A Heart-Felt Word to Pastors and Leaders
This message to pastors and leaders was written for a meeting of the Neighborhood Initiative in 2012 where Dallas had been scheduled to speak. He was too ill to attend the meeting, but wanted to show his support for this ministry and encourage pastors and leaders to take ahold of unique role in our culture to speak to the issue of moral knowledge and the supremacy of the Gospel of Christ.
I am so thankful to have this opportunity to share my thoughts with you about the important work Lynn Cory has been doing over the past several years. My heart is with the Neighborhood Initiative under Christ. It’s the only thing that can bring life to our cities now. Neighborhood Initiative has been raised up in our time by the Spirit of God to address the special conditions of our cities. One way of putting that is to say that our cities have, in a manner of speaking, outgrown neighbors. It’s hard now today to know who our neighbors are and how we’re to approach them and be with them. The key to understanding the teachings of Jesus still remains: Loving our neighbor as ourselves in the power of God. And when you think about what that means, you realize that if that were done, almost every problem that we have in our cities would be solved. All we have to do is to simply follow Jesus’ words.
Of course, loving God with all our hearts, soul, mind, and strength comes first. Without that, you can’t love your neighbor as yourself. You have to have the resources, the insight to do that, and that comes from our love of God and our devotion of every aspect of our being to His work which He’s doing in our world. God is present in our cities. He is there as the great God who created the world and our cities and everything in them. And now He’s inducting us and bringing us into His work as we learn in His presence to love our neighbor as our self. When He says the Great Commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself, that’s one of His great statements about how this is all you have to do. If you just do this, everything else will take care of itself. One of the things that we often miss is that His mission in the world is incarnational. It comes through people. Incarnation is not just a theological doctrine. It’s a doctrine about how we live. And if we’re going to bring Christ to our world, our cities and our neighbors, then we do it in our own person: skin on skin contact, face to face relationships with others in which we manifest a love that is beyond human possibility and yet is within human actuality because God makes it so.
So the local congregation is the source of God’s incarnational presence in our world. We’re apt to miss that and I’m afraid too often in our programs of reaching the world, we overlook the basic fact that the fundamental way of reaching the world is to love your neighbor as yourself in the power of God. And many times, I’m afraid our local congregations go to great lengths to develop programs of various kinds, and I’m not attacking those. We need all of them, I’m sure. But we must include the rudimentary fact that we are able to love our neighbor as our self, and in the power of God that takes care of everything. What we see today is too much of this being farmed out to what we think of as government agencies. But the widow and the orphan that are so often cited in the Bible cannot be helped adequately just by official sources. They need people to love them. And that’s one of the great things that the Neighborhood Initiative does.
The Neighborhood Initiative is basically practical help in identifying and being with our neighbors. That’s just the simple description of what happens. If a group goes down the street and finds someone who needs their house painted or something else like that, this is a ministry of love to our neighbors. And it is a way of reaching our communities that is a shockingly reversal of the isolation and loneliness in which many of our neighbors live. So often the widow and the orphan in our day is someone who has enough to eat but is starved in their soul and doesn’t know that God loves them because it hasn’t come to them through people who are around them.
So I say with tremendous gratitude, praise God for the Neighborhood Initiative! It is practical help in identifying and being with our neighbors. Who are they? How are they known? How do we contact them? The Neighborhood Initiative brings many, many suggestions as to how we can come to really deal with those with whom we are in close contact. The impact of this on our world will be overwhelming because it changes everything in the way we think about ourselves and the way we think about God. Where is God if He’s not in our neighbor? And when He is in our neighbor, then He comes into our lives. Now our neighbor is simply someone with whom we are in close contact. But we have to recognize them and accept them as such. And the claim on us that comes when we recognize our neighbor is so great that it is frightening to many people, and they really don’t want to get involved.
