By Bud Brown
It took me four years to meet my neighbors.
Our home sits in a middleclass, working neighborhood surrounded by young families, retirees, and a few career singles. Like those around us, my wife and I were content to drive off in the morning, return in the evening, and retreat to the enclave. Weekends were sucked dry by a thousand and one different chores, errands, and activities.
Rather than living as intentional missionaries to our neighborhood, we lived in a bubble.
God popped it.
It was unexpected but I’m sure He got a laugh out of it at my expense.
Praying for Evangelism Opportunities
I had been assisting a pastor to develop strategies to move an unwilling congregation into the “willing to change” category. The church had been in a long, slow death spiral for more than fifteen years. Things would have to change if it was to survive. Part of the strategy we devised was to lead the church through a broad, sustained prayer initiative. The plan was to expose the congregation to God’s life-giving power by having everyone pray the evangelistic prayers in the Bible. After all, who is going to object to a church-wide prayer movement?
Colossians 4:2-4 was a key text in the strategy.
Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.
Paul’s prayer request is a bit of a surprise. Examples of him finding or creating open doors litter the pages of the NT. Alone in Athens, he went where people gathered to talk (Acts 17). In many cities he went to the synagogues to meet people made ready for the gospel by their exposure to the OT. When the synagogues were closed to him he still found people who had some spiritual interest (e.g., Acts 16:13).
The surprise is even this apostle, gospel activist, and pioneer of relentless innovative personal outreach felt the need to pray for evangelism opportunities. So great was the need that he sought the help of others who would pray with him.
In the midst of working with my client to develop this prayer strategy I had an arresting thought. “If Paul needed to pray for open doors, and if Jacob’s church needs to pray for the same, maybe I need to pray this for myself.”
So I began praying for my neighbors. I prayed for the families that lived on either side of us. I prayed for the people who lived in the three houses across the street. Although I was not as faithful and diligent as I should have been, I prayed for all of them. I also asked the friends I met with in weekly small group meetings to join me in these prayers.
Then the strangest encounters started happening.
A neighbor who lives across the alley behind us (someone I hadn’t even been praying for!) came to the back gate. He was curious about the major landscaping project then underway. A large crew had been cutting down trees, excavating, building terraces, planting, making lots of noise and throwing dust in the air. I opened the back gate, introduced myself, and invited Steve to inspect the work.
Two months later one of the neighbors from across the street came over to ask about a new car in our driveway. Mike was shopping for a new vehicle for his wife, a local realtor.
In December I met John, who lives immediately to the west of us. I was hanging Christmas lights on the house when he came out to do the same. I walked over, introduced myself, and we chatted for a bit. Since then I’ve met his wife Amy and their three girls; I made it a point to buy lots of Girl Scout cookies from them!
Then in January I met Tyler; he and his family had recently moved in on the other side of us. We talked for a while, and I asked if they would like to join us soon for an evening meal. Two weeks later my wife met Tyler and extended the dinner invitation.
My wife and I have continued to pray for open doors. I began finding them open almost everywhere I went.
Cashiers at the local Albertson’s, servers at our favorite restaurants, people met at random, and even other business owners inviting me to meet for coffee (no doubt to pitch their services).
A workman we hired to do some repair work on the house responded warmly to attend church and join us for a Sunday afternoon dinner.
Praying for opportunities wrought another change in me.
It occurred to me—perhaps an idea implanted by the Holy Spirit—to rearrange my schedule to join a few community groups. Who knows, maybe I’d find additional open doors?
I found and joined a reading club that discusses literary novels. I was surprised that retired university professors, English teachers, and retired professionals are keenly interested in knowing more about “the human condition,” the Apocalypse, love, family relationships, and meaning in life.
What began as a strategy to help a pastor crack the code for a reluctant congregation, ended up not only transforming a congregation (they have experienced significant growth in the last 18 months), it changed my participation in God’s mission.
Doors are opening all around.
People are letting my wife and I into their lives.
We are delighted with the opportunities to develop redemptive relationships with people who need to hear and believe the gospel.
When Jesus declared “the fields are [already] white unto harvest,” He meant it (John 4:35). If we ask Him, he’ll show us.
Bud Brown is President and Co-Founder at Turnaround Pastors.