might not outwardly or explicitly say we hate some of our neighbors. But what's communicated isn't often what's said. Loving our neighbors doesn't come with a qualification. We're not given an exemption because our neighbor might be an atheist, a Muslim, gay, black, Democrat, Republican, white collar, blue collar, legal or illegal. We aren't given a qualified command. We're given a universal command. Love your neighbor.
Our churches are often a reflection of who we love. We generally tend to gather with people who are like us, because we like affinity. We like people who are like us, who think like us, who look like us, who come from similar backgrounds, who share demographic qualities. But our churches often don't reflect our communities. Whether it's ethnic, educational, or something else, the way we reach out often says we only love the neighbors who we're most comfortable with.
As pastors, it starts with us. Are we spending time with our neighbors? Are we engaging our communities to get to know those whom God has sent near us? Do we only welcome people into our church who look and smell like us? Do we flinch when we see an interracial couple visiting our services? Or when our neighbor introduces us to his husband do we hide?
Loving our neighbors isn't easy - Like I said, we love affinity. Neighbors sometimes are hard to love. They might cuss around us, or dismiss us when we invite them to church, or they might not live the same way we do. And so it's easier to dismiss, ignore, or hide. Jesus never hid from the uncomfortable. He never condoned or approved. But he never ignored. Echo chambers aren't what the church has been called to live in. The church has been called to be salt and light. And that's not easy.
Loving our neighbors is an invitation to the Gospel - I think the number one reason God allows us to have a job or to buy a house in an area or be part of the clubs and activities we are is so that we can live on mission. Mission isn't something a vocational missionary does. It's a way of life all Christians are to live out. And we do that when we love our neighbors. It's an invitation to the Gospel because we show that our faith isn't something we just say with our lips, it's something we live out with our lives. Pray for them. Pray with them. Serve them. Take them cookies! Invite them into your home. Get the kids together for play days.
Loving our neighbors we see them as Jesus does - Jesus doesn't see our neighbors in the same categories we do. He sees them as Lost or Found. There's no in between. When we see through Jesus' eyes to see the lostness around us, we shouldn't recoil in fear. We should respond like Jesus did, with compassion. Our neighbors who don't know Jesus are doing what happens when you don't love Jesus. And our ignoring or protesting or condemnation doesn't address the core issue. The core issue is that they are "sheep without a shepherd." They're lost. And they don't need us to scold them for cussing or look the other way when they walk down the street in their hijab. They need us to see them as Jesus does.
Loving our neighbors changes how we see our community - Seeing our community changes when we love our neighbors. We begin to look at where we live as an outpost of God's Kingdom, not just the neighborhood we found a good house or a good job. We begin to see the hurts in our community, and we want to know what we can do to fix them. We see the brokenness of family crisis, of economic hardship, of parenting stress, of loneliness in our senior citizens, and more. We don't see houses and cars, we see people who are in God's image and who He loves. And it makes us want to impact our communities because we're truly compelled by love.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.