Sam Holland 0:04
You’re listening to the Created For podcast. We believe that everyone was created to make a unique impact in the world. Creative For is a podcast to explore ideas around purpose, calling, and discovering how God is inviting you to influence the world in your own way, right now.
I’m your host, Sam Holland.
Today’s guest is Elizabeth McKinney. Elizabeth is a wife and mom to four little girls. She works for Cru City and serves as associate staff at her church, The Crossing, in Columbia, Missouri. She writes, speaks, and is passionate about helping people love their next door neighbors.
Elizabeth, I loved in your Created For talk how you reminded us that Jesus is an actual person. He had a body and He had actual complex human neighbors, He lived in a real place. And a lot of the ministry that you’re doing and writing about seems to be about neighboring. So can you tell us how God has used your own story, to give you a passion for neighboring?
Elizabeth McKinney 1:28
Absolutely. And, when I look back to how we got into neighboring, I think we kind of stumbled into it in a way. It was one of the most stressful seasons of our lives. We weren’t looking for more ministry to do – that was for sure. Chris was directing the college ministry here at the University of Missouri. And he was commuting part time to seminary, and we had four kids in five years. So I was pulling my hair out, stressed woman crazy. And I mean, for me, I just felt like, if I had to drive 15 minutes across town to connect with someone or to have community, it just wasn’t gonna happen. I had to have people right around me.
Like you said, actual bodies right next door. And so I think at some point, one of our neighbors who lives behind us – his name was Bingo. And he loved to fry things. He had all these fryers. And so we somehow came up with the idea – we said, “Well, what if we do a fish fry, and just invite the people right around us to come over?” So it was maybe seven or eight neighbors that we had over and we had fish tacos. And we just had a lot of fun. And we just really– we thought, “We enjoy these people. We need these people. We need Bingo.” And so from there, that spring we thought, “Well maybe we could do a little Easter egg hunt for anyone with small kids in the neighborhood.” And I think we had like eight kids there and four of them were ours, so it was very small.
And it wasn’t like we were putting Bible eggs in the Easter eggs – or Bible verses – or playing Christian music in the background. We just thought, “Okay, we can represent Christ to our neighbors by seeking the common good and getting to know people.” And from there we met a couple – the Atherton’s – Nathan and Kathy, and they said, “Hey, if you’d ever want to do some more things and try to build some community in the neighborhood, we’d love to do it with you.”
We lived in one of those neighborhoods where no one really said hi to each other. And we live in the suburbs – so the typical picture of the garage door opening, the car pulling in, the garage door closing. For us, that was our context. So I didn’t even know what she meant. I’m like, “What – what would we even do?” She’s like, “Well, you know, we could do a block party.” And so from there, we did. We pulled together the people that we had met and said, “Hey, would you want to try to pull this off? You bring the tablecloths, you bring the silverware, you bring the trash bags.” And what we found was that our neighbors were just as starved for community as we were. And it just started growing. People just started coming out of their homes and really getting to know each other.
It was amazing. But when we really started to see our neighborhood come alive was Halloween. And then we were amazed because, in our neighborhood, no one really went trick or treating. They went on to some of the bigger and better neighborhoods and we thought. “No, this isn’t right. We need to stay here. We need to have people get to know each other.” And that’s a whole other longer story. But the neighborhood started coming alive. And we thought, “There’s something really special happening here.”
So that was kind of how we started building those relationships.
Sam Holland 5:14
So it sounds like your call to neighboring – it just happened to you. You just, through your own life experience, you realized that part of your call was neighboring. I love that you also show us how through Scripture neighboring is a thing – Jesus was a neighbor.
Can you talk about from Scripture’s point of view about neighboring?
Elizabeth McKinney 5:43
Well, going back to what you were saying about how Jesus had a body, and he was a real person, and he had actual neighbors. I think sometimes when we hear the words, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” we think in terms of these generalities, or maybe we have someone come to mind, like maybe it’s a friend or a family member. But what I found is, often we don’t think about our actual neighbors. And in a way, our address reminds us that we are limited humans living in local places and spaces. We don’t have 15 addresses. We can’t love every neighbor. But we can love our actual neighbors. We’re called to love a few of the people that God has put in our actual lives. And in our modern world where we have the internet, we feel like we can be a million places at once, I think our address reminds us that we are local people tied to an actual place.
