God’s heart for the neglected neighbor
Recently I had a conversation with a church planter in San Francisco. The one-year-old church has been heavily involved in helping a local school. They are tutoring struggling kids, supporting teachers and their families and have helped with repair work at the school. They are also providing practical help for another struggling group in their community—young women overcoming addictions. Recently, they took up a $10,000 offering to help the school and these struggling women. Demonstrating God’s love in practical ways is part of this church’s DNA.
A few years ago I might have thought this church planter was spending his energy on the wrong things. No more. Quite frankly, I’d missed this for most of my ministry. Having served on the staff of the International Mission Board, I had a glimpse of God’s love for all peoples—panta ta ethne—every people group on the planet. I still believe it—with every fiber of my being. Yet I had missed another clear stream of Scripture—God’s heart for the neglected neighbor.
Throughout Scripture we see God’s love for the widow, orphan, foreigner and the poor. The same gospel that moves us to see every tribe, tongue and nation also moves us to see those who live nearby—those with great need for food, shelter, medical care and education. The gospel moves us to see the neglected neighbor!
We’re on the cusp of a new movement of Southern Baptist churches who are demonstrating God’s love by meeting significant human need while sharing Christ. You can see it everywhere—from longtime established churches in the South to new church plants in the urban centers of the Northeast and the West. Since our mission at the North American Mission Board is to penetrate lostness in North America, we must do whatever it takes to be a catalyst for this kind of movement. What will it take to cultivate this movement?
First, we must understand God’s heart for the neglected neighbor. Our theological root system must incorporate what God’s Word teaches on this important issue. If we start talking about events and actions without a root system in place, there will be little to no fruit. Scripture teaches that our Lord is the God of the widow, the orphan, the foreigner among us and the poor (Zechariah 7:10, Proverbs 14:31; Matthew 25, James 1:27, etc.). Before we can effectively demonstrate God’s love to the neglected neighbor, we must realize our calling doesn’t come from a sense of altruism but from the Spirit of Christ.