After being a pastor in the local church for twenty years, I know how important it is to have the right message at the right time for your church family. I believe that the message of Neighborliness is a timely word from God for our nation. It’s been a joy to see people all across the country using our resources to spark conversations that help us practically embody the presence of Jesus for our neighbors.
Neighborliness has been used in every imaginable setting across racial, economic, and cultural lines in our country. I have been so encouraged to see the way that God has used this to update our lexicon to talk about getting to know our neighbors across dividing lines.
Small group curriculum (embedded in the book and available for download on the website)
Community prayer guide
We have just uploaded the frameworks that we use to take churches on a six-month journey toward building a Neighborliness Team around the lead pastor. The idea is to give the pastor support by having a team that addresses racial/economic justice within their church family.
Finally, we also just uploaded the framework we use for helping churches & business leaders that are ready to engage their communities through an initiative called Holistic Community Development. This is a more robust, long-term strategy for partnering the skills and talents of residents of historically high-poverty communities, faith leaders, community leaders, and business leaders to bring sustainable and lasting change to communities.
God is doing something beautiful through this work and we would love for you to join us as we see the spirit of neighborliness sweep the nation.
Here’s a preview of some of the resources available:
“Dad, I really want to read and Bible and pray, but sometimes I just don’t know what to read or say.” My son, Max, looked back at me with a genuine look in his eyes. He continued, “Sometimes I walk in and see you reading the Bible or hear you praying in the morning and I just wish I knew how to do that for forty-five minutes or an hour.”
My four kids are amazing. They love Jesus and share his love with others. But like any other teenagers, they are still learning what it means to have spiritual disciplines. I spent quite a bit of time at the end of the 2020 reading, thinking through, and praying for my kids and how I can better help them establish rhythms for engaging with God in a meaningful (and sustainable way).
I recorded the video below to help you see how you can teach your kids … or yourself … to engage with God on a regular basis in the coming year. Every day isn’t exciting as I engage with God … and some days I linger in my time with him longer than others. But the goal is to spend time with Him every day, whether I feel like it or not. Many times, the days that I did not “feel it” are the days that God ends up speaking to me through his Word or prayer in a powerful way.
I pray that this year is the year that helps you to establish rhythms that are sustainable and lead to intimate times with God.
What are you doing to intentionally move toward racial and economic unity/diversity in your church or organization?
This is a question that is vitally important to ministering/leading in the context of our culture. The world is watching. I think that the church and God-honoring organizational leaders can be a shining beacon of light that stand out in the darkness.
However, there has to be a practical plan.
Seeing churches respond to the message of my book, Neighborliness, has been awesome, but I my favorite piece of the journey has been seeing the way that pastors and community leaders have reached out to me asking about next steps.
I believe that churches need to naturally address issues of racial and economic injustice well after the national attention on this topic dies down. However, this needs to be done in a strategic, intentional, and courageous way that shows understanding of the depth and complexity of these issues in our churches and organizations.
I had the joy of working with Dr. Mike Rakes at Winston-Salem First Assembly to develop a six-month plan to practically help churches and organizations move toward racial and economic diversity/unity.
Courageous leaders take courageous, intentional, and strategic steps. I have seen pastoral teams and leadership teams of churches and organizations take courageous steps for personal and systemic change in their church and community.
If you’re interested in taking a similar journey, I would love to help you develop a plan. If I’m not the right person, I would love to point you to others that can help you develop your plan. The bottom line is this: every church and every organization needs a plan.
Loving God and neighbors is the single most important thing that we can do in our expression of faith (Mark 12:28-34). We simply cannot love our neighbors if we do not seek to understand each other.
If you’re interested in taking this journey together, reach out to me at www.daviddocusen.com.
Let’s do this. For the sake of our neighbors and for the glory of God.
Dara and I went on a three-day beach trip to clarify the vision for Center City Church in 2014. The church we planted in 2010 was firmly rooted in the Uptown Charlotte community at that point. The idea was to break away, enjoy time together, and prayerfully consider the way we would articulate the vision and values of our beautiful church family.
