One of my classes this semester has explored in-depth some of the issues the metropolitan area of Denver is facing and how some ministries are reaching out to help solve those problems. A couple weekends ago, we met with a pastor in Arvada, a suburb just to the northwest of downtown Denver. Our topic of conversation that afternoon was the suburbanization of poverty. Poverty is being pushed out of the downtown area because of large contingents of wealthy people moving into lofts and older houses near the downtown. This man had been a pastor in Arvada for about 10 years. When he first joined the staff of the church, weekly attendance was around 2000 people and it was one of those suburban churches with lots of flash and cash and everybody and their dog would attend. However, the neighborhood began to change and poverty was soon pushed into the first ring of the suburbs. The pastor realized that something needed to change and that change was to reach out to these people stricken by poverty. However, not everybody thought this was a good decision in the church. Over half to be exact. He said there are about 800 people who attend the church now while all the others have left after the church shifted its focus from entertainment-driven worship services on Sundays to helping people in need. They have sold some of their facilities and are getting ready to get rid of some more. From the realm of mega churches and numbers, this church may seem like a failure when it is anything but that.
This pastor, along with some other area pastors, meets with leaders in the Arvada area to see how they can best serve the needs of the community. They were at a meeting with the mayor and he was talking about the issues that Arvada was facing. But his last comment stuck with the pastor who in turn shared it with my class. The mayor said, “All these problems would take care of themselves if we could just be good neighbors.” The pastor said the comment rang loudly in his head for weeks. As pastors, we try to lead our church to love their neighbors but somehow we have reduced that command to loving a hypothetical neighbor rather than the tangible neighbors we are geographically located near. We have turned the command to love our neighbor into loving those that love us or those in the church or those that are like us and we have completely neglected our physical neighbors.
What does it mean for us to be good neighbors? We should start by getting to know our neighbors and chatting with them on the sidewalk or on their front porch. Maybe we can get involved with the neighborhood association and learn about the issues our particular neighborhoods face. Maybe we should try to take tangible steps to loving tangible neighbors rather than hypothetical steps to loving hypothetical neighbors.