Don Everts: What’s it Look Like to Love My Community?
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Don EvertsDon Everts is the senior pastor of First & Calvary Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Missouri, and is a writer for Lutheran Hour Ministries and the Hopeful Neighborhood Project. Don has spent almost three decades helping people on college campuses and in the local church become good stewards of their God-given gifts. Along the way, his wife, Wendy, has been helping Don do the same. His many books include The Reluctant Witness, The Spiritually Vibrant Home, and The Hopeful Neighborhood, all...more
“What’s it look like to love my community?” Don Everts helps you get intentional about your relationship to your neighborhood, caring in ways that matter.
Don Everts: What’s it Look Like to Love My Community?
Dave: We just moved into a new neighborhood.
Dave: And one of the best things—I don’t know what you’re going to say about this new neighborhood—it’s not the house; it’s not even the location—it’s our neighbors.
Ann: It’s Roman and Helen.
Dave: I was going to say Roman!
Ann: Yes. [Laughter]
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: You know, we’re pulling in, and we’re moving boxes in—actually, it might have even been before that—our neighbor right across the street, who looks exactly like Anthony Hopkins,—
Ann: He does!
Dave: —comes walking down to the end of the driveway, with this big smile.
Ann: —Polish accent.
Dave: I mean, I think he genuinely was excited to introduce us to the neighborhood.
Dave: And he’s become a really good friend.
Ann: Really good friend. He came here when he was 18 years old from Poland—got to hear his story—how his wife’s from Poland, from the village he grew up in. They didn’t even know each other, but they met here in the United States and got married.
Dave: Yes; and now, every time our garage door is open, he texts and says, “Hey, your garage door is open.” [Laughter] I mean, he’s just that guy watching out for us. Here’s what I thought—
Ann: And our other neighbors, too, have been great.
Dave: Yes; and I thought, “The way we feel about Roman—just this genuine love-filled man—does anybody feel that about Dave and Ann Wilson in this neighborhood?” Because I think that’s what we’re supposed to be: the light of Christ. As we come into a new area, we should represent that; so we’re going to talk about that today.
Ann: But I also think, Dave, we’ve gotten really lazy. Like back in Michigan, you know, sometimes it’s easy just to pull into the garage; put the garage door down; and go in without talking to anybody, especially if you haven’t had a very good day.
Dave: Yes; so today, we’re going to change that. We’re going to change us, and we’re going to change others. We’ve got Don Everts back in the studio with us. Don, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Don: I always love being with you guys.
Dave: Now, you’re sitting over there, smiling. I mean, you’ve written a book called The Hopeful Neighborhood.
Dave: The subtitle is What Happens When Christians Pursue the Common Good. So you’re over there, smiling, because what we’re talking about is exactly what you’re hoping happens; right?
Don: And I’m smiling because I just moved into a new neighborhood too.
Dave: And by the way, this is your 31st neighborhood.
Don: It is my 31st, for those who are keeping track at home.
Don: That’s right; that’s right. I’ve moved around a lot, and maybe it will be my last [Laughter]: I’m hoping; I’m hoping!
But yes, we just moved in. It’s been fun to get to know the neighbors. I’m smiling, because we’re kind of navigating the same thing; it’s like: “What is my relationship to this neighborhood going to be? Am I going to have a relationship to this neighborhood?”
Ann: I think that’s a good question; and: “Should we have?”
Don: —and “Should we?” No one expects me to.
Don: It’s culturally normal to not; and yet, with the research we’ve done on neighborhoods—and digging back into the Scriptures and what the Scriptures have to say about how we’re meant to be a blessing to the people and place right around us—I think, actually, God invites us to. Life is more beautiful if we kind of become a part of this web: of people, and place, and pets, and trees, and streets, and sidewalks, and all the things around us. I’m smiling because: “What a wonderful thing to be thinking about.”
Ann: You just alluded to: “What happened?”—of—“What made us stop being outside, and what took us inside?” I was curious: “What are those things?”
Don: I think there are a wide variety of reasons. I think one interesting one—and here, in the modern era, is we have a huge emphasis on evangelism, which I’m a fan of; most of my books are about evangelism [Laughter]—but I think that we have equated being a faithful Christian, and relating with the people around us, is mostly done by sharing the gospel message. Now, is that a way of loving people?—totally; absolutely. Now, do most people trust us enough to hear it from us?—no, they don’t.
