Don Everts: Why Community is Important
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Author Don Everts knows what it’s like to feel disconnected in your own neighborhood. But he also knows why community is critically important.
Don Everts: Why Community is Important
Ann: Do you remember that day when the sheriff pulled into our driveway? [Laughter]
Dave: Oh, I’ll never forget. Why? What about it?
Ann: Yes, let’s share that story.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: Well, I was trying to sell a motorcycle. A guy came with his nephew, to say, “I want my nephew, who’s sort of a mechanic, to test out your bike.” He takes it for a quick ride around the neighborhood. He comes back in, and a sheriff is following him into my driveway; it’s a woman. She gets out and says—
Ann: She’s pretty gruff.
Dave: Oh, she looks at me and this guy, who wanted to buy it, and his nephew; we’re all just standing there. I’m like looking around the neighborhood, like, “There’s a sheriff’s car in my driveway!” I’m like, “Can we help you?” And she says, “Gentleman, do you know what state you’re in?!” We were like, “Yes, we’re in Michigan.” “It’s a helmet state!” It isn’t anymore, but it was at the time; and he wasn’t wearing a helmet. I’m like, “Oh! He’s just test-driving my bike; he only rode it around the block.”
And then, she looks in my garage; and I have a street sign, that’s not supposed to be there, from one of my sons who took it.
Ann: It says “Wilson Street.”
Dave: Yes; and she goes, “You see that street sign?! I could put you in jail for that street sign!” And we’re literally standing; I’m like, “Oh, no; I’m going to get arrested in front of my neighbors!”
Ann: —the pastor.
Dave: And then, she goes, “But I’m not going to do it!” We’re like: “You’re not? Why not?” She goes, “Because I’m your neighbor, and I go to your church!” She starts laughing. And I’m like, “What?!” And she goes, “I live right around the block; I’ve been wanting to do this for years.” [Laughter] I just thought, “Man, it’s good to have neighbors like that, because I could be in big trouble”; right?
You know, every neighborhood has a lot of neighbors; and we’re going to talk about neighbors today. Is that why you brought it up?
Ann: That’s why I brought it up. That’s a good transition.
Dave: I mean, I had no idea that—I mean, I saw a sheriff’s car drive around the neighborhood—I had no idea she went to our church. Man, oh man!
Ann: She’s really great, too; but man, she had you good.
Dave: She was funny.
Ann: She talked and laughed about that for years.
Dave: Oh, yes; it was funny.
Anyway, we’ve got Don Everts in the studio at FamilyLife Today. Don, welcome back.
Don: Great to be with you guys.
Dave: You’ve written a book about neighborhoods—
Dave: called The Hopeful Neighborhood: What Happens When Christians Pursue the Common Good. I can’t wait to talk about this.
But tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, because you’re not Mr. Neighborhood Man; you’re actually a pastor, a dad, a husband. Tell us what you do.
Don: I did campus ministry for 14 years, working with college students; and then, ever since then, I’ve been pastoring in the local church, working with everyday people, you know, who drive mini-vans, and have mortgages, and are trying to figure out how to be faithful believers. That’s kind of what I do. And then, on the side, I get nerdy with research.
Dave: “On the side,” you’ve got 20 books on the side. [Laughter] It doesn’t sound like it’s an on-the-side deal.
Don: That’s right, Dave. You always tease me about that, but they’re small books.
Dave: I know, you say they’re small;—
Don: A lot of them are really tiny. [Laughter]
Dave: —but they’re based on research.
Don: A lot of them are; yes. I think by writing—journaling and writing helps me think—writing things out. The books are a product of me just trying to figure stuff out.
Ann: You’ve been married how many years?
Don: Over 25 now.
Ann: And you have three kids.
Don: Three kids: two in college and one in high school. My mom lives with us as well, so we have a multi-generational household. We just, eight months ago, moved again. I’m pastoring a new church in Springfield, Missouri; it’s the 31st neighborhood I’ve lived in.
Dave: So why a book on The Hopeful Neighborhood? What were you trying to get at?
Don: It was kind of two things: part of it was processing some dissatisfaction I was having in my own life. There’s a longer backstory, but the long and short of it was, I began to realize I was living above place. “Living above place” is a phrase that’s used to refer to people, who are living their everyday life with little to no meaningful interaction with the people and the place right around actually where they live. I drove to my job; I drove to my church; I drove to my kids’ activities; but I actually was having very little meaningful interaction with the people and place/literally, with my literal neighbors.
