Missional leaders take Jesus’ model of serving seriously. So serious that sometimes we miss opportunities because we’re so busy serving and keeping our relationships one directional. You know what I mean? We make sure to pay for things, to give away things, and to always be the one helping. Why? Because we’re here to serve. But we can actually serve others by allowing them to serve us! Those who have had a lot of experience in the real world with real people or who have read a lot of missional theology will know that receiving is a huge aspect of missional living. Serving is crucial to being missional, but allowing others to serve you is crucial to having authentic relationships. This is covered well in chapter 8, “The Art of Receiving,” of The Art of Neighboring. For example, the heart of what the authors are getting at is summarized well in these two paragraphs:
“Great neighborhoods are built on reciprocal relationships, on two-way streets. At the end of the day, no one wants to feel like a project. We want to feel that we bring something to the table. But when it comes to neighboring well, one of the biggest temptations is to turn neighbors into projects. We put on the “superneighbor cape” and rush out to serve our neighbors and make a difference on our block. This really isn’t a bad thing, but if this is all we ever do, then our relationships will be empty. If we don’t allow people to meet any of our needs, we limit what God wants to do in our neighborhood and our life.”
“Allowing ourselves to be on the receiving end can be harder than it looks. Our tendency is to put ourselves in positions of power— in this case, always being the one to give. We want to be seen as the capable one with all the resources and answers. But being in a relationship where we allow others to meet our needs is always a good thing. The art of neighboring involves our being able both to give of our time and energy and, just as important, to receive from others.”
Yes! These are very real concerns that many of us share, and we need to overcome the challenges while embracing the power of receiving. This chapter, from The Art of Neighboring, essentially breaks down the why and the how of learning the art of receiving. Posturing ourselves humbly, open to the help of others, vulnerable, and aware that healthy relationships naturally develop into reciprocal relationships is explained in very helpful ways. You really need to read the chapter to have a better grasp on this. For our purposes, I want to explain why the art of receiving is an important aspect of all effective missional living, especially in a small town. In fact, in my experience this is one of the quickest ways to be an effective neighbor in Small Town USA! Here are a couple reasons why…
Small Town Cultures are Difficult to Break Into
Gaining acceptance in a small town community can be challenging. Friends of mine once told me that even after living in a small town for nearly twenty-five years, people still said they were “new.” Can you imagine that? Twenty-five years and still new!
I’ve found that when you openly position yourself as a learner and receiver, people actually give you quite a bit of relational equity. What I mean is that when you are open and honest about being new and needing some help, people in small towns are generally pretty quick to help.
For example, when I first moved to the town I live in, I recall asking help from a few of the long-term locals (i.e., their families had been here “forever”). When I said, “Hey, I’m new hear and I’m really interested in understanding ________,” they were very quick to jump to my “rescue” and explain to me the local culture!
I found that people in small towns are often a bit guarded but are also anxious to help. It’s this really weird paradox that I’m sure some sociologist somewhere has an explanation for… but I just see it as a helpful way to form relationships with people God has called me to love and serve.
Recently I actually saw this at work when I was hanging with a bunch of men at a local establishment and I asked some questions about snowmobiling. Just about every man in the place started giving me advice on where to go, what’s the best way to do it, and then a few men offered to take me out! Instant friendships… just because I asked for some help.
Small Town USA People Can Spot a Fake
A couple weeks ago Joel Seymour wrote a great post on chapter eight, “Motives Matter.” In Small Town USA this is especially true because people can spot a fake a mile away (most of the time). I think this is largely due to the relational nature of living in a rural community where everyone knows each other (and is often related to each other!).
When you steam into town and start “serving” and won’t allow people to return the favors and borrow you tools and help at your events, you risk giving the impression that you only want those people to join your club, not be in your community as neighbors.
In the past nine years, I’ve had several conversations with long-term locals who have opened up to me about our churches and expressed frustration (and sometimes anger) in feeling that the only thing “those people” wanted was to “convert” people. Often times, these frustrations (and anger) boils down to feeling like there aren’t real and authentic relationships at work, related to whether there is both give and take in the friendships.
The bottom line is that receiving is a powerful part of real relationships and we’d be wise to allow our neighbors to share their lives with us just as we are trying to share ours with them. As we read in The Art of Neighboring:
“The art of receiving is not complicated. It comes down to being aware of our own needs. It’s about opening our eyes, then being vulnerable enough to ask and receive. After all, you couldn’t possibly possess all the skills, resources, or tools you need, right? So acknowledge your needs and start noticing the people in your neighborhood who might be willing to help.”
What do you think? What would you add?