We returned home three days later with a family mission statement and five family values.
Huge Post-It Notes are one of my love languages. You know the kind that you can stick on the wall and see from across the room? Those are the ones. I brought a massive pack of them with us to the beach, fully anticipating that we would fill them with creative ideas that would bring clarity to all that God placed in our heart for our church family.
However, every time we started to pray about our church, God kept bringing our marriage and our children to the forefront of our prayers. Dara and I spent an entire morning in prayer. The same thing kept repeating all morning.
Our marriage. Max, Mary, Jack, and Ben (our children).
We decided to grab an early lunch to discuss what was going on in our hearts. It was becoming increasingly clear to both of us that this retreat was about our family before it was about our church.
I remember telling Dara that I sensed the Holy Spirit really nudging my heart. I say nudging because I still don’t know exactly how to describe moments when I think God is speaking to me. “We can’t have a healthy vision for our church family until we have a clear vision for our family,” I said to her across a half-eaten basket of warm cheddar biscuits at Red Lobster.
Instead of crafting vision and values for our family, we embarked on a journey that resulted in a family mission statement and five family values that we use to this day.
Docusen Family Mission Statement: The Docusens choose Jesus and share his love with others.
Dara and I returned from lunch with clear focus. We french-pressed some coffee and I borrowed a vision exercise from my friend, Dr. Chris Owen. I wrote the words SEE, FEEL, and HEAR in all caps across the top of three Post-It Notes and hung them on the wall.
“Dara,” I said, “Let’s forget about trying to figure out the mission statement and the values right now. Let’s just have some fun and describe the visceral things that we want to see, feel, and hear in our home as the kids continue to grow up.” Two hours later, the three post it notes were absolutely loaded with practical things that we wanted to experience in our home.
Some of the things that ended up on our list included:
Friends around our fire pit.
Our children reading the Bible without prompting.
Good books in the hands of our kids.
The rumble of kids running across the house upstairs.
Prayers from our kids to Jesus.
The presence of the Holy Spirit.
The warmth of love.
When we crammed as many descriptive words as we possibly could onto the Post-It Notes, we decided to take a break and enjoy a walk on the beach. One of the things that I’ve learned is that there needs to be a healthy balance between work and rest. This is true when you’re trying to discover and create family values, as well.
We returned an hour later refreshed. We started a new Post-It Note with the words FAMILY VALUES scribbled across the top of the page. I used a different color marker to start circling words that seemed to go together. I used a green Sharpie for the words that seemed to talk about our desire to see our kids sharing and anything related to generosity. I used a purple Sharpie to circle everything that had to do with God, Jesus, discipleship, and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
We were gaining momentum.
Dara asked a question somewhere along the way that became a guiding principle through the entire exercise. She said, “What do we want to invest into our kids by the time they are eighteen years old and ready to take on a new chapter outside of our home?”
She always asks the best questions.
As we explored our desire to have a simple statement that we could memorize as a family for our mission statement, we kept being drawn to the simplicity of the greatest commandment in Mark 12:28-34 to love God and neighbors. The Docusens choose Jesus and share his love with others is simply an adaptation of the greatest commandment.
I firmly believe that we did not create our five family values. We discovered values that were already intrinsically important to us as a family. We were simply finally taking the time to slow down, pray, and consider the things that were important to us. Faith, unity, discipline, generosity, and adventure jumped off the pages as we looked a wall full of things that we wanted to see, feel, and hear in our home. We didn’t create these characteristics and bring them home to our kids. They were already alive and well in and through our family.
“We should make a picture,” Dara said.
“What do you mean?” I replied.
“It’s always easier to remember things when you have a picture,” she continued. “You have always been drawn to pictures of huge sail boats. Let’s connect our family values to a picture of a huge ship.”
Side note: I really do love pictures of huge sail boats.
“I love this idea,” I said with a huge smile on my face.
An hour later, we had our picture:
An anchor represents our faith. A sailor’s knot represents unity. A sailor’s wheel represents discipline. An open treasure chest represents generosity. The ship itself – wind in its’ sails – represents adventure.
