A Love2020.com interview with the authors of Next Door As It Is In Heaven: Living out God’s Kingdom In Your Neighborhood.
Phil Miglioratti ~ What prompted you to partner together to write this book?
Lance Ford ~ In our work with pastors as well as church members over the last several years, it has become increasingly evident that most Christians really want to be used by the Lord to serve others. They just don’t know how to do it on an everyday, practical level.
Phil Miglioratti ~ You state that “place matters.” What does this mean and why is it critical to the Church today?
Brad Brisco ~ Place matters because the vast majority of communities in the United States are void of relational vitality, primarily because of the loss of informal public places. The absence of this informal public life is the result of suburban sprawl and the rise of the automobile culture, both of which foster geographical and relational separation between home and workplace. Magnifying the problem is the proliferation of home entertainment that often inhibits face-to-face communication. Today there is the addition of smartphones, computers, gaming devices, and limitless television viewing options.
The combination of these factors is pushing individuals toward a level of isolation that prohibits sufficient opportunities and encouragement for voluntary human interaction. Both the joys of hanging out with people and the social cohesion that comes from it are disappearing as the settings to make them possible are fading away.
God has created us as social, relational beings. We are created not only to be in a relationship with the creator but also to be in relationships with other people. We have been formed with an innate need to know and be known. Yet the current way of life in developed countries is greatly reducing the quantity and quality of our relationships. The majority of people no longer live in extended families or even near each other. Instead, people often live on the other side of the country or even across the world from their relatives. When you add a high degree of mobility, a strong sense of individualism, and decreased opportunities for informal public life, isolation and loneliness become increasingly common.
Phil Miglioratti ~ Explain the difference between “love your neighbor” and “love your neighborhood” . . . Did Jesus imply both in His biblical statement?
Lance Ford ~ A neighborhood is the sum total of the inhabitants, the systems, and the habits and rhythms of a group of people who carry on life in proximity to one another. To love our neighbors effectively, we must do so in the context of their everyday lives. That context or culture is the neighborhood. It is the soil we are working in. We are convinced that we must love the neighborhood in order to love our neighbors.
Phil Miglioratti ~ People of all faiths (and even the “nones”) believe that “love is all you need,” so what makes Christ-motivated love different? Attractive? Compelling beyond caring for temporary needs and circumstances?
Lance Ford ~ The good news we bring is good news both for now and forever. We must share this gospel not only in deeds but also in words. The agent of change is Jesus. This restoration and reconciliation we are working toward starts and ends in him. So any manifestation of the gospel must include good works along with the good words of Jesus as the author of the faith that motivates and fuels our serving. We have discovered time and again that when people “love their neighbors as they love themselves” over time, people will want to know the why behind the what that we are doing. It opens up a hearing about Jesus.
Phil Miglioratti ~ Many Christ followers fear and avoid evangelism that requires them to confront (even politely) another person in a one-on-one manner, but they could be effective on a team or in a group. Talk about evangelism that proceeds from small groups as they serve a need, solve a problem, develop the community, or advocate for justice.
Brad Brisco ~ We believe that mission (including evangelism) is best done in community. We like to say that mission is a “communal activity.” Not only is it best to engage in God’s mission with others—because we are all gifted in different ways, and there is a synergistic effect when we work together—but we also believe we can discover what God is doing and discern how He wants us to participate best in community. We need to constantly be listening to one another not only in regard to what others are seeing and hearing from the Lord, but also in regard to how we each believe God is calling us to be involved in what He is doing in the lives of others.
Another aspect of “communal mission” is reflection. As we engage in God’s mission, we believe we must carve out time to reflect, or debrief with other believers. Not only should we debrief on what God is doing “out there” (in the lives of others), but we also should ask what God is doing “in here”—meaning, how is God shaping and forming our hearts as we engage in His mission?
Phil Miglioratti ~ Hospitality is a gift of the Holy Spirit that is usually limited to church fellowship events (food and decorations). How can life-changing love be expressed to neighbors and neighborhoods through hospitality?
Brad Brisco ~ Hospitality is an enormous and powerful theme throughout Scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments. The first thing we must do is recapture the true meaning of hospitality. Most people in America equate hospitality with entertaining. But true biblical hospitality is so much more than simply entertaining people in our homes or at church fellowships.
In the Old Testament it is primarily about the “quartet of the vulnerable,” meaning the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the immigrant.
The Greek word for hospitality in the New Testament makes this perfectly clear. It is the word philoxenia, which is a combination of two words: love (phileo) and stranger (xenos). It literally means “love of stranger.”
Loving the stranger was a vital element in the life of the early church. There are numerous passages that speak to the importance of hospitality. The following verses are just a few of them:
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. (Romans 12:12-13)
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)
Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach. (1 Timothy 3:2)
Be hospitable to one another without complaining. (1 Peter 4:9)
There is another aspect of hospitality that is important to note. It is not just for the benefit of the other. There is also something extraordinary that is gained when we receive the stranger.