We see that with Jesus as he interacts with people in Capernaum. As I say in the Created For talk, when he was interacting with people that he was healing and that he was stopping to talk with, these were faces that he probably recognized. People that he maybe lived next door to during his stays in Capernaum. And they probably weren’t strangers in a city of about 1,500 people. These were neighbors.
So when I think about my call to neighboring, that probably came several years into it, where along the way we had just been asking the question, “God, what are you doing?” Because it felt so different from our time in the campus ministry, where people’s lives would change rather quickly. They were college students, so when they began to follow Christ, it was kind of a dramatic change. And so we now affectionately call that the microwave. Whereas neighboring felt more like a crock pot. It was low and slow. And it happened over time. And so we were asking God, “What are you doing? What – what do you have in mind?” And we were just along for the ride.
And then one Sunday, we were in church – we were walking into church, and one of the families that we recognized from all the events – all the block parties and some of the wine nights. They were walking out as we were walking in. And if I had made a list of 200 neighbors, and you would ask me who would be the last people you’d expect to see in church, it would have been Tom and Haley. And so I got on my phone as I was heading into the worship service. I was like, “Oh my gosh,” – on Facebook – I’m like, “Do you come here often?” sending her a Facebook message. And she responded to me immediately and said, “Actually, we started coming to church because our kids told us they didn’t believe in God. But in the process, we found Him for ourselves. Are you in a small group? And if so, can we join?” And so the very next Sunday, they walked right through their backyard, through our backyard and into our living room and they had instant community.
As Chris and I talked about it afterwards, we’re like, “Oh, wow, this is part of our call to neighboring.” That when someone is at a point where they’re seeking God and their life circumstances bring them to a point where they’re curious about Christ, they might know who the Christians are in the neighborhood. They knew instantly, “Okay, the McKinneys. We could plug in somehow through them.” And so then we began to wonder, “Okay, how could we help other people love their next door neighbor?”
Sam Holland 9:52
I love that story. It reminds me of one of my personal favorite stories from my own life. Sometimes I think, “I need to go do ministry for other people.” It’s always me to them. And I remember moving on to a street we lived on for quite a few years, and I met a lot of our neighbors and we became really good friends with one family. And I kept thinking, “Oh, I should invite them to church. I should invite them to church.” You know, because it’s just culturally what Christians do – right? And it’s not a bad thing.
And I went over and knocked on their door, and what I actually did is I invited myself to their church, because I knew they had a Catholic background. And I think they had said, “Oh, we go to church on, you know, midnight mass or something.” And so I walked over and said, “Hey, can I go to church with you on Christmas Eve?” And she said, “No, we’re coming to church with you.” And I said, “What?” And she said, “Yeah, we already talked about it, we’re gonna go to your church on Christmas.” And I thought, “Oh, God is living and active in people’s lives. Without me, He’s writing a story in other people’s lives that has nothing to do with me.” It just humbled me so much, and taught me to look for where God is working already, in my neighbor’s lives.
Elizabeth McKinney 11:26
Right. He’s already at work. And that’s what’s so amazing as you get to know your neighbors. And if you come in with that posture of humility and willingness to receive – an openness to receive from them. I say neighboring is the most selfish ministry there is because it’s so fun. And we have benefited – I could say just as much or more from our neighbors, as they ever have from us. And, yeah, it’s a blessing.
Sam Holland 12:00
Well, I love that you brought up college campuses, because – who knows what college campuses are going to be in the future because of changes from the global pandemic we’re in – but when I was a college student in the late ’90s, I remember at Portland State University, I was living in this high rise dorm downtown Portland, and I was so isolated. I didn’t know anyone. I had invisible neighbors, as you would call them. I never saw people. I was an invisible neighbor. Nobody saw me.