“We need definitions now,” Dara said with a very serious we are doing this look on her face. “It’s great to have the images that they can remember, but we need simple definitions for the kids to know what each of these things mean to us as a family.”
I agreed, and another part of the journey toward clarifying the Docusen Family Values began. Here’s where we landed:
Faith – We choose Jesus. Unity – With each other and for each other. Generosity – We give joyfully. Discipline – Our choices matter. Adventure – We find and create moments.
This is the point of this blog post where my children may experience a bit of revisionist history. They are all old enough to read and if they choose to read their dad’s blog, this could lead to some interesting conversations at home. Alas, I am doing this to help people, so the truth has to come out.
Dara and I returned home with a list of five family values and a family mission statement. However, we went out and bought some snacks and hot chocolate and re-engaged in the entire exercise, huge Post-It Notes and all. SEE. FEEL. HEAR.
We asked the kids to describe the type of home they wanted to have and what was important to them. I circled the similar items and we eventually landed on five family values that were – shockingly – exactly the same as the ones Dara and I came up with at the beach.
However, Ben (four years old at the time) was absolutely adamant that two more needed to be added: ice cream and cute. They didn’t make the official list, but we still laugh about his submission to this day.
I don’t think our family values perfectly capture every aspect of our family. However, we have experienced the benefit of taking the time to discover and create family values and a mission statement that we use on a regular basis. Our values articulate the best of who we want to be and become as individuals and as a family.
When we started teaching the kids about tithing, we connected it back to our value of generosity.
When there are disagreement between any members of our family, we recall the moment where we all agreed that we are with each other and for each other and that we would pursue unity.
When we talk about tough choices between what we need and what we want, we talk about having discipline.
When we get nervous about trying something new or experiencing an unfamiliar place, we talk about our shared value of the spirit of adventure.
Finally, and most importantly, we talk regularly (and I pray over them nightly) that they will choose Jesus and share his love with others. We all choose daily that faith is our anchor.
If you had huge Post-It Notes on your wall, what would fill your pages of things that you want to see, feel, and hear for your family? There’s no magic number in five values. Faith, unity, discipline, generosity, and adventure just made sense to us.
What image can become the prevailing metaphor for your family values? Maybe you like cars and can make up a bunch of metaphors about parts of a car that can take your family on the journey of life. That’s the fun in creating the framework for your family… it’s totally up to you.
Our family is stronger because we took the time and made intentional space for discovering and creating family values and a family mission statement.
Maybe your list starts with ice cream and cute and ends up somewhere that makes sense for your family. I would love to hear your story if you choose to do the same!
**I wrote this article for RELEVANTmagazine.com (published on September 14, 2020).
As Harold put away the groceries he received from his church’s food pantry, he found himself treating his cabinets and kitchen appliances with more care, the way people do when they are guests in an acquaintances home. He knew that soon a stranger would occupy his apartment.
Unsure of where he and his sons would land come January, Harold fought against the anxiety and impending doom that 2020 carried in all its unprecedented glory. He could almost hear the proverbial clock ticking.
December 31, 2020 was just over three months away.
After losing his job in May at the local factory due to COVID-19, Harold began to panic. He was living paycheck to paycheck from temporary jobs and just scraping by as a single father of three teenage boys, who could probably eat a whole church’s food pantry contents in one afternoon.
Devastated by the loss of his job, uncertain of how he would pay rent, and with eviction looming, Harold began praying for a miracle.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has the authority to place a moratorium on evictions when they believe it is in the best interest of public health. The CDC took this action on September 4, 2020 when they announced the issuance of an order to temporarily halt residential evictions until December 31, 2020 to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. The CDC’s announcement included a clarifying line that has rocked Harold and many others across the country: “This order does not relieve any individual of any obligation to pay rent.”
Harold heard the news and found himself grateful that he wasn’t under the immediate threat of losing their two-bedroom apartment just west of Uptown Charlotte. However, he knew the details of the moratorium. The rent was still going to come due. He ran the numbers every day multiple times in his mind.
Seven months rent times $695.
