The Importance of Posture in Neighborhood Work


Many Christians, desiring to put their faith into action, go into under resourced neighborhoods to share the love of Jesus and generously give their time, talents, and resources to help their neighbors.  We want to multiply these intentions, not paralyze the church into inaction. However…

We must change our posture and approach when engaging as the church in under resourced neighborhoods.

As disciples of Jesus, we readily follow him into service.  Some even follow Jesus into his ministry to the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40) — the marginalized of society.  But we also must model the posture Jesus used when working with people that needed restoration.

Think of Jesus’ life and ministry to the marginalized and how he positioned himself.  He went to them, ate with them, walked alongside them, talked with them, sat with them, and listened to them.  In everything, he built relationships and conveyed the truth that they belonged with him and he to them.

Sometimes, even in the name of serving, people position themselves above or apart from those they serve.  Their action is right, but their posture is wrong. They stand in a position of privilege and power.  They serve from the other side of the table, and then they leave the neighborhood until it is time to serve again next month, quarter, or year.

If you are feeling bad at this point, please don’t!  We want to affirm any impulse, especially when compelled by faith, to love neighbors.  Just as we must deepen our understanding of scripture, prayer, worship, and other fundamental areas of Christian faith, we also need to grow in our understanding of what it means to serve in the way of Jesus. 

To that end, here are some practical tips we’ve learned along the way:

  1. Put on God's glasses.  It is crucial to see neighbors in under resourced neighborhoods as people of infinite worth, not as people of need.  They are made in His image and carry inherent dignity, worth, and purpose.
  2. Join existing activities.  It is tempting to go into neighborhoods, see great needs, and want to start new events or initiatives.  But there are already people in the neighborhood who care and are working on solutions!  Try joining what they’re already doing in their neighborhood.
  3. Come around the table.  This has two meanings. (1) If you are serving at a table for some event or service opportunity, don’t stand behind it the whole time. Come around and sit or stand next to people!  (2) Always sit around the table with neighbors when eating or discussing. These simple actions help take you beyond a service role and into relationship.
  4. Ask lots of questions then actively listen.  Neighbors are the experts of their neighborhoods.  Asking them questions that allow them to share their expertise with you dramatically changes your position.  Then, you have to do the really difficult work of listening without interjecting and placing yourself into the expert position.
  5. Repeat presence.  Nothing builds trust faster than loving, consistent presence.  However, that process is not fast. If you continue to show up and invest with appropriate posture, neighbors will be more likely to open up and receive the love of Christ through you.

What other ideas, learned practices, and tips can you think of to encourage appropriate posture when engaging in neighborhood revitalization?

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