Skip to content

Posts from the ‘LOVE Oak Cliff’ Category

Talking Before Transforming

In preparation for next week’s Lunch & Learn on the topic of how the church can be involved in neighborhood leadership development , we’ll be sharing a couple posts about the church actively engaging the community.  The article reviewed here, entitled “Before ‘Transforming’ Your Neighborhood, Talk to Your Neighbors” was originally published by Christianity Today in 2012.

“We learned to talk to each other.”

That’s what Christopher C. Smith identifies as the first step of transformation for his neighborhood of Englewood, near Indianapolis.  Long known as a neighborhood in decline with the highest vacant housing rate in the state, Englewood has recently experienced steady improvement largely thanks to the efforts of a local church.

But it came through an unfamiliar – and sometimes uncomfortable – process.

Smith, a member of Englewood Christian Church (which he describes as, “a failed megachurch that spiraled down with the neighborhood,”) says a turning point occurred when several years ago the church replaced a Sunday evening service with a weekly, open conversation on theological topics.  Discussions were sometimes heated, but the forum eventually ignited a shared vision and passion for community engagement.  This flowed into conversations with neighbors and began turning the wheels for collective action.

Smith says of the process:

“…Our church community began finding new ways to converse with our neighbors. We began to get past both frantic reaction and passive resignation to our neighborhood’s decline, and take meaningful steps that flowed out of the convictions that we found we shared in common. Familiar theological terms started to become more than hollow religious language. We realized our conversations were about more than theological terminology—they were about God’s call for us to enter into the reconciliation and flourishing of our neighborhood.

Working as individuals and congregations for the good of Oak Cliff, let’s not forget the importance of having theological backbone for our actions, and of gaining a broader understanding and perspective of God’s plan for Oak Cliff by fostering unity.


CONNECT | Working your Block Map

The first step in connecting with your neighbors is moving from stranger to acquaintance through the creation of a block map.  This tool serves a few different purposes.  Block maps:

  • help you learn the names of your closest neighbors
  • identify gaps in your knowledge about your neighbors and their story
  • provide a reminder to pray for and serve your neighbors
  • become a launchpad for organizing gatherings

For such a simple tool, these are enormous benefits.  If you’re anything like me, prone to forget names and living in a transient community of apartment-dwellers, just recalling people’s names when I see them next is a huge step forward.  Having a block map to record your neighbors’ names and additional information will go a long way toward helping you reflect Christ’s love by interacting on a more significant level.

How do I start?

We’ve provided a block map on our resources page that you can print off and fill out.  Start with whatever information you know, and don’t forget to put your own home on the map!  Although the page is laid out to resemble a street block, feel free to personalize it based on your surroundings.  You can do this by including the addresses or apartment numbers of your neighbors.  Hang it where you’ll see it frequently — such as on your refrigerator, by a bathroom mirror, or near a wall calendar if you have one.   The key is to have it in a prominent spot as a practical reminder that this is a priority for you.

What should you put on your block map?  In addition to names, consider including:

  • birthdays
  • ages of children
  • occupations
  • contact information (offer to exchange your information)
  • hobbies, interests, parts of personal story (i.e. “Recently moved from Ohio” or “Rangers fan”)

The sky’s the limit!  Whatever will help you remember and serve your neighbors better is what you should include.

Still see several blank boxes staring at you?  Don’t be discouraged; this is where neighboring begins.  If you need a little inspiration for ways to connect with those you don’t know yet, check out this post.  It’s often hard or awkward to approach a neighbor of several months or years whom you still don’t know, but being frank and apologetic about your lack of communication with them can go a long way toward establishing a foundation for friendship.

Remember, this step is just about making that initial contact and learning some basic information about your neighbors.  Next time, we’ll talk about how to use your block map to deepen these newly-formed relationships.

I HEART my Neighborhood

So far in this series, we’ve been looking at the vision and possibilities of a neighboring movement.  I don’t know about you, but I get EXCITED when I think about people coming together and seeking the good of those in their own community.  Neighboring is in the spirit and DNA of Oak Cliff; just imagine what would happen if more people were intentional about the “art of neighboring.”

But before we get ahead our ourselves, it must be said: Neighboring is not easy.  Just the fact that we have to talk about neighboring means that personal and cultural values oppose such efforts.  Busyness, privacy, selfishness – these and other issues block the natural flow of neighboring.

Loving your neighbors and working toward real connection involves decision and energy.  Therefore, over the next few posts, I’ll be sharing some “commitments” of neighboring.   To connect, celebrate, and create  is the goal.  Consider:

Connect ::  I will connect with my closest neighbors, developing a block map and moving toward relationship.

Celebrate ::  I will celebrate my neighborhood, joining or helping create gatherings in my community.

Create ::  I will seek God’s design for my neighborhood, praying for and creating common good projects for the benefit of all.

Neighboring may not be easy, but it is life-giving.  Count the cost and make a choice to neighbor.  You never know what blessings might be right next door!

For more resources on neighboring, see

The “Art” of Neighboring

As we examine neighboring, we want to point you to key resources on the topic, and to examples of communities that are already living out these ideas.