Harold and his boys were not under the immediate threat of being on the street today, but that bill was still going to come due.
He could feel the anxiety building in his chest.
Making a Change
In my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, there is a shortage of 30,000+ affordable housing units. The threshold for qualifying for affordable housing is different across the country, but the basic premise is that if a person is making less than the median income in their city, they may qualify for a housing subsidy.
The fact is that profit is taking precedence over people in need in my community and countless communities across the country. Low-income families are struggling to make ends meet, and corporations and city builders exploit this reality through gentrification.
Research has shown that in order for a family to break the cycle of generational poverty, they need access to education, employment, healthcare and housing. During 2020, these pillars of financial freedom were robbed from many families. Schools, which doubled as childcare for many families, were shut down and parents became responsible for their kids’ quality of education. Millions of people were fired from their jobs, which were also their only ticket to healthcare. And rent payments stayed the same despite the economic turmoil the majority of families across the country were experiencing.
Even if you weren’t personally adversely affected, odds are you know someone who was.
As the Church, what should we do about these realities? And what can we do about them? One church was never intended to meet every need of its community on its own. Many churches have mastered the art of the food pantry; Harold and so many others are grateful for that reality. But in order to see to all the needs of our respective communities, we need to learn how to open the door and courageously cross dividing lines.
Substantial improvement begins with collective impact. Collective impact is the phenomenon that happens when cross-sector organizations come together to work toward a common agenda. It is time for the Church to start thinking more strategically about our outreach programs and service to the community.
One practical way to explore how to holistically care for Harold – and thousands like him in your community – is to create an asset map of the people, organizations and resources in your neighborhood or adjacent neighborhoods that provide people with the tools they need to break generational poverty.
What organizations are already addressing areas that your church is not?
What programs are already in place that you do not need to start but simply foster or support?
What relationships do you need to build and what resources do you need to gather in order to point people in need in the right direction?
Local churches have the opportunity to pool the financial and human resources of their congregation to help families that are in need. However, it is going to take a unified effort to address a problem that has been delayed by the eviction moratorium. While the looming housing crisis for neighbors in our communities presents a unique opportunity for the body of Christ to come together, we cannot do this alone. We are going to need creativity and wisdom from God and the commitment to build relationships with people impacted by these realities.
The Church can lead the way in strategically organizing resources and organizations that listen to the voices of the residents and bring practical and sustainable help to families in need.
Is your church engaged in holistically and strategically engaging families like Harold’s with grace, creativity, and courage?
My agent, Esther Fedorkevich, has been a friend for over twenty years. She always believed in me and this message, but she also courageously told me I wasn’t ready a few years ago when we first talked about working together. She told me to patiently wait for the message to form in my heart first. She told me she would be there when I was ready. This book is the fruit of that wisdom. Esther, thank you for believing in and advocating for this message.
My main editor, Tori, is strong and courageous. She read my first proposal before we had ever met. During that first conversation, she said that I had some great thoughts but she could tell that we hadn’t scratched the surface yet on what the message could become. Over the last year, Tori and I have worked on countless iterations of what this book could be, and each time it got stronger. I was always nervous to work with an editor because I thought I would lose my voice. Far from that, Tori taught me how to find my voice. I cannot overstate this… Neighborliness would not be a fraction of it’s current form without your brilliance, Tori. I am forever grateful that you came along to partner with me to get this message into the world. We did this together.
Allison was the editor that read the final version that Tori and I wrote. She looked at it with fresh eyes and made some key suggestions and changes to help us deliver the message more clearly and concisely. She is also the creative genius behind the cover design and interior design of the book. Thank you, Allison, for believing in this message and pouring yourself into it. I am so grateful for you.
I genuinely believe that the team at the Fedd Agency (including Danielle, Kyle, Ginny, and Matthew) is full of a bunch of geniuses that love Jesus and share his love with others by using their God-given gifts.
I don’t know what this book will me to the world, but I want you all to know that you mean the world to me. My heart is full of gratitude and my spirt is alive with hope.
Neighborliness is here and it would have never gotten here without you.