And one day, someone knocked on my door, and I opened the door. And it was some guy – I never saw him again. And I think he invited me to a Christian gathering, I can’t remember. But I was like, “Oh, okay, I’ll think about it.” And he left some sort of information with me to get a hold of him. And I remember thinking, “If he comes back, I’ll go.” Like, it was just so out of my categories for someone to knock on my door, it made this big impression to me. Now, he didn’t come back, so I didn’t go. But I think it shows the power of imagining the person on the other side of the door. And just thinking, “Maybe if I knock on their door, a relationship will form because there’s a living, breathing, human on the other side who’s isolated just like me – right?”
Elizabeth McKinney 13:38
Right. And that’s the cultural story of neighboring that we talk about in our book, Placed for a Purpose, is that the waters we swim in, the air we are breathing – studies have shown – that the definition in our culture to be a good neighbor is to leave your neighbors alone. Be polite, take the trash out on Tuesdays. But for the most part, being a good neighbor is to leave people alone. Now Jesus interrupts that story and calls us into the biblical story of His plans of redemption, which are to see our neighbors and to love them and to build relationships with them. But I think it is important to realize that is a work of neighboring that is going against the cultural currents that pull us into our home, saying, “Ooh, that’d be weird. That’d be awkward.” There is some awkwardness to kind of push through when you reintroduce yourself to a neighbor. That’s humbling to say, “I know I’ve lived – we’ve lived – next door for X amount of years, but remind me your name. I’m Elizabeth.” But that’s humbling and neighboring is vulnerable, it really is.
Sam Holland 14:59
Now, we’ve– like I mentioned, we’re living in this new reality still – global pandemic. And not sure what life is going to look like, from one day to the next. And there’s a lot of opinions out there about how Christians should engage each other during this time. How are you reimagining neighboring, during the pandemic – caring for neighbors while still staying safe?
Elizabeth McKinney 15:32
Right. Well, first of all, I love that word reimagining. Because that’s exactly what it’s been, it has been re imagining what– the whole thing, in all of our lives, but neighboring included. From the very beginning, there was the sense that we were all in the same place – like we were all kind of in a place of fear. Like afraid of the unknown. And then I remember the shift, maybe in April or May, I can’t totally put my finger on it – but there was a shift where we felt that divide. Where there were feelings of anger on either side, and Chris and I talked about it. We just decided we are going to be peacemakers, whatever that looks like, we are not going to respond out of anger in our neighboring.
And so for us, that has looked like– when the world started shutting down, we created a very simple Google Form for our neighbors. It was, “Windham Ridge neighbors helping neighbors,” kind of thing and just had people sign up if they were willing to help in certain ways, whether deliver groceries for a neighbor in need, or pick up something for them or give like, over the counter– Tylenol or something like that. I can’t remember what all we had on there. But– “walk a dog if a neighbor needed it” – kind of basic type things – “Talk over the phone or over Zoom.” And we had I think 35 neighbors sign up to be available just, yeah, like you said, in a safe way to be there for each other. And I think that’s part of it – knowing that you’re not alone, because this pandemic has been so isolating.
So if I can’t do a block party in the same way and bring people together on a large scale, how do we still tell people that they’re not alone. And I think that was one of the ways that we chose to do that.
We’ve done some things where– and we do a holiday open house each year. So instead of doing that, for the young families we had little cookies that people could pick up and kind of draw on the cookies, with edible paint. So something that people could do on their own, but that was still communicating that message of, “Hey, we’re in this together, we see you.” One thing we did that was fun – it was a lot of work – but we did for the middle schoolers and high schoolers. At one point when the virtual school– there was no end in sight. For that now, we’re kind of more into a hybrid, but we wanted to tell the middle schoolers and the high schoolers, “Hey, we see you.” Because it’s been hard on those kids, the older kids. And so we did a Starbucks run for 50 or 60 individual Starbucks orders that was – challenging.
Sam Holland 18:47
Coffee is the universal love language.
Elizabeth McKinney 18:49
Right? Yeah. And so we were masked and we sat out the drinks on tables, and they could come up and get their coffee and leave. So it’s not the large gathering. Everything we’ve done has shrunk. And that’s okay. Because, large isn’t always best. And we didn’t set out to have all these people coming to these events. Now, God’s used that to draw people out of isolation and into community. But I think the small scale – those small acts of kindness. I’m still connecting with a neighbor who– she just had a baby. So I dropped off groceries at her door. Things like that, where I think we can show that we love our neighbors in a million different ways. And sometimes we just have to be more creative to do it. But those are some of the things that come to mind.