But it’s interesting—because in the early church, an interesting thing was said about the first Christians—it was said that they had “eloquent behavior.” Now, think about that for a second. It wasn’t that they had eloquent words; they had eloquent behavior. That’s an early historian in those first centuries, when they were being persecuted; and yet, they were loving the people and places around them in gorgeous ways/in beautiful ways. Early historians said that: “Christians had a strange way about them that drew people to them.” Well, that strange way was Jesus’ way of laying your life down for other people, and lifting others up, and seeing their dignity, and blessing them, and picking kids up.
I think one of the things that has changed is—maybe because the culture around us is shifting; we’re in kind of this post-Christendom era, where the culture is less Christian around us—and I think some people are kind of tempted: “I’m going to close off; and every now and then, I’ll just lob an evangelism grenade out, and hopefully God can use it. Probably, I’ll be persecuted; you know, they won’t respond.”
If that’s our most engaging, winsome picture of how we’re supposed to be relating with the world around us, no wonder we’re kind of isolated and closed off. We pop up from our home, and run over to a Christian huddle; then we pop up from there, and go run over to another Christian huddle. I think we can huddle up like that; we’ve lost this picture/this biblical image of—I mean, it’s right there in the garden—“Keep and care for the people and the place right around you.”
Peter, in the New Testament—where they’re being persecuted in Asia Minor, and they’re being tempted to close themselves off—and Peter writes this gorgeous letter that says: “Oh, guys, guys! You are elect exiles. You are elect by God, right where God wants you; so love the people around you.”
Dave: Yes; and it’s interesting: I think a lot of us want to get our neighbor to our church.
Dave: Christmas is coming or Easter’s coming, and we’re going to make an invite; and it’s the only time we ever talk to them. [Laughter]
Don: That’s right.
Dave: You know, it’s like, “Who are you again? You live next door?”
Dave: It’s like, if we were over there, helping them in the yard—or we saw there was a need, and we showed up, with no agenda—
Don: That’s right.
Dave: —we’re just there, showing up!
Ann: They don’t feel like they’re a project that we are working on.
Don: That’s right.
Dave: Yes; and then, when we make the invite, they’re probably going to go, “Yes, I know you; I trust you. What are you talking about?—church what?”
Don: That’s right; that’s right.
Dave: But if you just lob the thing, they’re probably going to say, “No.” And you’re going to think it’s them, and it’s probably us.
Don: Yes, that’s right. And it’s interesting—in Peter’s letter, for example—how he encouraged them to pursue the common good: you know, like, “Just love people! Do nice things for them.”
Don: A little later, he says, “When people ask you the reason for the hope that is inside of you,—
Don: —“be ready to talk about your faith.”
It’s like, as you are laying your life down—and you’re living a beautiful, upside-down Jesus-life with the people in place right around you—they’re going to ask you at some point. You’re going to build trust; you’re going to have gained a hearing. And he’s like: “So be ready. Be ready to talk about it.” And that’s the other way we can love our neighbors: to be ready to say, “We’re like this because we follow this weird, ancient Rabbi”; [Laughter] and we live this life for Him.”
Because of my wife, and how incredible she is, our neighbors are already coming to our church. It’s not because we invited them to church; it’s because we invite them over for a meal.
Ann: It’s that D.L. Moody quote that says: “Out of 100 men, 1 will read the Bible, and the other 99 will read the Christian.” Your neighbors have been reading your wife.
Don: That’s right.
Ann: They’ve been reading you, Don; they’ve been reading your family. They’re thinking, “Hmm, I haven’t read my Bible; but what I see in that family is something that’s attractive.”
Don: It’s being authentic, and having people in your life, and loving them in practical ways. That is what makes a difference.
You know, our research told us—we asked non-Christians: “Is there anything in your community or your neighborhood that you think churches or Christians could be helpful with?”—and they said, “Yes.” The other encouraging thing is that, in general, they don’t trust churches or Christians, generally; but they have a high trust for people who live in the neighborhood.
If the last era—the era of Christendom, was maybe an era of like church-centered programs or, you know, massive programs and that sort of thing—people don’t want those right now/the non-Christians. But someone who lives in their neighborhood?—they’ll trust them, because they live in the neighborhood.
Dave: Now, have you done anything as a family in your neighborhood?
Don: Oh, yes! I mean, being married to Wendy is a little like cheating. [Laughter]
- We did basement church.
- We turned our garage into a hockey rink.
- You know how a lot of people have a fire pit? Well, we put ours in the front rather than the back. [Laughter] People come by all the time: “Hey, you want a hot dog?” You know, people stop by.
- Going to our neighbors and inviting them to the holiday-type things: “Hey, we’re doing this for the holidays…”
So all of those kind of preceding kinds of things.
- Block parties are great.
All those things are ways of getting to know your neighbors, starting to be a blessing there.
- We make it a practice just to sit on our front porch rather than the back porch.
