Kairos—καιρός There are two words for time in Greek; chronos and kairos. The first identifies chronological time while the latter emphasizes an opportune moment in which to seize. God provides the moment and we are charged with responding to the opportunity.
The stories of some individuals can speak volumes. One such story is about my neighbor, Manny. Manny works twelve-hour days as a machinist and then drives around the city collecting scrap metal in an effort to make ends meet. His wife drinks too much, but behind the drinking is another story—drug use and violence, some of which we have witnessed first hand. In Manny’s mind, any dysfunction within his family can be solved with more money . . . or so he thinks.
The other day, Manny saw me in the front yard playing baseball with my son Josiah. His truck was full of scrap metal. “He must be coming home after a long day of work,” I thought. After all, he starts work at 2:30 a.m. and it was now 5 p.m. He stopped his car in front of our house and turned off his ignition. Then he rolled down his driver’s side window and yelled, “Hey Joe! Come over here!”
I walked over to the car, now parked in the middle of the street, and before I had the chance to say a word, Manny blurted out in his typical gruff tone, “Joe, you’ve been here for a couple months now. I have to know . . . what do you do, you know, for work?” I laughed. It’s a good question. After all, he does see me around the neighborhood a lot. “Well, Manny, we are going to start a tutoring club for kids at the elementary school that will emphasize math and reading. We are trying to take an abandoned property in our neighborhood and turn it into an urban farm. And we are starting a church.”
His eyes perked up and looked right at me. “Church,” he said. “What kind of church?”
“Well,” I said, “it’s kind of a church for people who don’t like church.”
I watched as his eyes filled with tears. Turning his eyes up toward me, hands firmly gripped on the steering wheel, he said in a low whisper, “Do you mean a church for people like me?”
“Yes, Manny. It’s a neighborhood church, a church of neighbors, just like you.”
– Joe White—Neighborhood Church, Fresno, California
Here’s the story of one young pastor and his family who have taken a most unique approach in defining the neighborhood boundaries of ministry, and in so doing, challenges us to ponder not only our definition of church, but to reconsider the parish model of old.
Neighborhood Church is not your typical church. We don’t occupy a traditional church building. We don’t function as one would expect a conventional church to function. Instead, we have “staked out” a specific neighborhood in the city of Fresno where we hope to reflect and manifest the Kingdom of God to those who call this neighborhood “home.”
There are 923 homes in our neighborhood, some of which have been taken back by financial institutions. There they sit, empty and boarded up. As for the remainder of the neighborhood, many of the families have been hit hard by the current economy. Of the 3,500 residents, a significant percentage are migrant farm workers, with 71 percent not even having a high school diploma. We experience 18 percent unemployment within our neighborhood, with many more under-employed, and I regret to report that there are some who have resorted to illegal activities as a result of their hardship. This is our “home”: high unemployment, a high crime rate, but fertile ground for the Holy Spirit.
Before I go any further, I need to point out that my wife and I made the conscious decision to not separate ourselves from those to whom we felt called. We believe that ministry should be incarnational. Thus we moved into the neighborhood with the attitude that this was our “flock”—lost sheep in need of the Shepherd. We didn’t come to preach or teach. We came to reflect the life of Jesus in such a way that the entire neighborhood would be impacted for the better. And since making that commitment to live in the midst of the “sheep,” we, and our neighbors, have experienced God in some powerful ways.
With such a high unemployment rate, the children of our neighbors often experience barriers to employment. One of our dreams has been to repurpose a dilapidated workshop in our neighborhood and turn it into a place where neighborhood teenagers could be paired with Christian mentors who are skilled woodworkers, welders, and artisans. Not only would they learn a trade, but they would learn about Jesus at the same time.
Of course, the reality of coming up with the funds to purchase the necessary equipment seemed to put this dream out of reach . . . that is, until God introduced us to John.
