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We know we are to “love our neighbors,” but what does it look like to love the actual neighbors who live around us? Authors, Chris and Elizabeth McKinney explain how to practice the art of neighboring.
Bob: Do you think of yourself as a good neighbor? Chris and Elizabeth McKinney say, over time, the definition of what that means has changed.
Chris: The Harvard School of Medicine did a really interesting study about ten years ago, where they found a survey that they had done in the ’50s or ’60s about what it meant to be a good neighbor. To be a good neighbor means you know your next-door neighbor; you can introduce new neighbors to the current neighbors; you can rely on your next-door neighbors for help.
Elizabeth: You maybe bring a pie when the new neighbors move in.
Chris: Yes; so ten years ago, they sent out the same survey. The responses they got back were basically: “To be a good neighbor in our culture today is to basically leave people alone.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, April 1st. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com; no fooling about any of that. Chris and Elizabeth McKinney join us today to talk about the purpose for being where you are/for being a good neighbor in our culture today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m just curious: “Would you/if I gave you a sheet of paper and asked you to write down the names of—
Dave: Oh, no. I know where you’re going with this!
Bob: —“write down the names of ten of the people who live on your street—
Ann: Can we include kids?
Bob: No! No; “I’ve got/the names of the moms and the dads; would you know ten?”
Dave: We’re on a cul-de-sac, so there are only two other houses.
Ann: Well, there are four. [Laughter]
Ann: A cul-de-sac has more than two houses! [Laughter]
Dave: There’s Dean and Nancy, there’s Dave and Ann, and there’s Scott and Tina. That’s it! That’s the cul-de-sac! [Laughter]
Ann: What about the Paillons [spelling uncertain]?
Dave: I already got six names right there, counting us. How am I doing, Bob? [Laughter]
Bob: I’m just wondering—
Dave: Oh, the Paillons! Yes, there’s another one!—Nick and Pam! So there—
Ann: Okay, okay. Can you?
Bob: I cannot. In fact—
Ann: I couldn’t do ten.
Bob: —I mean, I know the people on this side; I know the people on the other side. There’s not a whole lot of interaction. We did go to the neighborhood block party that we had out in the street about six/seven months ago, and visited with all the neighbors. We had nice, cordial conversations. We wave as we go by, you know; and I see their kids and slow down for their kids. But we live in this hermetically sealed-off culture.
Ann: Okay, here’s a question: “Do you know the neighbors, growing up, on the street?”
Bob: Oh, absolutely!
Ann: So do I; I could name 20.
Bob: My parents/we did stuff together. I mean, they would—
Ann: We helped each other.
Dave: So does that mean that you were nice as kids, and you’re mean as adults? What does that mean?
Bob: It means that there’s been a culture shift.
Ann: That’s what I was going to say; we live in a new culture.
Bob: Yes; I think we have to figure out how we are countercultural in all of this.
Dave: Be a good neighbor, yes. We need to talk to somebody about that, Bob.
Bob: You got anybody?
Dave: I don’t know; I think they’re sitting in our studio right now. [Laughter] Chris and Elizabeth McKinney—right?—
Dave: —wrote a book about being a great neighbor. The title of your book is Placed for a Purpose, which is really all about being a good neighbor.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Chris: Thank you!
Elizabeth: It’s so good to be here.
Dave: You’re on Cru® staff.
Chris: We are, yes.
Dave: Cru—what’s it called?—Cru City?
Chris: Cru City, yes.
Dave: Yes; what does that mean?
Elizabeth: We’ve been at Cru for 20 years.
Dave: What’s Cru City mean?
Chris: City is a city focus. We did campus ministry within Cru for 17 years, and that was clearly a college-student focus. But then we transitioned to Cru City, where we get to have more of a broad city focus. There are different ways that City tries to reach out to the cities.
Bob: You guys live in Missouri—in the Columbia, Missouri, area/Mizzou—where the University of Missouri is. You were telling us, Chris, that Cru was kind of all you’ve ever known since you were a kid.