Dave: Yes, and that’s just a simple thing.
Dave: It’s an outward focus.
Ann: When we first/when I was a kid, nobody had trampolines/nobody, back in the day. [Laughter] But my family did. I don’t even know how my dad got this square/it was a square trampoline. The first day we moved into the neighborhood, we took that square trampoline, and we put it in the front yard purposefully.
Ann: My dad said, “You guys want some friends? Put this out in the front yard.” [Laughter] Every kid on our street was in the front yard!
I like that idea about your fire pit—you know?—because people are just walking by, and you can say, “Hi,” to them.
Don: Yes; that’s right. There are little things that we’ve done.
You know, there are bigger things, too. We’ve invited neighbors to move in with us when things have happened.
Dave: You really have done that?
Don: Sure, when there have been situations, where they need help or things are going on in life: “Come on over,” and “You’re washing machine doesn’t work? Come on over.”
The prerequisite for a lot of those things—and this isn’t rocket science, but it also is challenging—is to actually know people. When we did this research with Barna and Lutheran Hour, we said, “We need to make some tools that can help people get to know their neighbors better.”
This will also be silly—because it’s hard if you’ve lived in a neighborhood for a long time—it’s hard to reengage and go, “I totally forgot your name.”
Don: —and: “I know I say, ‘Hi,’ to you all the time—
Ann: So awkward!
Don: — “but I have forgotten your name.”
How do you re-get to know people? We created this neighborhood map—a simple little thing people can do to go and try to get to know people—we created this thing called “Neighborhood Bingo.” It’s this Bingo board, and there are little things that you have to do to create a [row]—you know, whether it’s like: “Ask them what the name of their pet is,”/“Tell them you forgot the name of their pet,”—so there are little things that we can be doing, just to begin to reengage with our neighbors.
For those of us/if there are people listening—who are like: “I’d love to do things to love my neighbors. I don’t know any of them!”—well, then, start there.
Dave: Yes, just get to know them.
Dave: And I think one of the things I hear you saying is: “Have eyes/—
Dave: —“eyes to see your neighbors.”
It’s easy, even as a pastor—I saw my people at my church/my eyes were on them: “How can I serve them?”—
Dave: —I’m a shepherd there.
But somehow, we’re shepherds—we’re the light of the world in our neighborhood—and we need eyes to see.
Dave: I’ll never forget, one day, I got a phone call from Ann. She is driving home, and I find out—and I don’t even know how this story is going to end—that she picks up some lady on the side of the road. [Laughter]
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Don Everts at FamilyLife Today.
We’ll hear Don’s response in just a minute; but first, all this week, when you help reach more families with God’s truth by giving to FamilyLife, we want to send you a copy of kind of a unique book about how to teach your kids when they have questions about the Christian faith. Hillary Morgan Ferrer has written a book called Mama Bear Apologetics. We want to send you a copy as our “Thanks,” when you give this week at FamilyLifeToday.com or when you call, with your donation, at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Don Everts. Let’s hear what happened when Ann picked up a random stranger on the side of the road.
Ann: Yes, I’m driving home. When I get up in the morning, right after I turn off my alarm, I say a quick prayer: “Jesus, I give You my life today; I give You everything in me. I pray that You would give me Your eyes, You’d give me Your ears, and You’d give me Your mouth to be able to speak.” You guys, God hears those prayers! And He answers those prayers!
Don: —and He answers them.
Ann: I was driving home from work one day. I’m talking to my mom and dad, who were then in their late 80s. I talked to them every day—that was a big thing; they wanted me to call them every day—so I called them. My mom had Alzheimer’s, but my dad was really quick.
I said, “Hey, I just went by someone, who sat on the sidewalk. I’m going to turn around and go see what’s up.” Because I could see that she was older, and she just sat down in the middle of the sidewalk on a busy road.
Ann: My dad—this is so like my dad—
Dave: This is so her dad!
Ann: —he said, “Oh, hey! Keep me on the phone! I want to hear what’s happening.”
Don: —because he was curious, or because he wanted to protect you?
Ann: No, he was curious.
Don: Oh, okay.
Dave: He’s curious; he’s like, “There’s an adventure about that.” [Laughter]
Ann: It was an older woman, so I turned around. I go to this woman, and she is sitting. I could tell she is probably in her late 80s as well. She has a huge bag and a purse. I sit down on the sidewalk with her; and I say, “Hey, I noticed that you sat down. Are you okay?”
She said—she’s so funny—she said, “Honey, I’m tired, and it is hot, and I have a ways to go to get to my house.”