John contacted us because he had heard about our vision for a neighborhood-focused church. We met the next day, and here’s the story he shared: “Ten years ago, my passion was motorcycling. I had a beautiful Harley that I loved to ride. One night while sleeping I had a dream. In my dream Jesus came to me and said, ‘You need to give away your motorcycle.’ I woke up feeling convicted, but I just couldn’t give it up. For three months I resisted God. I loved my motorcycle! But I finally relented and gave it away. Since then my passion has been woodworking. I amassed for myself a garage full of high-end cabinetry-making equipment. Three months ago I was sleeping and I had another dream. In my dream, Jesus came to me just as he had before, but this time He said, ‘You need to give away your woodworking equipment.’ I woke up feeling convicted. Ten years ago I resisted God, but this time I knew what I had to do. Joe, would you like my woodworking equipment?”
I didn’t have to answer . . . God was already saying “yes.” A man I had never met was going to give Neighborhood Church nearly $10,000 worth of woodworking equipment to further God’s Kingdom in our neighborhood. Today there is a repurposed 100-year-old workshop in our neighborhood being used to teach neighborhood kids about Jesus while they learn a trade.
– Joe White—Neighborhood Church, Fresno, California
The Greek language has two words for time: chronos and kairos. Chronos concerns the linear passage of time, like the time we experience in the twenty-four-hour day. We define our workweeks by the number of hours that we work. We have a list of things to do and only so much time to get everything done. This is chronos time. Having a chronos mind-set focuses us on time as the controlling factor for our activities, thereby causing us to miss out on many spur-of-the-moment opportunities. Instead of seeing what our Father is doing all around us, our eyes are trained on the clock, where we need to go next, or checking off another item on our “to do list.”
Kairos is quite different than chronos. It is not linear. It doesn’t include a clock or a schedule. It is living life in the moment, being fully present when you are with people just as Jesus was. It involves living an unhurried life. Kairos is best referred to as an “opportunity.” For example, when Jesus sat down at the well of Sychar, He beheld an opportunity to converse with the Samaritan woman. This was a kairos moment which His disciples missed. They were on chronos time, busying themselves with purchasing food, unaware of the tremendous opportunity that the encounter with this woman would afford.
The apostle Paul wrote, “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity [kairos]” (Ephesians 5:14–16, NIV). Here Paul is exhorting the followers of Christ (and I believe his exhortation applies even more so to Christian leaders) not to sleep through opportunities and thereby miss out on what God is doing in that particular moment. Busyness and laziness are two of the biggest culprits to diverting our eyes from seeing what God is doing. We find a similar exhortation in Colossians 4:5 (NIV): “Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity [kairos].” Paul is giving us a window into the kind of life he lived during his years of ministry, no doubt the same kind that Jesus lived.
The funny thing about kairos moments is that they are often viewed as intrusions in our lives. They frequently occur when we least expect them, and they seldom fit into our self-determined plan for the day. Each time one occurs, we are forced to make a choice. Do I continue, or do I disrupt my plans and choose to lay them aside for the sake of what God is doing in the moment?
I have often thought that when Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan, He was making a comparison between the way He lived His life and the way the religious leaders of His day lived theirs (Luke 10:25-37). The priest and the Levite were too busy after their temple service activities to stop and care for their desperate “neighbor” who was beaten, robbed, and left to die by the side of the road. Oddly enough, Jesus used a member of the most despised society for the Jew of that day, the Samaritan, to demonstrate extraordinary “neighbor-love.” The religious leaders missed out on the kairos moment. Their chronos mindset spurred them down the road. Maybe they viewed it as an inconvenience, an obstruction to their getting home on time, or an unplanned interruption to their schedule for that day. Maybe they thought there was too much risk involved. Some speculate there was a religious law that one who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony. Whatever the reason, they could not be bothered, and as a result, they missed a perfectly good opportunity to lovingly minister to someone in need.
From The Incarnational Church: Catching Jesus’ Radical Approach to Advancing His Kingdom
Jesus loved God, His Father, and His neighbors—the Greatest Commandment—perfectly. Have you ever considered this thought? If so, it changes how you and I read the Gospel accounts. A number of hallmarks to Jesus’ earthly ministry stand out. Four of these hallmarks I find incredibly important to loving our actual neighbors today.
The first is Jesus’ prayer life. On more than one occasion we find Him slipping away to pray by Himself, sometimes spending an entire night in prayer on an isolated mountaintop.
The second is Jesus’ habit of doing things only where He observed the Father already at work. In fact, Jesus went so far as to claim that He was unable to do anything, anywhere, on His own.
. . . the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner” (John 5:19 NASB).
