I’ll never forget Andrew. He joined the church several years ago. He came from the U.K.and didn’t plan to be in the States very long. Andrew was young, single and lived in a small apartment. He had every excuse under the sun to not be a good neighbor. And yet, he is one of the most hospitable men I’ve ever met. He regularly welcomed co-workers, next-door-neighbors and church members into his home. During his last Sunday here, I asked the evening gathering if they’d ever been in Andrew’s home. Nearly every hand went up. In a small but important way, Andrew made a difference. By opening up his home and sharing his life, he helped others see the priority of the Lord, Jesus Christ. He is a gospel neighbor.
Every Christian wants to make a difference. It’s part of our spiritual DNA. We know humanity’s greatest need is salvation, so we long to see our friends respond to the gospel in repentance and faith. But if we’re honest, we admit we struggle here. We know our friends need the Good News, but we have a hard time opening our homes and opening our mouths to make the gospel known. Too often, we’re like a postal carrier who can’t seem to leave the driveway.
Being a good neighbor is a crucial component to being a faithful evangelist. We should all aspire to be gospel neighbors. But first, I want to assess a couple typical ways we measure evangelistic success.
THE METRICS OF SUCCESS
It’s tempting to equate healthy evangelism with results. I recently heard a Christian leader lamenting the lack of baptisms in our state. He assumed this is because we aren’t evangelizing enough—and he may be right! We should certainly pray for more baptisms. But since God is the Giver of life, a decrease in the number of baptisms is not necessarily due to a lack of evangelism. After all, we plant the seeds through evangelism, and it’s up to God to give the growth in conversion and then baptism (see 1 Cor. 3:6). Therefore, I don’t think “number of baptisms” is the best metric for assessing our commitment to evangelism.
Instead of counting the number of baptisms, we could instead count the number of times we shared the gospel in any given week. Counting evangelistic conversations is a much better metric. It reminds us that even though salvation is in the hands of the Lord, we must tell people about Jesus (Rom. 10:14). Should I, as a pastor, challenge every member to share the gospel once a day? I’m thinking about it, and do think the frequency of evangelistic conversations is a better gauge of our spiritual health than the number of baptisms we register.
However, there’s an even better way. In addition to praying for baptisms and encouraging numerous evangelistic conversations, faithful Christians will seek to open up their life and homes in the biblical practice of hospitality. I love how Dustin Willis and Brandon Clements put it: “The simplest way to change the world is to leverage your ordinary life for his history sweeping mission of hospitality.”[i] Simply being a good neighbor, a gospel neighbor, is an important part of living an evangelistic life.
IS NEIGHBORING BIBLICAL?
A number of passages in the New Testament call us to be good neighbors. The most obvious is the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37). Christians are to show mercy to the overlooked and unwanted. Every Christian should have a Christ-like disposition to all—happily loving those in need. This is the spirit of the first half of Galatians 6:10 where Paul tells the churches to “do good to everyone.” This applies to the Syrian refugee around the world, the homeless man across town, and the lonely widow and busy young family right next door.
The requirement for hospitality gets to the heart of neighboring. It’s even a qualification of elder leadership. Any man who wants to shepherd God’s flock must be hospitable (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8). In describing an elder’s calling, Alexander Strauch noted, “An open home is a sign of an open heart and a loving, sacrificial spirit. A lack of hospitality is a sure sign of selfish, lifeless, loveless Christianity.”[ii]
Though Strauch applies this qualification to hospitality within the body of Christ, there are good reasons to think Paul intended a broader view. For example, the author of Hebrews exhorts us “to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2). Like Paul, he is very concerned about hospitality inside the church. He may be exhorting believers to open upon their home to Christian travelers. But the language is broad enough to include those who don’t know the Lord.[iii] Paul has a similar message in Romans 12:13–14: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” Paul demands a spirit of generosity to all: the brother or sister, the stranger, and even the enemy!
Faithful pastors and Christians alike will strive to be good neighbors. They’ll open up their homes to people around them. Such hospitality is not without cost (it takes time and money). If this cost seems high, remember the words of our Savior in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Yes, gospel neighboring is biblical.
COWARD IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD?
Gospel neighboring is important. Just to be clear, I pray tons of impromptu evangelistic conversations are taking place throughout the week. Not only that, I encourage Christians to invite their unbelieving friends to church gatherings. These public meetings are a good place to hear the gospel. But I fear if we neglect the hard work of gospel neighboring, any culture of evangelism we build will be far too thin and shallow. Gospel neighboring makes our evangelism thick and deep. Though it’s great to share the gospel with whomever you meet—God’s Word is sufficient to save—it’s appropriate to share the gospel in the context of sturdy relationships. Gospel neighboring strives to make such relationships a reality.
If pastors are faithful to share the gospel to the gathering on Sunday morning, but are not faithful to make Christ known on their own block, are they really evangelistic? As the quotable Dallas pastor Matt Chandler challenges, “If you’re a beast in the pulpit but a coward in your neighborhood, something has gone wrong.” But this isn’t just a criticism for pastors. All of us need to hear this. If you’re willing to engage in a 10-minute conversation with your Uber driver, but are unwilling to invest in the people God planted in your family, workplace or neighborhood, are you truly a faithful evangelist? I don’t think so.