Sam Holland 19:50
I love that. I joined a group on Facebook called “Buy Nothing,” and I think this is an organization– at least all throughout the U.S., but it’s community based, it’s hyperlocal. And it’s all about posting needs – material needs, or something that you are giving away. And so it’s meeting needs for each other in the community. So it’s just a way that technology has allowed me to connect with others I would never know, right around where I live and be aware of– sometimes needs like, someone needed an air mattress because they were sleeping in their car. Real, actual physical, maybe even life and death needs, that I would never be aware of. And then a relationship forms, because then we’re connected over technology.
Elizabeth McKinney 20:54
Exactly. I’ve seen neighborhoods do, like, tool sharing – you set up a Google Form or Google Sheet. And people can just sign up and say– I mean, it’s sad. We live in a culture where everybody has these huge swing sets – you drive by neighborhoods, and in the suburbs at least, we don’t need 1,000 swing sets, we need one. And all the kids can play on it. We don’t need 1,000 power washers or whatever your big fancy tool is. We share– again, our context is a suburb. So our next door neighbor has a bigger lawn mower, and we share it. I think – more of that. People giving away things for free saying, “We’re not using this anymore. You benefit from it.”
Sam Holland 21:52
Elizabeth, tell us a story about times that your call to neighboring felt really hard.
Elizabeth McKinney 22:04
Well early on, like I said, when we first started, it was a very stressful season. So we– I don’t know if I said this specifically, but we had four kids in five years. So it was a hard time. It was a good time. But it was also stressful. And I think as my husband was– he was growing and developing in seminary. For me at home, I did feel lonely, I felt isolated.
And I think even in the neighboring aspect, I was kind of doing that on my own. We had done ministry together. And this was something I was kind of – carrying. And the events had been growing. So I remember one of the early block parties, we had quite a few people coming. And he was still coming back from class– now in later years, we grew into it together in different ways. Because we have very different temperaments and different giftings. But all that to say, our yard was not ready for people. And so one of the other couples that we were doing the events with – I’ll never forget – Nathan came over, and we had these big bags of mulch in our front yard. And he just started mulching – he mulched our whole yard.
And I think just that sense of– it was very humbling to receive that. But I had to come back to something I read in the book, “The Art of Neighboring,” where he talks about the art of receiving. That when we come in as Christians in a place of power – always the givers and never the receivers – that is not a mutual relationship. So while it was humbling, and I was in a place of need, I received it and I think that really set the tone for how God wanted us to show up in neighboring. And I think also for my personality – for any listeners who are into the Enneagram – which I know enough to show that I don’t really know what I’m talking about – but I know I’m a seven. And I like a good time. I like a party, and neighboring is really embracing the ordinary. Whatever your context, wherever you live, if you embrace the rootedness and the fruit that comes over time in relationships that are built over years, there is a monotony that comes with that, that for my personality– I like travel. I mean, the pandemic hit sevens hard. It hit us all hard, but I like fun. I like new things – right? I like change. And so I think with neighboring, we’ve kind of decided– we’ve been here for nine years and we are staying. In a Christian culture that really values going, we’ve really embraced the stay and make disciples, in a way. And I think that has been work that God has had for me, to grow me and develop me. Disciple me.
Sam Holland 25:27
Yeah, it’s interesting how neighboring is hard for different people for different reasons. My husband and I are both super introverted. So we have three kids that are still at home. And so they take a lot of our energy. And so sometimes the thought of neighboring is so exhausting. I don’t have anything left to give as much as I want to, you know, give and receive in a neighborly way. And that brings me to another question that I’ve been wanting to ask you, which is, how do you manage good boundaries, while also neighboring well, and is it even Christlike to think about boundaries?
Elizabeth McKinney 26:10
Yes. Yes, it absolutely is Christlike. I wish my husband was sitting here with me because he would go off on neighboring for introverts, and that’s a whole other podcast topic.
