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Love Our Neighbours

Wednesday, 26 September 2018  | Julie Blinco

When moving into this area, on the outskirts of Melbourne, I couldn’t help but notice the strong sense of community: communal vegetable gardens; communal libraries; communal running groups; communal history; communal tragedy; and communal triumphs.

What would it take, I wondered, for those not in the church to think of the church as ‘our local community church’? For them to have the same sense of ownership and communal pride around a group of believers who live amongst them as they do these other groups and facilities? Out of these questions came a missional initiative, intended to develop more meaningful connection with our local businesses.

Love Your Neighbours encourages people in the church to ‘adopt’ a local business for a year. In doing so, they are committing to:
1. Pray for the business;
2. Find ways to love the people in the business; and
3. Deliver a letter of introduction from local church leaders.

This has been happening now for three months and so far around 50% of the 50 local businesses have been nominated. The responses have been amazing!

With tears in her eyes, a local trader was coming to grips with the fact that someone cared about her and her business. ‘I just can’t believe you care this much about us’, she said, before sharing the burdens they’d faced as business owners in recent years. Another, astounded, said that this was only the second person she knew of who had prayed for her in her entire life. ‘Don’t forget to pray for my family’ she requested, followed by ‘Why did you take so long to come?’ Wow!

Other businesses, when receiving the letter and realising that it was ‘free’ and that we ‘weren’t expecting anything in return’ but were ‘doing it because we cared’, also teared up with softened hearts. One restaurant owner brought out the staff from the kitchen so that the believers who were sharing a meal there could meet each of the staff personally. In a season when the media would suggest popular opinion is against people being proactive in their faith in Christ, it has been a touching time for us as a church as we have been met with resounding thanks and genuine curiosity, time and again, from most of the businesses.

What has also been energising is to see the level of ownership and activity within the parish walls, as people discuss how to ‘love their neighbours’ when those neighbours are businesses. They were encouraged to nominate a business they already use (or would be willing to start using) and would visit regularly.

In praying, people have been listening to God and to the people in the business to understand what their needs are. Some are praying as a family or household unit, others with those in their Life Groups, others as a couple and others as individuals. Where a business had more than one person interested in connecting further, the church members formed a team. For example, people in Coles are being prayed for daily by a local couple who select a different focus each week. The local pub was nominated by the youth group. The coffee and craft group have nominated the local bakery. And a younger woman has chosen to start praying for her manicurist and has taken a step of faith to see what God might do in and through that developing relationship.

‘But what about me? I live in a neighbouring suburb and I shop at another fruit shop… can I love and pray for them too?!’ What a delightful question to receive as a local pastor and a discipler of people. Of course! So we amended the ‘letter from the pastor’ for believers in other suburbs to use as they connect with businesses in their own community, especially businesses close to where they live rather than necessarily those that are close to their parish building.

‘But how do we love them?’ Now isn’t that the golden question in our day and age! How do we love our neighbours? What does it mean to follow the two greatest commandments, ‘To love God with all our heart, mind and soul and to love our neighbours as ourselves’? How do we love those we don’t yet know and those who we only meet occasionally? As a leader, I have deliberately not given specific directives when asked this question. Rather, I have encouraged our church to listen to the people as they are speaking with them, to hear their needs (both their tangible and unspoken needs) and to listen to the Holy Spirit as they ask God for His ideas. I regularly feed back to the entire church what others are initiating, while maintaining the privacy of those involved. I do believe God will use whatever we attempt in loving others.

So, one morning, Mitre 10 received 80 home baked cookies for their staff, a local manager received a card of well wishes before he took a holiday, a local food supplier now has a family who visit them each weekend and know them all by name, and another food supplier enjoys a good chat with a local man who inquires about his business each week. Deeper friendships are forming and delightful connections are being enjoyed.

Other valuable discipleship discussions have arisen: ‘Can’t I be a Christian without telling people I’m a Christian?’ and ‘Can’t I just send the letter? Do I need to hand deliver it?’ What golden opportunities to think through the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of following Jesus in our local context and the ongoing importance of relationship, both with others and with Christ.

Since launching this initiative in our local space, a handful of other churches have made inquiries about doing something similar in their local contexts, both in other states and even in Indonesia. I encourage any church wanting to do something similar to give prayerful thought to how it would work best in your local context and give it a go. Pray and love with gusto and see what God might do through the connection. After all, to love our neighbours was His idea from the start.

Julie Blinco is a missional thinker, practitioner and activator. Making disciples, community engagement and sharing Jesus in culturally relevant ways has been a focus of her ministry since leaving a career in aid and development, 10+ years ago. Julie currently serves as an Associate Minister at St John's Anglican Church, Diamond Creek.

This article will appear in the forthcoming issue of Equip entitled The Gospel: Still Really Good News!, Issue 33, October 2018. Subscribe to Equip here.

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