Do you know the names of your neighbors?
Are you concerned for the wellbeing of those who live around you?
I was recently invited to attend an event here in south Charlotte called A Gathering For The City. A couple dozen local pastors filled the backroom of a trendy breakfast spot as we listened to an author named Eric Swanson speak about his greatest passion.
According to his website, Swanson “has a passion for engaging churches worldwide in the needs and dreams of their communities toward the end of spiritual and societal transformation.” He is a professor at Denver Seminary and has co-authored several books including, The Externally Focused Church, The Externally Focused Life, The Externally Focused Quest, and To Transform a City.
In his presentation, Eric focused on a text from the book of Jeremiah (one of the major prophets to the Israelites while exiled in a nation called Babylon—700 miles from their home in Judah). God’s instructions to his people at this time, through Jeremiah, is to “build houses and settle down; cultivate gardens and eat what they produce. Get married and have children; then help your sons find wives and your daughters find husbands in order that they too may have children. Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because your future depends on its welfare.”
As I understand Jeremiah’s words, God is telling his people to settle down, take care of yourself and your family, and actively demonstrate concern for your neighbors. The future of the Israelites depended on the welfare of those is the city in which they resided.
What if we all believed that our future is dependent on the welfare of our neighbors?
Our concern for our city’s welfare can be made tangible through many different initiatives, but perhaps it starts where our individual properties end. Who are your neighbors? Who lives in closest proximity to you? What are you doing to promote their welfare? (All of them, not just those with which you have “good chemistry.”)
These concepts are the basis for our 801South Neighbors campaign. We will always be a gathering of people who are focused on promoting the welfare of our neighbors. One way we are trying to promote the welfare of our city is through prayer. Our Small Groups also partner with other organizations in the community to promote our city’s welfare in other ways, such as landscaping community centers or mentoring unwed pregnant teenagers.
Perhaps the greatest byproduct of focusing on the welfare of our city is that doing so also combats our own entitlement. There may be no stronger hindrance to advancing the work of God in our world than to think that we, as His people, are in some way entitled to any part of what we have. We are His people because He has given us grace. Therefore, we are compelled to be always grateful, always serving, and always extending His grace to others. Sometimes we expect to be served or to receive thanks for doing God a favor by showing up—in essence getting it all backward.
So the best part of promoting the welfare of our city by caring for our neighbors is to see God’s Kingdom becoming tangible on earth. A close second is to see the entitlement of us who claim the name of Jesus slough off as we focus on those around us. Our future depends on it.
Learn more about Eric Swanson and his efforts to lead churches in transforming their cities by visiting his website.