Chris: That’s right, yes. I’m a staff kid/proud staff kid. I grew up on staff—my parents were at Kansas State University—they were campus staff over there. Then, in 1990, when I was ten years old—we have a daughter, actually, who’s ten; so I looked at her the other day and was like, “Ginger, how would you feel if I told you, right now, we’re moving Budapest, Hungary?”—because that’s how old I was when my parents moved us overseas to Budapest, Hungary, to be missionaries to college students over there.
So yes, it’s cool that they did a great job of keeping us involved in the ministry and keeping us a part of it. College students were in our home constantly. I had this great experience with college students, who loved Jesus and wanted to follow Jesus. That drew me to want to continue to be on staff, like my parents, as well.
Dave: It’s actually good to hear somebody say, “I was raised in a missionary family and it was a really, really good experience.”
Dave: You often hear—
Bob: —a lot of people, yes.
Dave: Yes; so would your daughter want to go to Budapest at ten?
Chris: You know, she was like, “No, that’s okay; I’ll pass on that.” [Laughter]
Dave: Yes; it’s interesting—your book is about—I love one of the lines in your book that really was such a unique way to say this—and I think it sets up what the book’s about and what we’re going to talk about today: “Your address is not an accident, and neither is your neighbors.” I’ve never thought of it that way, but explain: “What does that mean?”
Elizabeth: Well, we’ve seen, personally, how God has sovereignly placed us—our exact house/our exact lot—and sovereignly placed the neighbors beside us, just through our relationships with our neighbors and seeing our lives be enriched.
We got into neighboring in the most stressful season of our lives. Chris was directing the ministry at Mizzou, and he was also commuting to seminary over an eight-year time period.
Chris: —in St. Louis.
Ann: And you had little kids.
Elizabeth: I had four kids in five years, four little girls. I was drowning in diapers; I was a young mom, and I needed my neighbors. I needed to have people right around me—not ten or fifteen minutes away, even where the college campus was—I needed people right now—right?—in real time.
Ann: That can be hard; because we’re living in a day and age, where people pull into their garages; they close the garage door; and sometimes— specially, in the winter, if you’re in a cold climate—you don’t even see them till the spring.
Ann: How in the world, if you needed them, did you find them?
Elizabeth: Well, for us, it started with a fish fry. We like food; we’re kind of foodies in that way. One of our neighbors had a bunch of fryers: Bingo. He used to play basketball; he’s a big guy. He’s the only person my husband’s ever been around who makes him feel small. [Laughter] Bingo had all these fryers; he said, “Let’s fry up some fish!”
Dave: Wait, wait, wait; his name’s Bingo?
Elizabeth: His name’s Bingo, yes.
Dave: I thought you meant “Bingo! He had had fish fryers!” [Laughter]
Ann: Me, too!
Elizabeth: No, no, no! No, “Bingo!” Bingo brought over a bunch of fryers. We made a bunch of sauces and, really, for the people right in our little cul-de-sac area. It was just a few families, and it was small; it was a lot of fun.
Like I said, we weren’t looking for more to add to our plate; we weren’t looking for more ministry to do. We just had this sense of our lives would be enriched by getting to know our neighbors, and that’s exactly what happened.
Ann: You had your own needs that you needed to have—
Elizabeth: Yes; oh, we had a lot of needs. We still have a lot of needs. [Laughter]
Ann: I like that, though, because you didn’t have an agenda, like: “Oh, I’m going to win my neighbors to Jesus.” It was more of: “I want to know my neighbors, love them; and I need help, too.”
Dave: How did that develop? I mean, the fish fry happens. Did you end up connecting with a couple, and then inviting them over, or vice versa?—or where does it go from there?
Elizabeth: From there, that spring we had a little Easter egg hunt. We had about six kids, which you know we had four—[Laughter]—so if that tells you anything—it was very humble beginnings. But at that Easter egg hunt, a couple came, named Nathan and Kathy. They said to us afterwards, “Hey, if you’d ever want to do a few things for the neighborhood, let us know; we could help.”
We looked at them and said, “Like what?!” [Laughter] They said, “I don’t know, like a block party or something like that.” So we did. We threw together a little block party—asked people: “You bring the tablecloths,” “You bring the trash bags,” “You bring the whatever,”—and it was very potluck style. From there, we found that our neighbors were just as hungry for community as we were. Really, it started to explode; wouldn’t you say?
