A Series on the Principles of Christian Community Development by Eric C. Basye
What the Gospel Says about being a Neighbor
Coach Wayne Gordon, a seasoned Christian community developer in the South Side of Chicago, beautifully communicates the essence of the first of eight principles of Christian Community Development. He writes:
“Living out the gospel means desiring for one’s neighbor and neighbor’s family that which one desires for one’s self and family. Living out the gospel means bettering the quality of other people’s lives spiritually, physically, socially, and emotionally as one betters one’s own. Living out the gospel means sharing in the suffering and pain of others.”
The Land that Lacks Opportunity
One of the many facets of America that make our country so unique is that it is the land of opportunity. We all love hearing stories of success and victory, especially from the most unlikely circumstances. I remember when the movie Blind Side came out, a heartwarming story of Michael Oher, an unknown African American youth from a poor, crime-ridden ghetto in Memphis, TN. Amazingly, with the concoction of opportunity, some caring people, and raw talent, Michael rose to the occasion to differentiate himself from his environment to play college football and eventually the NFL. Stories like this are what we live for and embolden us to believe that anything is possible. Sadly while this is true (to a degree), many individuals live in the US for whom these opportunities don’t exist. Those left behind and on the margins all too often become a product of their environment to follow suit with what has been modeled before them. While some may argue the same opportunities exist for one as well as another, this simply is not true. The past two decades of work in low-income neighborhoods have demonstrated that these communities are marginalized by many factors such as trauma caused by sexual, physical, and drug abuse; sub-par housing; inadequate healthcare; struggling school systems and lower graduation rates; and a breakdown of the family unit.
Choosing to Relocate
At the heart of Christian community development is the motivation to enter these communities, the overlooked and abandoned neighborhoods of the US, to model the example of Jesus. John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” With this framework of intentionality in mind, Coach Gordon advocates that Christians are to engage vulnerable communities as neighbors with a desire to both do for others what you desire for yourself and holistically improve the quality of life for others as you would yourself. Yet, to do this effectively, Gordon argues that we must share in the suffering and pain of others. What better methodology is there than to purposely relocate to these neighborhoods as an expression of love of God and love of others?
A crucial component of the mission of CLDI is that we seek transformation through the gospel by re-neighboring communities. By this, we simply mean this: followers of Jesus heeding the call of God to intentionally love the vulnerable by strategically and purposefully investing in the community as a neighbor. Years ago, I gave a neighborhood tour to some of our partners. Pulling up in front of a house we had recently rebuilt for a family who had relocated to the community, they asked, “Eric, of all that CLDI does, which program is the most effective?” Without a blink of an eye, I pointed to the house and said, “You’re looking at it. It is when men and women of faith choose to make this their community. They are salt and light as they intentionally love their neighbors as an expression of their love of God.” The husband, a physician, along with his wife and children, sold their West End home in Billings and purposely plopped themselves in the middle of our low-income community. A few days before my driving tour, I had been chatting with the wife as the police had recently captured a serial rapist that had been on the loose. Gratefully this man was caught, and to our surprise, he lived directly across the street from these new intentional neighbors! Asking our friend if she was scared or regretted their decision, she said, “No, isn’t this why we came to the community, to love all of our neighbors?” Though the family has since moved out of state, their ministry of relocation has left its mark for the good. Their gospel-saturated lives impacted many, both in and out of the community. Neighbors were loved with the radical love of Jesus, meals, and Bible studies were shared, and lives were transformed.
What We Can Learn
I recently traveled with a friend who pastors a church in downtown Billings that ministers to the chronic poor in our city. This friend is a true visionary with a passion for mobilizing the church in creative ways to love and engage the poor. However, what I find most compelling about his vision is something he said to me, “In considering Jesus’ teaching to minister to the poor, I believe it has less to do with what we can do for the poor as much as it is what we can learn from the poor.” Regarding the great work of Coach Gordon and the missional call of those who have responded to intentionally love their neighbor through relocation, such as the family described above, we are the blessed ones to have learned so much about Jesus, community, kindness, and generosity from our South Side community. We want to extend the invitation to you – join us!
- Dr. Wayne L Gordon, “The Eight Components of Christian Community Development,” https://nsc-church.org/CCDA%208%20Points.pdf.
- Eugene H Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2005).