Colorado pastors Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon have written an excellent book on Jesus’ call to take the Great Commandment seriously — and literally.  Entitled The Art of Neighboring, the project was birthed out of the authors’ own experiences in learning how to build genuine relationships with those living next door.  Pathak and Runyon explain not only the biblical underpinnings for loving our neighbors, but also share openly about their own successes and failures, and how they broke through personal fears and challenging circumstances to develop genuine relationships.

Map of the Denver area showing households that have committed to neighboring their communities.

Map of the Denver area showing households that have committed to neighboring their communities.

A neighboring movement has spread across the Denver metro area.  Since releasing their story, other areas have begun neighboring movements including cities in Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Virginia, and Northern California.

Read more about the Denver initiative in this article by the Denver Post.

Click here to order the book, or read Joel’s review to spark new ideas for your neighborhood.  Also, learn more about the Denver initiative in this article by The Denver Post.

The Great Commandment is a matter of obedience to those who know and follow Jesus. We don’t love our neighbors so they will know Jesus; we love our neighbors because we already love Jesus and trust him. We are called to love our neighbors, even if our neighbors never show any interest in Jesus, because we have made Jesus our highest priority. [The Art of Neighboring, location 1233]

The BIG Vision of Neighboring!

For the past two summers, I’ve had the joy of working with a local youth group and doing some leadership training and coaching.  At the beginning of our times together, I’ve sent the students out into their neighborhood with a simple question: “What kind of world would you like to live in?

How would you answer?  

The students polled a diverse group – business people on their lunch break, blue collar construction workers, mothers with their children in tow, etc.  From such a demographic you would expect a divergence of answers, but the responses were amazingly similar (and that surprised even me, and I kinda knew what I was looking for!).

Across the board, the replies described a vision of love, joy, and peace, of health and provision.  In debriefing with the students, they immediately got it – “They’re describing what Jesus and the Bible describes and promises!”  And they were right, for the respondents clearly indicated a longing for the fulfillment of the prophets, a manifestation of what Jesus said and did, and a desire for the “new heavens and new earth.” “Kingdom come” is what they wanted, even among folks that wouldn’t put it in these categories.

As a pastor and follower of Jesus, this is what I’m after.  But the question emerges, “How do we get there, how do we work toward this end?”  I’d like you to consider that the solution might be somewhat more basic than we have ever thought.

I’ve recently tapped into a network and growing movement that is taking Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor” seriously and practically.  In Denver, a group of pastors have rediscovered the “art of neighboring.”  Consider…

What if the solution to our society’s biggest issues has been right under our noses for the past two thousand years? When Jesus was asked to reduce everything in the Bible into one command he said: Love God with everything you have and love your neighbor as yourself. What if he meant that we should love our actual neighbors? You know, the people who live right next door…  But the fact is, Jesus has given us a practical plan that we can actually put into practice, a plan that has the potential to change the world. The reality is, though, that the majority of Christians don’t even know the names of most of their neighbors.  [The Art of Neighboring, location 159]

It’s difficult to quantify the results of good neighboring. What we do know is that when people get to know their neighbors, good things start happening. Real relationships are formed. And these relationships make a difference. Neighbors start to work together… [And] these small acts add up to something significant. [The Art of Neighboring, location 1896]

I’m enough of a realist to recognize the limits of neighboring.  However, praying “kingdom come,” I’m also willing to hit the streets, working to get to know my neighbors.  I hope you’ll join me in answering this call.  Who knows, maybe we’ll change the world (beginning a block at a time!)

God’s Design for Your Neighborhood

[A post by Catherine Peele, BODY’s new Director of Mobilization]

What is God’s design for your neighborhood?  If we are called to neighbor, what are we aiming for?  What should our communities look like?  Ultimately, the question is, “What is God’s design for our neighborhoods?”

One strong clue is found in Isaiah 65.17-25:

“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth.  The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.  I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.

Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.

They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands.  They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them.

Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.  The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food.  They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.

This city isn’t just experiencing the absence of things like isolation, material need, sickness, and injustice.  It’s a place where people live a vibrant and secure life. A place where they can Connect, Celebrate, and Create.

Connect – In a neighborhood functioning according to God’s design, people are closely connected both with one another, and with God.  The relationships among people is a source of joy (v. 19), and their relationship with God is also close as evidenced by free and open communication (v. 24).

Celebrate – Healthy neighborhoods celebrate residents’ skills, passions, and stories.  Understanding the unique gifts and background each person brings to the table allows neighbors to imagine ways their neighborhood can change for the better.

Create – Finally, the natural outflow of celebrating a community’s assets is the creation of good things within the neighborhood for the benefit of its people (v. 21).  Whether it’s something as informal as helping a neighbor with a small task, or as organized as starting a neighborhood club, people will use their skills and talents to address the needs of the community.

Neighborhoods thrive when they function according to God’s design to connect, celebrate, and create.  Next time, we’ll tackle the question of what would really happen if we took the first steps to connect with our neighbors.

Read “A Call to Neighboring” and check out practical neighboring resources here.