When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. (Luke 14:12-14)
Notice that the practice of biblical hospitality is unique because it reaches out to those who cannot reciprocate. Jesus says to invite those who are not able to pay you back and “you will be blessed.” In most cases when we invite friends into our homes for dinner, there is an expectation that next time they will “return the favor” and have us into their home. But the point of this passage is that customary “payback” hospitality is of no great merit to God. The very best hospitality is that which is bestowed, not exchanged.
Being included is really at the core of biblical hospitality. If we had to take all of this talk about loving strangers and welcoming people into our lives and homes, and boil it all down into one word, it would be the word inclusion. As followers of Jesus we are called to be radically inclusive people. We should be quick to include others in our lives. The opposite of inclusion is exclusion, which always involves the actions of dismissal and rejection. Exclusion is not the way of Jesus. Can you remember a time in your life when you were excluded? Stop and think for a moment. How did being excluded from the lives and activities of others make you feel? Being left out, rejected by others, is deeply hurtful.
The sad reality is that thousands of people live daily lives of exclusion. They are not welcomed—by anyone. They are left to exist at the margins, on the fringes of society, living relationally impoverished lives. It is not right. No one is brought into this world to live a life of isolation. We do not flourish as human beings when we know no one and no one knows us; we do not flourish as human beings when we belong to no place and no place cares about us. When we have no sense of relationship to people or place, we have no sense of responsibility to people or place. We are created as social, relational beings who are made for community. Hospitality, when rightly understood and pursued, has the power to break the bonds of isolation and exclusion.
Phil Miglioratti ~ The Church is seen as judgmental, with a holier-than-thou attitude. How can a family, small group, or congregation change the perspective of their community?
Lance Ford ~ Our lives should be a sampling of the character and person of Jesus. The only persons we ever witness Jesus judging were the scribes and Pharisees. Someone once said, “I would rather light a candle than curse the darkness.” The way forward is to live our lives in a way that we actually demonstrate the love of God in the places we live, work, eat, and play. The goal for us all should be for our neighbors and communities to loathe the thought of us not being present. We need to consider what type of life we must live for that to be true.
Phil Miglioratti ~ More pastors are beginning to preach the “next-door” message. Leaders are teaching and writing about new modes and models. But what internal barriers will keep a congregation from making radical changes that get their members out of their seats and into the streets?
Brad Brisco ~ I believe that the two greatest barriers are fear and lack of margin. In sharp contrast to the Greek word philoxenia, which means “love of stranger,” you may have heard the more common word xenophobia, which is the fear, even hatred, of the stranger or foreigner. While there is certainly a clinical expression of xenophobia, there is a level of fear of the stranger that has unfortunately been conditioned into all of us over time.
While fear is certainly a significant hindrance to becoming more hospitable, the second and perhaps greater barrier has to do with time—or what we refer to as “lack of margin.”
In the book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, author Richard Swenson provides an excellent metaphor for overburdened lives. He asks, how ridiculous would it be if the pages of a book had no margin? What would be your opinion of the publishers if they tried to cram the print top to bottom and side to side so that every blank space was filled up? The result would be aesthetically displeasing and chaotic—much like many of our lives.
Margin is the space that once existed between our load and our limits. Margin is the space between vitality and fatigue. It is the opposite of overload and therefore is the remedy for that troublesome condition.
I like to say that relationships happen in the margins. The reality is that we cannot add hospitality to an already overburdened life.
Phil Miglioratti ~ Please identify a resources or two that will help individuals and congregations to begin praying for their “place,” caring with compassion and mercy about what matters to the community, and sharing the Good News with grace.
Brad Brisco ~ Well, the first resource would be to read our book!
After having read our book, people can find a few neighborhood prayer guides online. If you simply search for “praying for my neighborhood,” you will discover several helpful resources that give practical tips on what and how to pray for those whom we live near.
Phil Miglioratti ~ Lance, Brad, please write a prayer we can pray with you that invites the Lord to lead us to live out God’s kingdom in our neighborhoods.
Lance Ford ~ We love Phil Farrand’s paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer:
My Father—You who live in the limitless and all-pervasive expanse known as heaven:
May I be a refuge for Your name today.
May my thoughts and emotions, words and deeds, evoke such clarity, that all who encounter me instantly recognize Your sanctuary within.
On this day, let me be the visible intrusion of Your kingdom into this world.
Help me to express Your will with the same immediacy and passion as those who serve You in heaven.
Remind me not to hoard Your wondrous provisions but release them with gladness to those around me,
Knowing that—just as You have cared for me today—You will care for me tomorrow.
In all my encounters, let me be quick to offer mercy, kindness, and forgiveness—
Creating an atmosphere that helps me understand to a greater extent the depth of Your love for me.
I understand that You will lead me through many paths today, each with many potential outcomes.
Give me the wisdom to heed the call of life over the call of destruction.
Help me slip past the evil that seeks to separate me from You.
Brad Brisco is a Church Planting Catalyst for the North American Mission Board. Lance and Brad are co-authors of Next Door as It Is in Heaven, released from NavPress, August 2016.