Ann: I thought it was interesting, though, at the beginning of your book, how you shared you were going around—
Ann: —you were in a new neighborhood—going around, meeting all of your neighbors. Then you got to one next-door neighbor, shook his hand—
Don: Yes. Boy, when we first moved in to our 30th neighborhood—and my next-door neighbor—I went over and shook his hand. He was watering his lawn or something like that/something with his lawn. After about ten minutes of talking, he said, “Do you want to know something?” I said, “What’s that?” He said, “You’re the first person in this neighborhood who has ever come over to introduce themselves and shake my hand.” I said, “Oh, okay. When did you move in?”
Dave: —thinking he’s probably just brand-new.
Don: Totally, yes!
Don: Over 20 years.
Don: Over 20 years, he’s lived there. You know, at the time, it was like, “Man, people are lame!”—[Laughter]—like, “Why are people—
Ann: Yes, you’re judging your neighbors.
Don: Totally! “Why aren’t people”—we had people over at our house all the time. We had basement church; because we had some neighbors, who were starting to get curious about Jesus. My kids led a little church service in our basement for them. My neighbors were drinking beer while it was going on, like: “We’re involved!”
Don: But then, something happened—not overnight—we just slowly started disengaging with Piermont. Piermont’s the name of the subdivision we were in. We were driving to my son’s water polo matches; my daughter was a cheerleader; I’m going to work. We’re doing all these other things, driving other places.
I was reading a novel called Jayber Crow, which is by Wendell Berry. He’s a Christian writer, and he has a lot of convictions about what the Bible calls us to in terms of being faithfully laboring for the people and the place right around us. It's a story that’s a vehicle for him to say: “This is what we’re supposed to be doing.” I just never recovered from that moment, thinking, “I don’t think I like this part of my life now. I’m not sure when it happened. Does God have opinions about how we should be relating with the people and place right around us? I know He said, ‘Love your neighbor,’—I know He said that—but did He actually mean our neighbor? What did He mean? [Laughter] Who is my neighbor?”; you know. It just got under my skin.
Around about the same time/a little bit after that, we started doing a research project with the Barna Group and the Lutheran Hour ministries on how Christians relate with their neighbors, and how neighbors perceive Christians and churches, and all of that. So then, I had all of this research in me as well. I just dove in the Scriptures and never quite got over it.
Dave: How do people perceive Christians?
Don: It’s not great!
Don: —which is interesting. We can talk about church history, because Christians have been known, throughout the centuries—like we are the neighborhood people; we are the ones who help others when others don’t—we are the ones. So one of the things that we asked people is: “Who is best suited to help solve problems in your community?”
People trust, more than Christians—to make a difference in their community and help solve problems in the community—they trust the government more than they trust churches and Christians. They trust average community members more than they trust churches and Christians; they trust charities; they trust businesses more than they trust churches and Christians.
Ann: That is so sad,—
Dave: That is so sad.
Don: —especially, given what’s in our Christian heritage and what’s in the Scripture when it relates to this.
Dave: Yes; when you say our Christian heritage, you mean we were known—the church/the community of Christ was known as the rescuers—the ones who showed up,—
Ann: We started hospitals.
Dave: —even when plagues happened.
Don: That’s it.
Dave: You could get sick; we showed up.
Dave: What happened?
Don: It’s interesting how the early church—when you think about the early church—who were so known as people who radically loved others and loved their neighbors in a time when they were treated terribly by their neighbors.
Don: They were being persecuted by the very people they were sacrificing their lives to love. And that’s part of—depending on which historian you read—that’s part of why the church grew like crazy,—
Don: —in a 300-year period, when it was outlawed.
Allen Crider argues in his book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church—which I highly recommend—fascinating/very readable. He argues that it [early church growth] was because of the patience of the early Christians. One of the early church leaders said, “The entire world is a stage, and everyone’s watching Christians to see how they will respond to persecution.” They didn’t respond to reviling with reviling; they didn’t hit back; they didn’t even get bitter. They loved, openhanded, just like Jesus, who said, “Love your enemies.” They actually did it.
Just talking about our context, and people who are listening right now, one of the things that has changed: neighborhoods are changing around us. There’s gobs of research that, post-WWII, a lot has changed to make neighborhoods less interactive with each other. It has to do with the Highway Act; it has to do with air conditioning; it has to do with TVs. [Laughter] I mean, you can actually trace, in history, why there is just generally less interaction in neighborhoods.
