What is life like when your front porch becomes your mission field? Well, you never know who’s going to come by or what you’ll end up talking about. The front porch is no longer a quiet and sacred space to relax. Instead, it’s practically a law that your alone time will be interrupted. And your goal to weed and water the flowers will likely take multiple attempts before completion.
But for Mike and Mary Matthias, who’ve committed to intentionally love their neighbors, these disruptions are the evidence of God’s favor. Interruptions are the invitation to take part in what God is doing — to live ordinary lives in a way that’s truly extraordinary.
What does it take to be an everyday family on mission in a neighborhood? For Mike and Mary, it can be summed up in two words: being available.
What Availability Looks Like
After strategically positioning their family in a neighborhood with good interactive possibilities, Mike says that “one of the things we said is we need to be around; we need to be here.”
So that’s what they do. Barring special events, their family is around most afternoons, evenings, and weekends. Staying local, walking to parks, and biking places suits their lifestyle. Mike was quick to point out that it doesn’t have to look like that for everyone, but everyone should “be discerning and listen to God’s heart.”
He would also say, being present is key.
“We need to be available out on the porch, so we do dinners or spend time just playing out there. We do yard work. We have a lot of dog walkers, so we always say ‘Hi’. A lot of this [ministry] is just building relationships over time. There’s a guy, I’ve never been to his apartment, but I feel like I know him really well because he’ll just stop and we’ll talk about life, about what he’s doing. He’s really opened up.”
And part of being intentional is dipping below the surface.
“Most of our walk-by conversations are not hi-and-bye relationships. We know their story. They know parts of our story. And we’re keeping that story going as they walk by. A lot of [this lifestyle] is being aware of people’s stories, and then being there when things happen. I think that’s where God intends for us to be.”
Being attentive to both past narratives and current happenings in their neighbors’ lives prepares them to speak the Gospel in a relevant way at relevant times.
Living Like Missionaries Do
Mike and Mary have discovered there are actually a lot of similarities between the way they think about their lives in relation to their neighbors and more traditional missionaries overseas.
“Missionaries we support in Africa say, ‘We just embody; we’re just a part of the neighborhood makeup. We’re a part of what the people do and joining in with what they’re doing. We’re available.’
“In missional work, that’s what you do – you’re not going anywhere else; you’re focused. In America it’s more difficult because we have all the other things that we do – our hobbies, our social networks, maybe other ministries. But this particular kind of ministry takes time, presence, and patience.”
Saying No to Say Yes
In order to say yes to being available, Mike and Mary have had to say no to other things. Turning down other “good” opportunities (even ministry opportunities) is one of their most important disciplines. They’ve found that in a neighborhood-focused ministry, doing less is crucial to becoming more. Their call isn’t so much about what they do, but how they can be in relationship with people far from Jesus all around them. Recognizing this helps them prioritize and say no when they need to.
On the other hand, one thing they always try to say yes to is interruptions.
“There’s a neighbor who’s older, and he’s been having some issues. Saying yes to interruptions means being on the spot, ready to help him at any time, sometimes when it’s not convenient. If we’re saying yes to relationship, that’s what it means for us.”
And being interrupted, Mike says, is not necessarily a negative thing. “It’s often positive and very life-giving.”
Mike and Mary still have a lot of questions about the best way to live out this normal life on mission. But the simple steps of moving in and becoming available are already bearing fruit. “I’m not doing anything,” Mike sometimes feels. “I’m just showing up. And God has opened so many doors in relationships. We just made ourselves available.”
What About You?
Living intentionally alongside your neighbors doesn’t have to be rocket science. But it might take sacrifice and a re-prioritizing of things in your life. If you feel called to be more available to those around you, take a few moments and consider:
1. What things do you need to say no to? Are there “good things” in your life that God is calling you away from, in order to focus on something or someone nearby?
2. How do you tend to respond to interruptions? Have you ever encountered an interruption that was actually an opportunity from God? How can you make yourself more available and receptive to interruptions?
This post is based on an interview with Mike and Mary Matthias, who live with their four kids in Long Beach, California. Mike and Mary are not on staff with CRM, but they have inspired us with their commitment to live as an “ordinary” family on mission in their neighborhood.
This post was written by Megan Beehler, who recently completed an apprenticeship with :Beta: Communities also in Long Beach.
Read Part 1 - An Everyday Family on Mission: Catching the Vision
Read Part 3 - An Everyday Family on Mission: Willing to Risk