This is where we have to go back to the root of our lives in God Himself, and we have to believe that He will provide what we need as we do our best to provide for our neighbors and what they need. Our neighbors of course start very close. They are in our homes. Those are our first neighbors. And then perhaps the ones we work with, and the people who live nearby. Though in our world those are often very hard to reach because the old saying, “a man’s home is his castle,” is a saying that has taken on the force of having a moat around the house with alligators in it to keep people away. So the problem of breaking through that and coming to know your neighbor has implications that are difficult to overcome in our time. Nevertheless, it can be done with patience, and prayer, and watching, and a willingness to serve, and to know and to be known. And that’s essential to loving your neighbor as yourself.
Now who’s to lead into this? The churches must be the leaders. And the pastors are the teachers. It is the churches alone that can make neighbor-love real in the power of God, but we must intend to do that. We have now quite a long history where failure to intend to do that has resulted in the kind of isolation that you often see even between Christians who are attending the same church. They’re not really neighbors because they’re not really involved in life with one another. Jesus, on the night before He was betrayed, says, “A new commandment I give you that you love one another...” (John 13:34) Now that part of the commandment was not new. The part of the commandment that was new was what came next: “…as I have loved you.” And then Jesus goes on to say that the mark of His disciples is not that they have ripping good worship services or fantastic programs even for feeding the poor, as important as those may be. His mark was that the people in fellowship love one another, and that’s what we need to cultivate. And that’s the matrix out of which a community of neighbor-love then grows.
It is up to the pastors to stand and teach this. The pastors are to be the teachers of the nations.1 They are the ones who have the knowledge from God. Knowledge of what is right and wrong and what is good and bad has now fallen away from our culture in general. It will not be recovered unless the pastors take their stand in their community as the teachers of their community. Now this may sound very audacious, but Jesus has assigned that role to us. We are to make disciples. We are to baptize them in the reality of the Trinitarian Community of Love and then teach them to do everything that He said. That is the solution to the human problem both for time and for eternity. It takes a special effort on the part of the pastor to assume that role.
There’s a wonderful word that Paul uses in Romans 11:13. Looking at the grace and ministry that had been given to him, he says, “I magnify my office.” And I challenge every person, whether they’re in the official role of a pastor or not, if they’re a spokesperson for Christ, to magnify their office. And we may need to just take moment here just to concentrate on that one thing: to magnify your office... Perhaps you’re the pastor of a small church, perhaps you don’t even have a staff, or you’re in some other ministry. What I’m saying to you is that the Neighborhood Initiative depends upon pastors magnifying their office as teachers of the nations, starting with the small group where they already have a voice.
“I magnify my office.”
Pastors in our society are the only ones who have the position—and it may be small to begin with, or it may stay that way—but they have the position to do this. They have the content which is the precious teachings of the Bible, Jesus’ teachings. I encourage you to go all the way back to the Ten Commandments and spend a half an hour someday thinking about the difference that would be made if just the Ten Commandments were generally practiced as they have been at some times in our past. They have the power to make a difference. They have the position. They have the content. And they have the power. This is unique to the pastors. No one else has that. All you have to do is look at the various sources in government, education and professional life and you will see that no one else has this. Only the pastors have it. And that’s why they have their great responsibility in our world. Only they can overcome the problems that we have in our world today.
I also want to mention one thing about the moral problems in our society. The moral problems are rooted in character, and character is rooted in either the connection that we have with God or the disconnection. When we’re out here trying to run our lives on our own in disconnection from God, that’s where everything falls apart.
So my word today is: we have the solution to the human problem —the problem that’s been there since Genesis, the third chapter. We have the solution to that. And we have to stand and present this solution in an incarnational form where it flows out from our fellowships through our fellowships, but out from our fellowships through the natural connections that people have in their lives in their world. If we do that, we will see the wonderful results that have been seen in the past as the people of Christ have stood as His disciples in this world, assuming the responsibility of love for their neighbors.
May God bless this all to you and make it real and powerful as you go forth to minister Christ to everyone you touch.
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