But then, one of the particular issues that we have is, as we move from kind of a Christendom era, where Christianity was trusted and respected, to a post-Christian era, where it isn’t, that feels a certain way to believers. It’s maybe not active persecution, but we feel it; and we’re back on our heels. I think we’ve gotten a little scared, and a little bitter, and a little closed off because of that.
I think we have our own issues that we’re dealing with. The early Christians were tempted by that. That’s why, in this book, I dive into 1 Peter, because he’s writing to those in Asia Minor, who are being persecuted, and they’re being tempted to kind of curve in on themselves. And he writes them to say, “No, no! You’re exiles, but you’re elect exiles. God has chosen you to be right where you are.” And then, what does he tell them to do? He says: “Don’t return reviling for reviling. Do good. Who’s going to hate you for doing good? Be a light where you are.” He just had to remind them of how to respond.
Ann: We still need that reminder.
Don: I think we need to be reminded again.
Dave: I mean, it’s a sad commentary, in some ways, on the most important commandment: “Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Dave: I remember—do you remember?—this book came out, I don’t know how long ago—Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman—UnChristian.
Don: Yes, sure.
Dave: It was survey/research: “This is what the non-believing world says about Christians.” I think there were seven marks.
Dave: I remember picking up the book, going, “Okay, let’s see what they think.” And then I read it, and I read the whole thing, and was like, “They’re right.”
Ann: So convicting.
Dave: You know what I did?
Don: What did you do?
Dave: I said, “We’re doing a series at our church called ‘I’m Sorry.’
Dave: “We’re going to walk through these and say, ‘Here’s what the people, who live around us, think about us,’”—I’m not saying it’s right or wrong—but: “This is their perception.
Dave: “What’s true about it? How can we do better?”
We sent out a little series thing: “Hey, the series is coming up.
Dave: “Our church is going to say, ‘I’m sorry,’”—or whatever. I get a call/our church gets a call, saying, “Hey, will you come on WJR and talk about this?” WJR is one of the biggest radio stations in Detroit.
Dave: And they couldn’t believe a church is saying, “I’m sorry.” They think this will be an interesting conversation.
Dave: I go on. Frank Beckman interviews me; and he says, “Why are you guys saying, ‘I’m sorry’?” I tell him that this book came out, and I read it; and I’m like: “I agree,”—
Dave: —and “We need to apologize for this to our neighbors.”
I get done with this little interview; and Frank says, “Hey, by the way, would you be wiling to stay on and take some questions?” I’m like, “Okay.”
Don: Right, right.
Dave: He goes, “Okay, station break.” He comes back on, and I have no idea what’s happening. He says, “Hey! The place is lit up! All these people want to ask you a question. Okay, let’s go live!
“You’re with Dave. Ask him a question.” Do you know what it was?—it was church people—mad at me, yelling at me—
Don: —for apologizing.
Dave: —basically saying—
Dave: “You are going to apologize! They need to apologize!”
I was like/I literally said to one person, “Um, this is exactly what they’re saying about us—we’re not humble; we’re not teachable—we’re not willing to own up to our own faults.”
You’re saying that’s what our neighbors are sort of saying about us. The question would be: “How do we get better?!”
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Don Everts at FamilyLife Today.
We’ll hear Don’s response in just a minute; but first, all this week, when you help reach more families with God’s truth by giving to FamilyLife, we want to send you a copy of kind of a unique book about how to teach your kids when they have questions about the Christian faith. Hillary Morgan Ferrer has written a book called Mama Bear Apologetics. We want to send you a copy, as our “Thanks,” when you give this week at FamilyLifeToday.com or when you call, with your donation, at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Don Everts about how we get better at being a good neighbor and recognizing our faults.
Don: It’s interesting, because Peter talked about “do good,” and then he quotes from Psalm 34, which talks about the Creator of shalom. One of the things he talks about in doing good is pursue the common good of the people and place right around you. Let’s set evangelism aside for just a minute—and he does get back to it—be a blessing.
He even says: “That’s not illegal.” [Laughter] That’s how he puts it: “That’s not illegal to be a blessing to other people.” I mean, that’s what we’re called to do; we’re called to love our neighbors. Jesus says, “Let them see your good works, so they’ll give glory to your Father in heaven.” Do good works!
- Clean up garbage.
- Bake cookies and bring them to people.
- Welcome the person who just moved into the neighborhood.
- Go over to the guy you’ve lived with for 20 years, and you’ve never shaken his hand. Go and shake the guy’s hand!—right?