Chris: Yes. Yes, yes; I mean, people just started coming to these events. We really saw the events were the excuse to get to know our neighbors. We didn’t see it as this “ministry,” initially.
Ann: One of the things you say in the book is: “Neighboring is a part of God’s big redemptive story.” What do you mean by that?
Chris: Yes; this kind of touches back to what you guys were saying about how, maybe growing up, you knew the neighbors around you. The Harvard School of Medicine did a really interesting study about ten years ago, where they found some surveys from a social survey that they had done in the ’50s or ’60s about what it meant to be a good neighbor.
They looked at the data; and basically, the responses back were what you guys were talking about, maybe, and have experienced: you knew your next-door—to be a good neighbor means you know your next-door neighbor; you can introduce new neighbors to the current neighbors; you can rely on your next-door neighbors for help—
Ann: You maybe bring a pie when the new neighbors move in.
Chris: Yes; you invite them to the activities that you have going on in your life.
Then, about ten years ago, they sent out the same survey; and they said, “What does it mean to be a good neighbor?” The responses they got back were basically: “To be a good neighbor in our culture today is to basically leave people alone.”
We say: “To be a good neighbor, we need to break out of that kind of cultural narrative and story and live out of God’s story of redemption, which is demonstrated by Jesus coming to us. It’s this movement towards us/towards others, to believe that your address isn’t an accident—that you’ve been placed for a purpose—and God is working in your neighborhood, and He wants to use you in that neighborhood.”
You can see the different—how you’re going to show up in your neighborhood is going to be a lot different if you’re living out of God’s story of redemption versus the cultural story of what it means to be a good neighbor.
Bob: You guys are intentional; you’re living life on mission. I mean, you’re a part of Cru staff: so this is what you do; this is what you’ve given your lives to. It’s hard to kind of bifurcate: “This is life,” and “This is ministry,”—they all fit together.
Bob: You said you started this because you really wanted to get to know your neighbors. At the same time, in the back of your mind, there had to be: “…and it might lead to spiritual conversations.” How do you keep the neighboring priority and the ministry objective in proper tension? Because some people are like—you were saying, Ann—it’s like: “This is our project, and our goal is to win our neighbors to Christ. We don’t really care about getting to know them; we just want to win them to Jesus.” How have you processed that?
Chris: We talk about motives in neighboring. It’s been helpful for us to have ultimate motives. In our book, we contrast ultimate versus ulterior motives. With ultimate motives, we have this ultimate motive that your neighbors would come to know God through a relationship with Jesus—that is the goal—so we don’t live as undercover Christians in our neighborhood. We live out our faith: we serve; we love; we invest in friendships with that ultimate goal. What that does is it frees us up to enjoy every part of the process and every part of those relationships.
When you have ulterior motives, there is a sneakiness to what you’re trying to do. Any act of love, service, or neighboring is done with the express kind of intention of getting in a church invite, or trying to talk about your faith; and it doesn’t really count unless that happens.
Having that ultimate motive has really freed us up to enjoy every aspect of neighboring and getting to know our neighbors.
Elizabeth: There’s kind of that bait-and-switch element when you have ulterior motives. In a way, you only care about the spiritual aspect of their lives versus, I think, when you have ultimate motives—and of course you want them to know Jesus—but you’re also caring about the whole thing: you’re caring about the good of the neighborhood; you’re caring about their aging parents; you’re caring about their experience of parenting, or grad school, or whatever it is.
People are aware if there’s kind of that bait-and-switch. I mean, maybe even we have experienced that on the other end, of being the project. No one wants to feel like that; people want to be in mutual relationships.
I think when you live out of ultimate motives—if you aren’t having ulterior motives—and your neighbors see that you do want them to know Jesus, they’re okay with that; because they know you do care about the whole thing.
Dave: Yes; I just wondered if your neighbor—that you’ve been getting to know for months or whatever—doesn’t end up falling on her knees in your front yard and getting baptized in your pool, if you feel like a failure. Do you ever feel like, “Wow; all we did was become a good neighbor. They didn’t take another spiritual step”? Are you still good with that?