Ann: And I said, “Well”—
Dave: This was probably five or ten blocks from our neighborhood.
Ann: Yes, she was pretty close to us. I said, “Well, I’m on my way home. You don’t know me, but I am so happy to drive you home.” She said, “That would be wonderful!”; she gets in my car. [Laughter]
Now, I had to introduce her to my dad and my mom: “Hey, Dad! This is Betty.”
Don: Put her on the speaker phone there.
Ann: They are still on the speaker phone. [Laughter]
I say to Betty: “Do you have an address?” And she said, “Honey, I know where I live. I’ll just tell you where to go.” I start driving, and she tells me a street. I just kind of type it into my phone. I’m thinking, “I don’t know where that street is, and this is my neighborhood.” We’re driving. She says, “Take a left; take a right.” And then, she says, “Hmm”; and she starts crying. She said, “I don’t know where I am.”
I could tell—because my mom had dementia, I thought, “Uh-oh; something’s up,”—I know that there was an assisted living home close to this place, so I drive to that parking lot. I said, “Does this look familiar?” She is crying even harder; and she says, “No.” I said, “Well, you know, maybe you have your ID in your purse”; because she couldn’t even remember her last name now.
Ann: She says, “Yes, let me find something.” She has this big bag and a purse. The only things in the big bag/she pulls out a wig; and then she pulls out this huge thing of makeup—and then, this is the funniest thing—she pulls out this huge alarm clock/a big black alarm clock, with the bells on the top; you know, that go: “Ding, ding, ding, ding!”
Ann: And I said, “Betty, you are super prepared!” [Laughter] She said, “Honey, you never know what you’re going to come across; you always need these things with you.”
Then, I find a wallet; but there is nothing in the wallet. But at the very bottom of her purse, in a pocket, I find a card and it has a name on it. I said, “Do you know this name?”—I read the name. She said, “Yes, that’s my daughter’s name.” I Google® the daughter’s name; and I found out: “Oh, she’s in the neighborhood. I know this street.”
Don: —the daughter is?
Dave: The daughter’s street is near where we live.
Ann: The daughter is—so I drive to this home—it’s pretty close to us. In the driveway are a police car and a firetruck, and the sirens are going off. Betty said, “Oh, no! I think I’m in trouble.”
I pull into the driveway. This man comes running out; and he yells, “Ann Wilson! You have my mom!” I said, “What?” He said, “Of course! Of course! We have been praying, ‘Father God, find our mother!’” And it was his mother-in-law.
Ann: He said she’d been living in their home just a few weeks; she has dementia.
Dave: He knows Ann because they go to our church.
Ann: They go to our church; he said, “We prayed, ‘God, send an angel to find her and bring her home.’” And he said, “Thank you for finding her and seeing our mom.”
[Emotion in voice] It makes me teary, thinking about it. She passed away not too long after that. They asked me to come to the funeral and share that story; because they said, “We want people to know that God always sees them.
Ann: “And that there’s someone in the neighborhood that’s watching out for them; that God will send His people to you.” I thought that was the sweetest story.
Don: And the beautiful thing, Ann—what I love—is that it started because you sat down next to her.
Dave: Ann saw her.
Don: You saw her, you sat down next to her. People listening: “How do I engage with my neighborhood?”—just look—
Don: —just watch.
Don: And there are going to be opportunities to be light. There are going to be opportunities to just be friendly. There are going to be opportunities to just have fun. That is eloquent behavior; that’s what they called it in the early church.
There’s a reason why Jesus said, “Let your light shine, and people will give glory to your Father, who’s in heaven.” You know, what you did—you let your light shine—but the glory goes to God. People are more impressed by God because of what you did, so that’s kind of the hope.
If people are listening—and they’re like, “I want to share the gospel with my neighbors. I don’t like them, but I want to share the gospel with them,”—maybe start by liking them or getting to know them and being kind; loving them; pursuing the welfare of your neighborhood—and then God will give you—you’ll gain a hearing over time. If He’s pursuing someone, there will be an opportunity to share the gospel. Eloquent behavior draws people in; and they go, “Why are you hopeful?”
Dave: Yes, and I think it’s so easy to see and move on.
Dave: I’m honestly thinking, if I were driving that day and saw this woman, I would have kept driving,—
Don: Right, yes.
Dave: —like, “Hmm, there’s a woman sitting there.” And Ann has this heart that says, “I’ve got to stop.
Ann: It’s that prayer!
Dave: “I’ve got to stop.”
Ann: It’s that prayer at the beginning. I feel like, when we offer our lives to God, He’s like, “Alright!”
Don: Yes, you’re available.
Ann: Yes; “You’re available today.”
