We all want to help our neighbors. But sometimes, if we aren’t careful, our best intentions can actually cause pain and shame, instead of support. Communities change from the inside out, because every neighborhood knows and grows itself best. So we help is by empowering the people who live there. The following excerpt from the You’ve Heard It Said Bible Plan, Loving Our Neighbors, shows us how to help neighbors without hurting them, too.
You probably know yourself better than anyone else. When people listen to your struggles and help you identify your own solutions, you’re more likely to feel empowered, see purpose in God’s plan for you, and experience healthy pride in your accomplishment.
Shouldn’t this same idea be applied to our communities? It’s likely that nobody knows a community better than the people within it. So if we want to be good neighbors to the communities around us, we have to start by stepping out of our comfort zones and spending time listening to local leaders. After all, we can’t solve problems that we don’t understand.
In the early Church, discontent grew when the Greek-speaking Jews felt that their widows were receiving less than the Hebrew widows. A meeting of all believers was called together to determine how the community would respond to the issue.
This problem was important, but the disciples knew they didn’t have the margin to give it the attention it deserved. Trying to focus on feeding the widows would detract from their overall mission of spreading the gospel, but at the same time, they couldn’t just ignore what was going on.
Feeling this tension, the Church decided to appoint seven men to oversee the food distribution so that the church leaders could continue focusing on teaching God’s Word and discipling the growing number of new believers.
As a result, many more people came to accept faith in Jesus.
If the church leaders would have responded with their own solutions without taking the time to get curious and listen to other perspectives, they could have had very different results. And the same is true for us. When we approach people, communities, or problems as if we already know the answer, we’re often setting ourselves up for failure.
Most of the time, our greatest solutions aren’t our contributions. It’s our ability to listen, to show empathy, and to get curious about problems we see that makes all the difference. And the more time we spend empowering other people to identify their own solutions, the healthier those communities tend to be.
So let’s learn from the early Church. It’s easy to think that loving our neighbors means assuming we know everything about them and fixing everything ourselves. But loving our neighbors can’t happen without first getting to know our neighbors and listening to them.
Instead of swooping in with your ideas, take some time to get to know people. When you do, you’ll gain perspective, and your community will retain dignity and ownership.
Pray: God, I don’t want my solutions to hurt my community, and I don’t want my assumptions to cause unnecessary harm. Please help me listen well and approach new circumstances with curiosity. In Jesus’ name, amen.