When Jesus “moved into the neighborhood,” he set an example for us in how to effectively work with others.
We recently celebrated the Advent season and gave special attention to Christ’s first coming, second coming, and continual presence with us. Following Advent, we celebrated Christmas – the incarnation – when the Son of God entered our world and became the Son of man. He became one of us. For those striving to disciple young people, it is good to take a new look at John 1:14 and note how Eugene Peterson interpreted the verse. It gives us a good point to focus on as we strive to follow Jesus’ example.
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. (John 1:14 MSG)
God could have redeemed us from afar. We might think that he could have spoken another “let there be” and changed our nature, but he respects our ability to choose too much for that. Instead, to bring about our restoration, he moved into the neighborhood. Advent and Christmas celebrates this part of God’s nature that gets up close and personal. We celebrate the humble God who becomes one of the most pitiable of creatures in order to make them his children. He was not too proud to align himself with the corrupted, and due to his close proximity, we became infected by his health.
As we seek to cultivate Jesus in children and youth, do we follow Christ’s model? Do we strive to move into their neighborhood? There are times when an attraction approach (getting the young people to come to us) works well. For example, doing a community-wide event, like a neighborhood camp, is a great way to help children and youth experience the kingdom. However, congregations that only employ attractional strategies when reaching out to the young people in their community are missing out on some wonderful opportunities.
I encourage congregations to imitate Jesus’ approach and consider incarnational strategies — actions that move you into the neighborhood. Make an effort to go where the young people already gather and humbly try to become a part of their lives. Some incarnational strategies might include one or more of the following:
- Volunteering at a school or youth program
- Attending sporting events
- Becoming a Big Brother/Big Sister
- Coaching a sports team
- Becoming a band booster
- Volunteering at school plays or concerts
- Being a chaperone at a school event
Jesus showed how much God loves us by moving into our neighborhood. When we follow him into the midst of our children and youth, we reflect his love and show them how important they are. There is a saying, “Children do not care what you know until they know that you care.” Initiating relationship by meeting young people where they are is an important way of communicating that you care.
For some of us, living incarnationally among children can feel intimidating. The good news is that Jesus has already gone before us. When we meet children where they are, we do not do so with our own power. We go in faith believing that God will reveal himself through us. By moving into our neighborhood, Jesus changed the entire world. Imagine what God is willing to do if we imitate him?
By Dishon Mills, Generations Ministry Coordinator, US