Jesus got into other people’s business. He was intrusive. He frequently made people uncomfortable. He was proactive, not waiting for someone else to bring up tough subjects. He addressed the elephant in the room when no one else would dare. He risked an awkward silence or backlash from “crossing the line”.
“What are you discussing…?” (Luke 24:17)
“Who touched me?” (Mark 5:31)
“What do you want…?” (John 1:37)
“Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” (John 1:47)
“You are Israel’s teacher…and do you not understand these things? (John 3:10)
‘You are right when you say you have no husband.” (John 4:17)
“Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14)
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” (John 6:67)
“Has no one condemned you?” (John 8:10)
“Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (John 9:35)
“Will you really lay down your life for me?” (John 13:38)
“Don’t you know me, Philip…?” (John 14:9)
“Are you asking one another what I meant…?” (John 16:19)
“Woman, why are you crying?” (John 20:13)
“Friends, haven’t you any fish?” (John 21:5)
“Simon son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:16)
Asking the hard question was worth the risk to our Savior. He knows that salvation often hinges on full disclosure, uncovering the root of the issue and tearing down the walls that keep people from knowing (Jesus) and being known (by others).
In our modern American culture, making sure everyone is comfortable is considered the supreme virtue. Not invading anyone’s personal space is today’s definition of compassion, love and tolerance. Stigmatizing any expressions of opinions or personal questions as a form of hatred enables those who don’t want to know Jesus to continue in sin unabated, free from the inconvenience and discomfort of being confronted with opposition or truth.
Growing up, a key to survival in my family was keeping your feelings and problems to yourself. Difficult issues were swept under the rug. The modus operandi was “wait long enough and hope they’ll go away.” Personal questions or disclosures were frowned upon. Any “insider” information shared was often used against the sharer.
I’m determined to break that cycle in my own household. If you ask my 12 year-old son, “How can you show someone that you care about them?” he’ll repeat what I’ve always taught him – “by asking questions”. Do you ever catch yourself during a conversation thinking about what you want to say next? Or when you finish talking, does the other person launch into an unrelated topic, not responding to what you just said? Shouldn’t we all be fully engaged in listening and follow up with appropriate questions? That’s the natural flow of a discussion between two individuals deeply concerned about each other. Reflect on your recent interactions and recall whether you asked any questions. If you were more interested in getting your points across than digging in deeper to learn more about the thoughts they shared, then you may have missed an opportunity to discover a clue to leading them toward (or closer to) Jesus.
Many doors have opened in my life to closer relationships, evangelism and service simply by asking a personal question that made those around me cringe. “I can’t believe Jim just asked that!” Thank God I did. Those questions were much like those posed by Jesus and led to tremendous breakthroughs:
- Are you really ok? You said you’re fine, but that’s not what it sounds like to me.
- Why are you acting like that? Is something else going on?
- Why aren’t you asking your wife how she feels about this?
- Why isn’t your fiancé here? Is everything ok?
- Is your mom an alcoholic?
- I hear what you’re saying, but are you telling me the whole story?
- Do you know Jesus Christ personally?
- You believe in Jesus but have you surrendered your life to Him?
- That may be what’s best for you but what about your kids?
- Is there anything I can do to help? Seriously, I mean it.
Amazingly enough, those I asked weren’t offended by those questions. In fact, nearly all were relieved that someone finally had the nerve and interest to bring up what had been eating at them the whole day – or far longer. Most started calling me or inviting me to get together, knowing I would listen and delve deeper to possibly offer some encouragement or advice.
Be the “Pastor” of Your Neighborhood
The Bible defines church as “an assembly of called-out ones”. A neighborhood can be an “assembly of called-out ones” if those who know Jesus band together for worship, fellowship and service to those in their community. Neighborhoods are also a place where we live it out all week what we learned last Sunday.
In an effort to make my neighborhood look a little like the biblical definition of church, I’ve felt called to be the “pastor” of my neighborhood. It’s actually not that difficult to do and doesn’t require a seminary degree. The only qualifications are a deep enough love for the Lord and for neighbors to risk asking tough questions and to follow up on their responses. The risk most fear is, “We have to live with these people!” It’s easier to talk about the weather or gossip about other neighbors than to get personal and ask if there’s anything you can be praying about for someone or why they look so upset.
Successfully pastoring your neighborhood also entails being:
- Visible – Don’t close the garage door right after you get home, but take walks (e.g. prayer walks) in the neighborhood and stop to chat with those you see, particularly if you sense the Lord nudging you in their direction
- Vulnerable – Rather than worrying about making a good impression or keeping up with the Joneses, be transparent and open up with neighbors so they can see Christ through you
- Virtuous – Avoid actions and words that would damage your ability to represent and share Christ with your neighbors, such as harsh language and confrontations over petty matters, taking the high road even when your neighbor is in the wrong
- Vital – Keep your eyes and ears attune to opportunities to step in when neighbors encounter challenges, leading efforts to demonstrate God’s love to those in need of help and hope
In summary, you must be different. A Barna study revealed that most non-Christians see little difference between their Christian and non-Christian neighbors. Following Jesus means living from a distinct vantage point, viewing every person and circumstance against the backdrop of the cross – causing us to think and act quite differently than those with a secular world view.
My family reaches out, shows compassion and asks personal questions. When a neighbor’s young son needed a heart transplant, we organized fundraisers, visited him in the hospital and frequently gave them gifts. When a Muslim neighbor’s health was failing, we brought him healthy meals and regularly checked to see how he was doing. When a neighbor’s air conditioning unit broke down during a hot Florida summer and their alcoholic dad was out of work, we raised money and found a contractor to install a new system quickly for free.
To live out this “pastor of my neighborhood” concept in the life of our ministry, Meet The Need is currently building new software to enable more Christ-followers across the country to adopt that role. For those daring enough to step forward, the app will help them connect neighbors, engage a local church, and pull in ministry and business resources to wrap around a struggling family in their community. The system will use Artificial Intelligence to recommend possible solutions and to suggest relevant disciple-making content not only for the family in need but also for neighbors who volunteer to help.
It’s Your Turn…
Are you willing to look a little “odd for God” to your neighbors? Will you risk a reputation as intrusive and maybe even as a troublemaker – in other words, nosy. It will be awkward and uncomfortable, for you and probably for some neighbors too – but the possible breakthroughs are worth being countercultural in this age of “tolerance” and “Selfism”.