Hello, Neighbor: Changing the Narrative

by Jon Rhiddlehoover on

Articles 9 min read
Mark 12:30–31 Romans 2:11

In the day in which we live, it is not hard to find polls showing that public opinion about Christians is declining. Recently, one poll demonstrated that a majority of those identifying as “non-religious” in the United States labeled Christians as “hypocritical” (55%), “judgmental” (54%), and “self-righteous” (50%). Now, it could easily be said, “Of course non-religious people feel that way, since they reject the truths to which Christians hold.” And, though I think there is some merit to that statement, I wonder if there might be some ways for us to flip the narrative so that more who consider themselves “non-religious” might see that many Christ-followers are actually “loving,” “compassionate,” and “welcoming.” All of this so that they would see the difference Christ has made in our lives and bring praise to God (Matthew 5:16).

One place I am seeing this narrative changed is Central Storehouse, the food pantry ministry of Central Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas. As the Storehouse’s Executive Director, I have the joy of interacting with many of our “neighbors” — those who come into our ministry to receive food and encouragement. Through those conversations I have heard many “non-religious” people express that they are seeing Christians and the church through a completely different lens. One neighbor said that he has never experienced the love and joy that he has received from our volunteers among other Christians he has met. Another neighbor who has had many negative interactions with Christians in the past that have made her feel unvaluable shared that there is something different about those at Central Storehouse. She mentioned how everyone cares about her, that she is not judged for her past or present, and that she can stand a bit taller in this place because people are loving her as a person and that makes her feel confident.

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The mission statement of Central Storehouse is “Loving Neighbors, Feeding Souls.” In the Bible, Jesus presents the two greatest commandments for his followers: to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbors as yourself (Mark 12:30-31). The overflow of love for God is evidenced in the way Christians love others, and not only other Christ-followers. Challenges are common among the diverse communities in which we live and work. We are often unaware of people’s specific challenges, but the way we love can help to bring them closer or distance them further. Among other challenges, there are socioeconomic issues that make it hard for people to relate to one another on a practical level. There are ethnic and cultural issues that make it challenging for two people groups to understand one another without large amounts of humility and patience. There are religious differences that have divided people for centuries, and the unity often sought in communities is seemingly unrealistic.

However, for faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, the Bible clearly calls us to welcome the stranger and honor the Lord by caring for them. There are passages in the Old Testament that mention foreigners and sojourners among God’s chosen people, Israel. Moses writes that when a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them—they are to be treated as equals and loved as one loves themselves (Leviticus 19:33-34). This instruction expresses the Lord’s desire that people of different cultures would seek to love one another and welcome each other as one of their own. Solomon writes in his wisdom book of Proverbs that the rich and poor have in common the fact that the Lord is the Maker of them all (Proverbs 22:2). No matter their socioeconomic status, all people have been created by God, are of equal value, and should love each other regardless of their differences.

For God does not show favoritism (Romans 2:11). Nor should his people. In fact, there are more than a few passages that speak to the virtue of humility and its value among all people seeking to honor God with their relationships. One of the strongest calls to live in humility toward others, given in the context of relating to other Christians but still relevant in all relationships, is to “value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Christians are called to make disciples of all nations, crossing cultural lines that make people different, with the Gospel in their hearts and on their tongues, so that all people in the world might hear the good news and glorify the Lord in the name of Jesus Christ. A humble heart and a right perspective of people is where we must begin our mission.


Knowing the current state of mind of the non-religious and being aware of the calling of God on the Christian—what do we do about it?

A big step for the Christian is to make an effort to LIVE AT PEACE with everyone (Hebrews 12:14). Truly and humbly seeking peace in all relationships is a necessary starting block for people who seek to mend relationships and chart a way forward toward the type of relationships that will soften the minds and hearts of non-believers to Jesus and His followers. In the past we may have struggled to see people as equally valuable based on various circumstances. We may have been brought up in a place or in a home in which dividing lines between people groups were introduced and cultivated over time. The only real way to overcome those kinds of mindsets is to repent of any previous sinful attitudes or judgment toward others who have been created in God's image, seek the Lord with all of our hearts, and pray that his Spirit would align our hearts with his. When we seek him in this way, his gift of peace will be a blessing to us and overflow with peace towards our fellow humans, no matter our differences.

Also, seek to live out the calling to love all people through selfless acts of SERVICE. Jesus said that the world will know that a person is his disciple by the way they love others (John 13:35). This love is visibly observed by others. Serving all people, regardless of their differences, can change the minds of the non-religious to see Christians in a different light. There are a growing number of places and ministries in which the Christ-follower can serve and make a difference. Loving neighbors can happen when we walk across the street to serve someone we know is struggling through a challenging season of life. Serving within schools, showing love in action to children with all kinds of differences, can bring great encouragement. Welcoming refugees and the immigrant population that is growing in our cities with smiles on our faces, humble hearts of compassion, and minds that seek to learn more about their cultures can lead to relationships that honor God. 

What are the great benefits of serving others with a humble and loving heart?

  • Greater connection and solidarity across lines of difference.
  • More people stepping closer to a life of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.
  • Growing hearts of gratitude in all areas of life.
  • A pleasant sense of peace and joy.

Serving others in various ways, meeting the needs of those who are on the margins of life, is a great blessing. Not only is it a blessing to meet a real need, but it is also a blessing to see the many smiles on the faces of those who receive the blessing. When we as Christians serve in a God-honoring way, recipients who do not know the Lord can experience a love that He desires them to feel and might walk away with a different view of God and his people.

Recently a nonprofit leader in Dallas came to visit Central Storehouse. He was not a religious person, and by the look on his face and the brief words he spoke when he walked into the food pantry on a busy day, it was clear he was skeptical that the volunteers were really making an impact. After a brief tour and conversation with a few volunteers and neighbors being served, the man’s mind was changed. He said he could not believe the impact that was being made in the neighbors’ lives. He was amazed that relationships were being formed with those living on the margins who often struggle with mental health challenges. He was taken aback by the way the ministry dignified the people and made them comfortable as they listened to their stories and tried to address their real needs. What an opportunity that moment was for the volunteers to show the love of Jesus in such a way as to soften and change the heart of a man who once had a different, more common public opinion of Christians.  

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The narrative in our communities can and must change for the good, for God’s good. If we filter all our words and actions through our calling to love God above all and love our neighbors as ourselves, seeking to live at peace with everyone and serving with gratitude, we can start to see the public opinion change, ultimately for God’s glory.

About the Author

Jon Rhiddlehoover (MA in Christian Education, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Lead Community Pastor at Central Bible Church and Executive Director of the Central Storehouse food pantry.