Dave: So when you’re walking around your neighborhood, which we do a lot;—
Dave: —it’s like: “You walk by a neighbor; stop.
Dave: “Just say, ‘Hi’; and it may lead to a conversation.”
I know some of you are thinking, “I don’t want to stop! I don’t want to talk to them! [Laughter] I want to get my steps in!” It’s like, “No; we’re called to be the light of the world.”
You know what’s really interesting? It was one of my mantras when I was preaching—is that very passage, Matthew 5:14—
Dave: —Jesus says: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” The word in the Greek—“set on a hill”—is: “strategically placed on a hill.”
Dave: In a sense, he’s saying to the disciples—and to us, now, as disciples—“I’m strategically placing you in neighborhoods to be light!
Dave: “Don’t close your garage door; shut your door; turn off the lights, and hide!” I mean, there are times when we need to refill—
Ann: I have to share this story.
Dave: —walk across the street and say, “Hi,” to your neighbor.
You’ve got another story?!
Ann: I have not done this well over the years—I just have to say—because sometimes, it’s messy. [Laughter]
Don: Oh, it’s often; yes.
Ann: We’d like it to be the story of the woman sitting on the sidewalk.
Ann: But man, when we lived in California—and we were going to seminary; we were pouring into and trying to love our neighbors—and then there was this one lady/she just—[Laughter]—I was drained after a while; because she would just talk and talk. I have to admit, she came to my door one time—and it was glass; you could see through it—
Don: —pretending you weren’t there?
Ann: —I fell on the floor, flat on my stomach; because I just did not want to talk to her that day. [Laughter] So I’m saying we don’t all do it perfectly.
Another time, we had a woman, who was not in a great situation in marriage; it was a little abusive, so she lived with us for a little bit with a daughter.
Ann: And they had a little dog; and that dog upstairs went to the bathroom all the time in the upstairs bedroom, where they were staying—like, “Ugh!”—that’s why I’m saying: “It’s not always convenient.
Ann: “It’s not always easy.”
Dave: “It’s messy.”
Ann: It is.
Don: This is part of why—after we did this research and realized: “How do we do this? We don’t have the muscles that, maybe, the early church had,”—or whatever. So we developed this network across the country, and even around the world, people are starting to do it, called The Hopeful Neighborhood Project, which is just people, who are like: “I want to be helpful in some way in getting to know my neighborhood/in helping my neighborhood.”
We created HelpfulNeighborhood.org. It’s just like a place—there are neighborhood coaches, who’ll say, “Here are some ideas…”; people are sharing best practices with each other/sharing stories with each other—because sometimes, we fall on the floor, and we pretend we’re not there. [Laughter] We need to hear the story from someone else, and go, “Oh, okay; I can do that,” “I can do that,”—
Don: —or to get ideas.
It’s embarrassing that we’re out of practice, because Christians should be industry leaders when it comes to being good neighbors.
Don: We really should, and we’re not.
Don: That’s okay. We’ll just admit it and repent; and then say: “We have to grow. How can I get some help with this? How can I get some ideas?”
“I’ll just sit out front”; that’s an act of being available.
Don: “We’ll see what God does.”
Ann: And I would say, too, whatever you do—whatever you pray about—bring your kids. If you have kids in your home, bring them into it.
Dave: Bring ‘em into it.
Don: Yes, absolutely.
Ann: Have that conversation; pray at the dinner table: “Lord, help us to love and see our neighbors,” and “What would that look like?” And then talk to your kids about it and pray about your neighbors. It gives them a worldview.
Ann: It gives them a vision for their neighborhood of how God can use them, not just sharing the gospel, but just in loving them.
Don: Every first day of school—you know, because kids are all [nervous sounds]—you know, first day of school. Part of my speech in sending them off/I always say: “I want you to keep an eye out for someone who’s new to the school in your classroom, or someone who doesn’t have anyone to play with on the playground,”—because we can get so caught up in ourselves. It’s actually like your life is found by giving it away and by looking out for others. We want to pass that on to our kids, and maybe they’ll do better than we have done.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Don Everts on FamilyLife Today. His book is called The Hopeful Neighborhood: What Happens When Christians Pursue the Common Good. You can get your copy at FamilyLifeToday.com or when you call us at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
If you know anyone who needs to hear conversations just like this, we’d love it if you’d tell them about this station. And you can share today’s specific conversation from wherever you get your podcasts. And while you’re there, a simple way you can help more people discover God’s plan for families is by leaving a rating and review for FamilyLife Today.
Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be talking with Hillary Morgan Ferrer about the importance of instilling a strong biblical foundation for your kids’ faith. That’s tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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