friendship houses

I just got out of a conversation with my Christian Service Center “boss”, Jim Clark, and Joe Almanza, a minister in the Abilene community. It was an inspiring time. Joe works on the “front lines” of ministry in Abilene (get this…he actually works with real, live, lost people!), and he has worked to establish new churches and ministries in Dallas and Mexico. Amazing man of God with an amazing story (think guns, Mexican Mafia…that sorta thing).

He and some others are especially excited about a recent ministry idea, passed along by a minister in Shreveport, La., and Abilene’s mayor, an elder at the Highland Church of Christ. They’re called “Friendship Houses,” and the idea is that Christians live in a house in a depressed area, offering physical and spiritual help to their neighbors on a daily basis, befriending people — that sorta thing. The project may even get some government grants because of its emphasis on community regeneration and social justice.

I am thrilled by the idea of “Friendship Houses.” Thrilled because they really have the potential to change the spiritual and physical landscape of our city. Christians refusing to say “come to us” for help and ministry, but literally landing in the middle of people’s neighborhoods and lives. The house is going to be a “safe place” for neighbors to hang out, talk, eat meals, or seek guidance. Amazing concept.

“Friendship Houses” also sadden me a little bit as well. Not the concept, per se, but the fact that the concept is considered “radical” or “out of the box” compared to the traditional ministry forms in Abilene and in many places. Shouldn’t every Christian home be a “Friendship House? Shouldn’t the concept of being “salt and light” in our neighborhoods be embedded in each believer from “new birth”? Shouldn’t service to the needy around us be a natural part of the Christ-life? Isn’t “radical hospitality” (the radical openness of ourselves and our homes to those around us) a virtue that all Christians should espouse?

Yes.

But I believe truly “Incarnated Christians” (who imitate Christ’s relationship with the lost world: “…the Word became flesh and dwelled among us…”) are outnumbered in North America today by “safe Christians,” “Bedroom/Gated Community Christians,” “Fearful Christians,” “Ignorant Christians” or just plain “Nominal [by name only] Christians.”

That’s the sad part.

Because of this we view “Friendship Houses” and all they entail as radical. We see them as out-of-the-box. We leave them to the outreach minister or the young, “more evangelistic” people. They are, in a sense, different from our traditional “come to us” approach to ministry and social justice. But what if every Christian home became a lighthouse, a “Friendship House”? What if we were prayer-walking our neighborhoods and praying for our neighbors? What if we were serving them extravagantly and freely opening our lives and homes to them? I’m not talking about moving away from your neighborhood to the “slum” of your city (though you may be called to do just that); I’m talking about being “the church” right where you live.

Would it change our nation? Would it change the way we view “ministry” and “church”?

Of course it would.

Lord, raise up a “vibrant family of Jesus Christ within close reach — culturally and geographically — of every North American.” May every Christian home in Abilene and elsewhere be a “Friendship House,” espousing all the virtues that your son espoused and called his church to espouse. Expand our limited minds to see what you are doing in our town and in the world and to join you in that work. Wherever we are. Amen.

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