Things that we can do, just to pursue the common good.
There is lots that we could talk about there. Peter—I mean, that was his encouragement—and the early church did that.
Don: And they had pandemics; they stayed, and they cared for people who were sick. They were just pursuing the common good. That’s something we can do; and boy, would it change—you know, Kinnaman and Lyons would have to write a different book—
Dave: Oh, yes; definitely.
Don: —if we really did that; right?
Don: —if we really did that.
Dave: I know you know we live in Michigan, and we have snow. [Laughter] One year, I had back surgery; and I wasn’t going to be able to shovel. I bought the biggest stinking snow blower you’ve ever seen,—
Dave: —because I knew Ann was going to do it;—
Dave: —I wanted to make it easier for her.
Well, we still have that thing. I’m not kidding, every time I snow blow our driveway, I’ll be bringing it back to the garage—[Laughter]
Don: “Hey, Dave!”—is that what you get?
Ann: That’s me saying that!
Ann: “Hey, Dave!”
Dave: Ann’s in the garage, going, “Go do Dean and Nancy’s,” “Go do Nick and Pam’s.”
Don: That’s it; that’s it.
Dave: I’m like/every time, I look at her: “I know; okay.” And every time I do,—
Ann: “But Dean hurt his back, and he needs—
Don: Yes, yes.
Dave: —it takes 15 minutes. They end up, walking out; we have a conversation: “Thank you so much for doing this.” It’s just being a blessing for the common good.
Don: —in little ways, yes.
Ann: And Dave, the reason I do that is because we had a neighbor, who was in her 80s—Mrs. Hover—and every single time—
Dave: —when you were growing up.
Ann: Yes—every single time, my mom—it was my mom; my dad was usually at work—my mom would go out and shovel, and I would help her. Then, Mrs. Hover made a plate of cookies every single time. Those cookies were so amazing. My mom didn’t care about the cookies; she cared about Mrs. Hover. It was just a great example for me, and those are easy things we can do.
Don: In our research, it came out that a quarter of people in the United States live alone/live by themselves. A number of people say that no one comes over to their house, ever.
Don: So a lot of people feel/they talk about a “chronic loneliness” that’s sweeping the country. The interesting thing is, in the medical literature, the people who have chronic loneliness—because it breaks you down—they prefer to call it depression. But the doctors are like: “It’s chronic loneliness. You have no one in your life, and humans aren’t meant to live that way.”
So even—save the snow blower; you don’t even have to cook anything—do you know what I mean?
Don: Just to knock on someone’s door, just to say, “Hi.” In our current context, it does not take much to be heroic; it does not take much to make a difference in the neighborhood.
I mean, people, who are listening, are like, “I don’t know how to help my neighbors.”
Don: “Just say, ‘Hi.’”
Don: Talk with them and take an interest. There are so many people who are alone in their homes.
Dave: Yes; when they go out to the mailbox, walk out.
Don: That’s right.
Dave: You know, when we had a blackout, it was like, “Wow! I get to talk to my neighbors.” Nobody was in their house; the air conditioner was off.
Have you read Bob Goff’s Everybody, Always?
Don: Yes, I’m familiar with it; yes.
Dave: Do you remember—I’ve got to read part of this story.
Ann: But let me read it, Dave. Bob Goff is such a fun author to read.
Dave: We saw him speak—he’s the most whimsical, crazy—it was powerful. [Laughter]
Ann: He’s so funny; he makes me laugh so much. He tells the story—and maybe some of our listeners have heard this story—but I’ll just read parts of it. He begins and says:
For the last 22 years, we’ve put on a New Year’s Day parade to celebrate our neighbors. Our parade starts at the cul-de-sac at the end of our block and ends at our front yard. Our whole family wakes up early every year, and we blow up over 1,000 helium balloons. Before we start taking the balloons out of our house, we give thanks for out neighbors and for the privilege of doing life with them.
Then he goes on; he says:
Our block has only 20 houses, if you count both sides, so our parade isn’t very long. Our first year, there were only eight of us, standing at the beginning of the parade route. We stood together at the end of the cul-de-sac, trying to look like a parade. Someone said, “Go!” We started walking down the street, waving to our six neighbors, who were watching.
Now, there are probably 400 or 500 people who come now each year. Kids pull wagons, full of stuffed animals and pet goldfish. There are no fancy floats; bicycles with baseball cards in the spokes are the norm. And hey!—here’s why we do it—we can’t love people we don’t know, and you can’t either. Saying we love our neighbors is simple, but guess what? Doing it is, too; just throw them a parade.