Elizabeth: I think, for a long time, we wondered—as things were getting rolling, and we were watching God work—“Where’s this all going? Is it okay to just have someone over for dinner; and if the conversation doesn’t go to church or to something that’s more overtly spiritual, is that alright?” or “Chris shares about slinging cotton candy for hours; is that valuable?”
I think, for us, a turning point was, one Sunday, we walked into church. There was a family that, if we made a list of a lot of neighbors—we know quite a few—these would have been probably the last people we would have expected to see at church. We knew them from the block parties; we knew them from the different events; and it was kind of like a head turn, like you know, “Oh my goodness!” As we walked in, I couldn’t focus on the worship music; I couldn’t focus on the message. I got onto Facebook® and messaged her/the wife and said, “Do you come here often? I haven’t seen you here before!”
She wrote me back immediately—she was probably in her car—and she said, “We started coming to church for our kids, because they told us that they didn’t believe in God. In the process, we’ve found Him ourselves,”—and basically—“Are you in a small group? If so, can we join?” It was like, “Yes, yes, yes!” The next Sunday, they walked through their backyard, through our backyard; and they had instant community. That was about four years ago, and they’re still in our small group.
It was one of those times, where we thought, “Okay, this is significant.” We can see how: here’s a couple who, when they were ready to give their lives to Christ, they had instant community. They knew exactly who the Christians were. That was when we started thinking, “Okay; maybe these small, ordinary acts of slinging cotton candy,”—or whatever it is—
Chris: —the relationships, over time, that we call neighboring. Neighboring is more like a crock pot and less like a microwave; it’s low and slow. We’d been building relationships with this family for two or three years, through all these neighboring activities; and God showed up and worked.
Dave: Zoom back and give us the big vision, which is, again, back to that line: “Your address is not an accident.” How is it that you can step back and say, “God is providentially placing us”? I mean, it’s in the title of your book: for a Purpose. What’s that look like?
That’s sort of where it starts: I have to have an understanding that this isn’t random; this isn’t—even when I met a realtor, and I ended up in this apartment, or this—somehow, you’re believing that God didn’t/this wasn’t an accident. Talk about that.
Chris: Yes; so you know, as we were thinking more about this, if you go back to Deuteronomy 4—I mean, this is even just a theme throughout Scripture, I think, is God placing people for a purpose—if you look at Deuteronomy 4, the nation of Israel is getting ready to move into the promised land.
Moses is saying, “Hey, God is giving you these laws, in a large part, to govern how you’re going to treat each other when you move into this land. When I place you in the land, the way you treat each other is going to reflect God’s love, mercy, justice, and grace to the nations. As the nations come and come through your land, they’re going to look at how you’re treating each other and say, ‘What kind of God would bless this people with this kind of law? This must be an amazing God.’”
Elizabeth: These were the neighbors.
Chris: These were the neighbors, yes. Israel’s neighbors are going to see this. Even for the nation of Israel, they weren’t placed in the land just to sit back and be like, “Sweet! We’re home, we can just pull up into the—”
Elizabeth: —“milk and honey.”
Chris: Yes; “We can pull into the driveway and close the garage door, because we’re here. This is good; this is the end of the story,”—no, that was just the beginning of the story.
If you go to the New Testament, this is a passage that’s really informed our view on this as well—is in Acts 17, when Paul talks/he is in Athens—and he talks about how God has laid out the boundary markers for us of where we will live and the time that we will spend on this earth. We’re like, “Okay; God places Israel for a purpose to reflect His character; Paul is bringing that theme, and he’s saying everyone is placed where they are for this purpose.”
We’re like, “Well, what if that’s what’s happened with us in our neighborhood? What if God has placed us in our neighborhood, not as the end of the story, but just the beginning?—as a way to reflect His character to those around us—His love, His kindness, His justice, His mercy and peace.”
If we say, “Okay, that’s the reason why we’re living in this house,” well, then, it’s not going to be an accident that our neighbors, who He’s put in our neighborhood—that’s not an accident either—He’s placed them for a reason, because He’s working in their life. If you begin to live that way and think that way, it totally changes the way you view your neighborhood, and your neighbors, and yourself, and the role that God wants you to have in your neighborhood.