Sam Holland 26:21
Oh, we need to talk about it.
Elizabeth McKinney 26:23
Yes – maybe his next book can be neighboring for introverts, but I think – are good boundaries Christlike? Absolutely. Did Jesus say yes and no? Absolutely. I defer to the experts, Henry Cloud and John Townsend, who wrote the book on boundaries that’s been so helpful to me. And they talk about how really, boundaries show us where we end and someone else begins. And in neighboring, I remember them talking about how boundaries, if they’re done well, are meant to be fences, not walls. People are supposed to be able to come in and out. There’s an openness there. It’s not a wall.
And that’s so perfect for neighboring, because we’re not meant to wall around our houses. But it is okay to have some definition there both in how you spend your time. And then even how you show up as a neighbor, as far as how you spend your time. I’m a mom of four kids, so I need for my yes to be out of love and not out of compulsion or guilt. So I don’t neighbor out of guilt, like, “I should say yes – oh, I’m really in a rush, I really need to get my groceries inside. But my neighbor’s out here – I should talk to her.” No. Yes – there’s times to lay down your rights. And absolutely, Jesus calls us to a life of sacrifice. And also good boundaries are– they keep us healthy. I would not enjoy neighboring if I felt like I had to.
I think also good boundaries help us in how we show up as a person in neighboring. Because Henry Cloud also says acceptance is not necessarily agreement. And when you neighbor, you will hopefully start getting to know people who think differently from you. They might have a different worldview. And so if you don’t have boundaries, and you don’t know where you end and someone else begins, and you think that in order to accept that person, you have to agree with everything that they think, you will lose yourself. You will lose your way as a follower of Christ. So I think boundaries are really important.
And what’s so awesome is as you grow into relationships with your neighbors, and they see you being who you are – saying yes out of love, saying sometimes no out of love, but having that definition, saying, “This is who I am in Christ,” to be accepted by a neighbor who is different from you, too. That is a gift for them to see you, as you are, and say, “I see Elizabeth. She follows Christ. We don’t think the same on everything, but I love her.” And that is amazing.
Sam Holland 29:35
Elizabeth as we’re wrapping up our time together, if you had just one invitation for Jesus followers who are listening right now, who want to step into their calling, what would that one invitation be?
Elizabeth McKinney 29:51
It would be to start small and embrace the parable of the mustard seed, which is where Jesus casts a vision for how small acts – seemingly small acts – of kindness can grow into something big for God’s kingdom. And in neighboring terms, I would say removing the word “just” from your neighboring vocabulary. It’s never “just a wave.” It’s not “just hello.” It’s not “just a smile,” “just learning a neighbor’s name.” That is the means that God uses to build relationships that can grow into something that can change someone’s life. It can change someone’s spiritual life.
We wrote an article on this that went up yesterday. I saw someone retweeted it and said basically, “People don’t change lives, only God’s Word changes lives.” And I would say, “God’s Word changes lives, but He uses people.” And He uses those small acts of kindness to build relationships that get to the point where someone would ever want to get into God’s Word. So don’t underestimate.
And as restrictions are lifting, I think we are going to have a moment in time – a moment in history – where before our lives are filled up with all the buisiness – all the sameness, there will be a moment of openness. We’ve all been trapped inside our houses, we haven’t been able to go anywhere, we’ve been lonely, we’ve needed people. And I think to be able to come out our front door, or our apartment, or our home and start with a wave or a smile. God may use that to build relationships that we couldn’t have imagined previously.
Sam Holland 31:50
Do you know your neighbors? If we’re all made in God’s image, we’re missing out by not interacting with our living, breathing, human neighbors. What’s one small act of kindness that might connect you with a neighbor in your complex or your neighborhood?
Created For is hosted and produced by Cru. If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe, rate or review it wherever you listen. For more resources to continue your journey to living out your impact, check out the show notes on our website Cru.org/createdfor, or follow us on Instagram, at _createdfor. Thanks for listening.
We’ll catch you again on the next episode with Chris Ghubril, where we will talk more about how our ethnic and cultural stories impact our calling.