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“Churches without Borders”

Once while having breakfast with Dallas Willard, he said to me, “If revival and awakening come, our buildings will not be able to contain it.” His words have stuck with me over the years. Are we on the way to another awakening?  Could you imagine what this would look like if the buildings that house our congregations could no longer hold them? What would church leaders do to accommodate a Great Awakening in our day?

Church historians identify three, or sometimes four, great awakenings in America between the early 18th century and the late 20th century. An awakening, as I see it, is a supernatural move of God where the masses outside the Lord’s Church are swept into the kingdom of God. This was seen with the Jesus Movement that began on the West Coast of California in the late 1960s and early 1970s and spread across the country and beyond.

In contrast to awakening, revival is a transformative work of the Holy Spirit where the people of God come under the Lordship of Christ for spiritual transformation and the Lord’s Church returns to the mission of God as Jesus set forth in the Great Commission.

Around 2010, a new move of God started that centered on loving your actual neighbors. Today, it is known as “neighboring,” which also includes loving those who are near to us throughout the day. Many pastors took great interest in this new movement and gathered with other pastors to hear from Dave Runyon, a pioneer in the movement, and others speaking about neighboring. (Pictured below is of one of the pastors’ gatherings during that time, at Oak Hills Church, in San Antonio, Texas.)

Pastors’ Gatherings at Oak Hills Church, in San Antonio, Texas.)

Pastors’ Gatherings at Oak Hills Church, in San Antonio, Texas.

Dallas Willard was always an incredible support to me throughout the initial development of Neighborhood Initiative. On one occasion he said to me, “If you keep moving forward with what you are do­ing, then we will see revival and awakening.” He said to me on two occasions, “Don’t stop what you are doing!” In the early days I would often think of these words, not so much as from Dallas, but as words of encouragement from the Lord.

In my last conversation with Dallas, as I was leaving his home, he said to me in reference to Neighborhood Initiative, “It’s our only answer.” I responded, “It’s a real faith walk.”

Why, you might ask, do I view Neighborhood Initiative as a walk of faith? Because I view ministering in the neighborhood as countercultural to the American method of doing church. For years, the mantra of the American church has been “y’all come.” In contrast to this, Neighborhood Initiative is “y’all go.” Pastors and leaders of American churches operate, for the most part, independently of one another. Neighborhood Initiative sees the need for them to work together for the common cause of advancing God’s kingdom, one neighborhood at a time. Having done church differently for so many decades, accepting this new paradigm for the church may not be an easy thing for pastors to embrace. Having been in the pastorate myself for so many years, I am not unsympathetic. After all, it is the mode of operation that we all inherited. However, I firmly believe the Lord is bringing about a reformation to His Church. He wants to restructure things by knitting us together as a single Body. The apostle Paul touches on this when he writes: “From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  (Ephesians 4:16 niv) The Lord is joining His body together in love for the great work He wants to do through us in our communities. The supporting ligaments are at work in His Church today, through those who are called by God to be connectors in the body of Christ, so that together we will carry out the work of Jesus in our cities.

When I first moved into Neighborhood Initiative, I didn’t realize that “reformation” was what the Lord had in mind. Think about it. If we begin to love our actual neighbors, then we will probably encounter people from other congregations who just happen to live in our neighborhoods. Are we going to avoid them, or are we going to invite them to join us in loving our neighbors as ourselves? If we are obedient, we will submit to His commandment: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34–35). Philip Yancey points out in Vanishing Grace, “When I ask, ‘Tell me the first word that comes to your mind when I say Christian,’ not one time has someone suggested the word love. Yet without question that is the proper biblical answer.  ‘As I have loved you, so you must love one another,’ Jesus commanded His disciples at the Last Supper. He said the world will know we are Christians—and, moreover, will know who He is—when His followers are united in love.”

I believe the Lord has us in a corner with this neighboring thing. He is calling us to love those from other churches in our own neighborhoods as He has loved us. This is reformation. He is calling His Church to become “churches without borders.” This may be threatening to some, but this is where the Lord is leading His Church. This is what is emerging, and this is what is needed if we want to see revival and awakening. If we want to see this occur, it will entail pastors encouraging those under their care to join with believers from other congregations and demonstrate the love of God right in their own neighborhoods.

I talked with a pastor whose small groups had gone through Neighborhood Initiative and the Love of God, and he fully understood the implication of where it might take not only his church, but other churches in his city. Almost every church offers small groups, each by a different name. For example, small groups in my home church are called Connect Groups. Another church refers to them as Life Groups. Still another calls them Community Groups. But what if we just called them all Neighborhood Groups* and joined them together right where people live? That would bring people attending different churches together in the same small group with others living in the same neighborhood. Wow! That would be radical. And that would also be reformation. The whole Church experiencing loving community together, so that those in our neighborhoods would know that we are Jesus’ disciples. We would literally become the answer to Jesus’ high priestly prayer:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me [that also includes us] through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me—so that they may they be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  John 17:20–23 niv

I firmly believe that this is what Jesus is up to in this particular season of Church history. He is answering His own prayer by making us one; the whole Church ministering in every neighborhood in every city. This is huge. This is reformation.

*Bruce Zachary, Pastor of Calvary Chapel Camarillo, and his congregation, now have more than 80 Neighborhood Groups and their vision is to have 200 to saturate their community with the love of God. Their groups consist of people from various churches and those seeking to know more about the God we love. If you would like to hear Bruce’s story, click the following link:

On YouTube:

For more, read Incarnational Church by Lynn Cory – Click Here


Listen to Bruce Zachary's experience with Neighborhood Initiative.

Listen to Dallas Willard's word to pastors and leaders about Neighborhood Initiative.

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