The third is Jesus’ compassion for people. On many occasions the Gospel writers make reference to Jesus seeing the people gathered around Him, and feeling deep compassion for their needs.
The fourth hallmark is the utter simplicity with which our Lord touched the lives of so many people. He performed great miracles, yet said little. To the man who had lain by the pool of Bethesda for 38 years, Jesus simply asked, “Do you wish to get well?” And after taking the time to listen to the man’s story, our Lord’s command was equally as simple: “Arise, take up your pallet, and walk.”
I call your attention to these four hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry for a couple of reasons. The first is because I deem them important for us to learn if we are truly serious about being obedient to the Great Commandment and loving our neighbors. The second is because my friend David Sanford touches upon each of these hallmarks quite uniquely in his new book, Loving Your Neighbor: Surprise! It’s Not What You Think.
In surprising ways, David touches upon the importance of praying for those God places around us. He emphasizes the significance of carefully observing our neighbors, waiting for evidence to manifest that the Lord is at work in their lives. He continues by stressing the weightiness of positioning ourselves in that place of vulnerability where we can feel compassion for our neighbors. And in a wonderful, surprising twist, he applies a valuable lesson from Jesus’ encounter with the man at the pool by exhorting us to speak little, and to listen much. It is counterintuitive for most us, but it allows hearts to be unlocked and opportunities to abound.
I doubt your encounters will be anything like David’s, but this I know: Your encounters will be uniquely yours, and the lessons David has to offer you will be invaluable as you pursue our Lord’s great command to love your neighbors.
As disciples of Jesus, we are unique from all other human beings. Our willingness to submit to His sovereignty results in the Father placing His Holy Spirit within us. Thus, wherever we go, whomever we encounter, the Holy Spirit of God goes with us.
An encounter with one of our neighbors might make us feel awkward or even scare us to death. Yet we need to remind ourselves that the encounter was no doubt authorized and orchestrated by the Spirit. Additionally, and in accordance with His promise, Jesus will work through each of us in His effort to woo our neighbors into His Father’s Kingdom.
I strongly suggest that you read my friend David’s book as one might a devotional. Stop at regular intervals and meditate on what you have just read. Ruminate on the insights David has to offer as though they were something good to digest slowly. And don’t worry if you disagree here or there. Press through to the end. You will be glad you did!
– Lynn Cory, Neighborhood Initiative
-BONUS: Readers of this blog can receive a free .pdf copy of David Sanford’s book by sending a quick email note to LvYrNeighborSurprise@gmail.com
“Teaching in front of thousands of people felt like the opportunity of a lifetime. At least it did at first. And of course there were parts of my job that were exhilarating. On most nights, however, when I got into my car and drove home, I felt strangely empty. I knew what went in to putting on those services. We spent the majority of our time putting on an event that, to be honest, just didn’t seem like it was producing the kind of life change we were hoping to see.
My point is not to criticize large churches, because there are many good ones out there that are doing great things. Nor am I saying that large-group teaching isn’t effective and that we should scrap it altogether. Instead I am saying that my experience as a large-church pastor caused me to reevaluate my thinking about transformation and the best ways to invest my time and energy. While I served there, a healthy sense of discontent grew in me. And over time I realized that our weekly service was always going to have limited impact in changing our community. I became convinced that no matter how much our church grew, a single congregation would never be able to truly transform our entire community.
My healthy discontent sent me on a journey to redefine how I thought about the church and its ability to have a lasting impact. I left my teaching pastor position and found myself at another thriving church, where I continued to wrestle with the same gnawing thoughts and questions. I soon found myself becoming obsessed with John 17, an entire chapter that recounts Jesus’ prayer just before He is arrested. First, Jesus prays for Himself, then for His disciples. Then He concludes by praying for us.
What He prayed is powerful. He prayed that everyone who follows Him would be one; that we would be brought to complete unity. Jesus has a burning desire for there to be unity among all believers. In fact, He tells us that there is something so sacred and beautiful about oneness that it will draw people to God who aren’t in a relationship with Him. This was the answer I was looking for to help facilitate lasting transformation in our city! And this is what prompted me to gather local pastors to listen to our mayor and to dream about what we could do together that we could never do alone.”
– Dave Runyon, The Art of Neighboring