Dave: That’s a beautiful perspective, and it’s a larger vision.
Ann: It’s convicting. I’m just going to say, “It is convicting”; because here’s what happens: we get busy; we’re in ministry—we’re discipling these other people—and here’s what I can think: “I don’t have time for my neighbors!”
Dave: “Honestly, who cares about my neighbors?”
Ann: Yes! It’s terrible, you guys. I feel so convicted now. [Laughter] Thanks for this message today. I think it’s something we really all need to think about.
Elizabeth: Well, I can also say, just to bring some comfort, neighboring is also the most selfish ministry there is. Trust me, it is incredibly enriching. We get so much more out of this than our neighbors do; trust me! We are the beneficiaries of so much from our neighbors. When you think about the phrase, “It takes a village,” our neighbors help raise our kids! When I was talking about being a young mom, and needing my neighbors, I could not have made it through that season without my neighbors.
Ann: Now, I’m older; and my kids are gone—because I relate to that [having a younger family]—so now, it has to be more intentional on my part.
Dave: I think, you know, where we started is—Bob was talking about the differences in the generations—how we were sort of in each other’s backyards; and today, we’re not—but I don’t think the DNA of the human soul is any different.
Dave: Even though our neighbors’ garage doors may go down, and they hibernate—and I’m not saying they; we do, too—they still long for community.
Dave: Part of me is inspired to say—even to our listeners/to myself—“We should become the event planners for our neighborhoods,” like you guys. You guys are the event planners! You’re creating opportunities to get neighbors together. It’s sort of like that’s what we should be.
Bob: For the listener, who is thinking, “Okay, yes; but you guys, this is what you do. You’re missionary staff with Cru, so…I have a full-time job; I have other things that I’m doing. That’s good—you guys keep doing that—but I don’t have space in my life.”
I think we’ve heard you say there are empty-nesters; there are other parents. This is not just something you do—you help catalyze it—but all the neighbors are in on this. Any listener can get a copy of your book, Placed for a Purpose, and catch a vision for this—not just a vision—but you guys map out a strategy for how we can engage with our neighbors, ultimately keeping a kingdom mindset in the midst of that.
Chris and Elizabeth’s book is called Placed for a Purpose: A Simple and Sustainable Vision for Loving Your Next-Door Neighbors. You can order the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy of the McKinney’s book. Again, it’s called Placed for a Purpose. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order, or call 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, this day is a significant day for all of us, who are followers of Christ. This is the day when we pause to remember the Last Supper/the Passover meal that Jesus had with His disciples on the day before He was crucified. As we head into this weekend, and think about the death and resurrection of Christ, I want all of you, who are FamilyLife Today listeners, to know what we celebrate this weekend is at the heart of everything we do, here, at FamilyLife®.
Our mission to effectively develop godly marriages and families—underneath that mission—is an understanding that the only way you can effectively develop godliness in your marriage and in your family is with a focus on the gospel/an understanding that the death and resurrection of Christ is the central event in all of human history. The implications of the cross and the resurrection—our forgiveness, our new life in Christ, our living now for eternity—that reshapes everything about us. It reshapes our marriages and our families.
Here, at FamilyLife, the gospel commitment is really at the heart of everything that we do. As you prepare to meditate on the death of Christ this week, and to celebrate His resurrection this weekend, I just wanted to remind you that this is at the heart of all that we do, here, at FamilyLife. Thank you for your support of this ministry, year in and year out; we are so grateful that you join us/that you listen.
Let me just say this: if you don’t know Christ—if you don’t have a relationship with God through Jesus—I want to point you to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. There’s a link there that talks about “Two Ways to Live.” Don’t head into this weekend/into the Easter weekend without pausing to consider your relationship with Jesus and all that He has done for us at the cross. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the link that says “Two Ways to Live” to find out more about what it means to have a relationship with God through Christ.
We hope you can join us, again, tomorrow as we continue talking about what it means to love your neighbor. Chris and Elizabeth McKinney will be back with us. I hope you can be here as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch. We got some extra help from Bruce Goff; and of course, our entire broadcast production team is involved. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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