By Amy Simon
Like many other Americans, our family lives in a middle class suburb. Everyone has their own lawn, pools abound, and most families have two cars. Sharing our faith is extremely difficult—not because we’re persecuted as if we were in a Muslim or Communist country. We’re completely free to share our faith without legal ramifications. The problem is that most of our neighbors have figuratively stuck their fingers in their ears. They need Jesus, just like the rest of us, but for the most part, they don’t want to hear it.
Our experience has been that talking about topics of faith, or anything very deep or personal, is a cultural taboo. Many people have drowned their pain, difficulties, and emptiness with busyness, things, and alcohol. Most of our neighbors work very hard for the homes and the standard of living they have achieved. They’re very self-sufficient and don’t want to admit their needs, whether physical or spiritual. Our family’s challenge has been to be a positive witness for Christ to the people we live near.
I can’t say that we’ve had an amazing revival in our neighborhood. Some are open to talk about spiritual things and some aren’t. Some who aren’t now may become so down the road if we keep laying the foundation. It’s not up to us to change their hearts. All we can do is be faithful ambassadors. Here are some things we’re learning along the way.
Long-term relationships are key.
We’ve tried to develop genuine relationships with the people living around us. We hang out with them. Our kids play together. We say hi to them at the grocery store. We invite them over for cookouts. We’re friends on Facebook and congratulate them when their children succeed. Speaking about Jesus might make them uncomfortable, but we can show them Jesus all day long.
Relationships take time. We have to earn the right, through our lives, to share Jesus with them. It’s not a run in and hand them a gospel tract and run out kind of thing. It’s going to take lots of time.
Look for opportunities to serve.
We had one neighbor who suffered a sports injury and couldn’t mow his lawn for most of the summer one year. My husband did it for him. We’ve watched neighbors’ kids and they’ve watched ours.
If you’re looking for ways to serve, you might take over a meal when someone has a child or a family illness. Roll your neighbors’ trash cans to the road and back when they’re on vacation. Look for opportunities to help out and show sympathy when life gets tough. Show them Jesus.
Seek to resolve conflicts.
Along with the culture of not talking about anything deep, we’ve found that many suburbanites shy away from honest confrontation over problems. We have a neighbor whose house is back to back with ours. He installed outdoor speakers on the back of his garage that pointed right at our house. He didn’t realize at the time how powerful they were or how much we could hear the music in our yard. They were meant to provide entertainment when he was in his pool. When it was turned up, it felt like being at a rock concert in our once peaceful backyard. On top of that, it was music we really didn’t want our kids or ourselves exposed to. We stressed out, prayed, and tried to figure out how to handle it. The neighbor had a right to enjoy his property, but so did we.
We ended up sitting down and talking to him and his wife about it, rather than avoiding confrontation while growing quietly bitter. It was uncomfortable at first, but we came to some very reasonable compromises that we can all live with. Our relationship has become much stronger, and we’ve had numerous spiritual conversations and social interactions with them since then.
Have fun without getting drunk.
Maybe it’s just our state, but around here it seems like every social situation involves alcohol. Lots and lots of alcohol. I know that Christians are divided on the issue of whether we should drink at all. Without debating that here, the Bible is very clear that getting drunk is sin (Ephesians 5:18). Preaching to our neighbors about not getting drunk will get us nowhere. Jesus is the issue for them—not alcohol.
Regardless of what you choose to do with alcohol around your neighbors, show them that it is possible to have a good time without getting drunk. I think we do a lot of fun things as a family. We fly remote control airplanes, build plastic models, visit steam trains, and travel, to name a few. Our neighbors do some of the same things, except they always seem to have alcohol in hand when they do. Let them see you having fun at events without getting drunk.
Not using foul language or making sexual jokes and innuendos is another way to be different. Don’t be critical or preachy—just be different. Trust me. They will notice without you needing to point it out to them. Be in the world but not of it (Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 5:9, 10).
We also host a fourth of July party every year. It’s a fun way to connect with our neighbors, and everyone enjoys the fireworks we set off in the driveway afterward. My husband prays before everyone eats. It’s just another way to be different without being preachy.
Use current events to attempt spiritual conversations.
There are a lot of scary things going on in the world today, both in our own country and around the world. Sometimes those current events can spark great conversations about God’s role in the world and where our hope can be.
When the Ebola scare was on the news every night, I was able to talk to a lady at my gym about trusting God. We also had opportunities to share Christ after 9/11. Many people are drawn to look for something more in life when the fabric of our society seems to be falling apart or when their sense of security and safety are taken away.
You may be excluded sometimes.
In spite of our attempts at relationships, the fact that we are different gets us excluded sometimes. There was one day a few years ago that I was playing outside with my kids and I watched each of the women from the surrounding houses all dressed up and walking over to one of the neighbor’s houses. They all got into one of the cars and left together. Did I really want to go to the bar they were probably going to together? Not really. It still hurt my feelings to be left out.
Because of Facebook, I’ve seen pictures of numerous neighbor parties that we haven’t been invited to. Again, I’m definitely not a hang-out-at-bars kind of person, but to know that we’ve included them and they don’t include us is hurtful. The challenge is to not grow bitter and angry. It helps me to realize that Jesus said it would go this way. “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the Son of Man. ‘Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets’” (Luke 6:22, 23).
Jesus promised heavenly blessing as a reward for facing exclusion. That’s much better than hanging out at a bar!
Another verse that brings me perspective is 2 Corinthians 2:15, 16: “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life.” We smell. We either smell good to those who want to know God or we stink to those who are perishing. Perhaps that’s why they sometimes don’t want us around.
It can be hard not to fall into the “I’m better than them” trap. I’ve been saved by the same grace that my suburban neighbors need to experience. God loves them as much as he loves me. My job is to be as consistent a picture of Christ as I can be and then share Christ when he gives me the opportunity. The results are up to him.
Amy Simon is a homeschooling mom and freelance writer from Jackson, Wisconsin, who blogs (amylynnsimon.com).