We don’t think Jesus’ command to love our neighbor is a metaphor for something else. We think it means we’re supposed to actually love our neighbors: so engage them, and delight in them, and throw a party for them. When joy is a habit, love is a reflex.
Dave: Yes. I’ve got to read you this next part. I just thought it is so powerful; he says:
Because we’ve been putting on the parade for decades, we know all the people who live near us. I don’t know if they’ve learned anything from us, but we’ve learned a ton about loving each other from them. God didn’t give us neighbors to be our projects; He surrounded us with them to be our teachers.
A week before the parade each year, we knock on a few of our neighbors’ front doors and pick a grand marshal and a queen from among them. Being picked as the queen is a big deal in our neighborhood. My neighbor, Carol, got the nod one year. A decade later, people still bowed to Carol when they saw her at the corner market or the gas station and called her “Your Majesty”; it was just beautiful.
One year, because of the battle raging inside Carol, she didn’t think she would be able to walk the parade route from the cul-de-sac to our house, where the parade ends. I have an old Harley Davidson motorcycle with a sidecar. That year, I put Carol in the sidecar and gave her a ride. She was the hit of the parade, because all of the neighbors knew about the cancer she had been staring down. Carol, elegant as always, waved at everyone; and they waved back.
Just before we got to the end of the parade route, Carol turned to me and took a deep, thought-filled breath. It was as if she was going through the highlight reel of her life, when she said, “You know, Bob, I’m really going to miss this parade.” I looked at my neighbor in the sidecar next to me, and said, “Me, too, Carol; me, too.” Even as I did, I asked God if He would let Carol have, at least, one more parade with us.
One year later, on New Year's Day, Carol was clinging to life by a few threads and was far too weak to get out of bed. She’d made it to the day of the parade, she had once presided over as queen. This was an ambition I think had sustained her, during the last months of her courageous battle. Just before the parade started, my sons, Richard and Adam, went across the street and carried Carol from her bedroom to a chair they placed in front of her living room window, facing the street.
Carol could hear the music and knew the parade was coming soon, but she couldn’t see past the corner of her window. What she didn’t know was that we had changed the parade route. Within a few minutes, all 500 people walked right through her front yard. I sat next to Carol, holding her hand, as hundreds of her friends and neighbors walked to her window, pressed their noses against it and waved to her and bounced balloons. As they did, through her tears, Carol lifted her weak hand slowly to her mouth and blew each one of them kisses goodbye.
A few days later, Jesus lifted Carol up to heaven. It would be her second parade of the week. I don’t know if the streets of heaven are paved in gold, but I’m kind of hoping they’re lined with balloons. At the end of the parade, I bet we’ll find Jesus blowing us kisses, rubbing our noses, and welcoming us to our next neighborhood. I just hope I get a house somewhere near Carol’s again.
I mean, I knew I was going to cry when I read that! [Laughter] It’s just so touching—of what you’re saying, Don—that’s a Christian being a blessing to an entire neighborhood.
Don: That’s right.
An interesting thing that the research showed us—because, some people may be thinking: “Well, you know, I want to focus on growing my faith,”—
Don: —or “You know, focusing on those things rather than, you know, loving others and putting energy there.”
After hearing that story—this won’t surprise you—the research told us that people, who are pursuing the common good in their neighborhood, say that doing that has made them feel closer to God. It’s false that there’s like this dichotomy: “Do I want to invest in my own growth?” or “Do I want to blow snow for people, or bake cookies?”—or whatever it is. It’s not a dichotomy; the research tells us that your faith grows as you do this. It’s almost like Jesus knew what He was talking about.
Dave: When He said, “If you want to find your life, lose it.”
Don: —“lose it”; yes.
Dave: Yes; that’s a beautiful way to be a Christian and a good neighbor.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Don Everts on FamilyLife Today. His book is called The Hopeful Neighborhood: What Happens When Christians Pursue the Common Good. You can get your copy at FamilyLifeToday.com, or when you call us at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
If you know anyone who needs to hear conversations just like this, we’d love it if you’d tell them about this station. And you can share today’s specific conversation from wherever you get your podcasts. And while you’re there, a simple way you can help more people discover God’s plan for families is by leaving a rating and review for FamilyLife Today.
Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson will continue their conversation with Don Everts and go into practical ways to love and engage the community around you. That’s tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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