SDB Chicago

The People We Call Neighbors

It’s hard to believe that two years ago this month Bethany and I had just moved to Chicago. We moved here because we knew that God wanted to use us to plant a church here. In fact He wanted to plant a church in this neighborhood. We know this because He is the only reason we were able to live where we do. We moved into our apartment knowing very little about Rogers Park. We spent the first week trying to understand where it was that God had placed us. We wanted to know the kinds of people that He wanted us to reach. And so we began the process of getting to know our neighbors and the community at large here in Rogers Park. Two years latter here are some of the things that we have learned about our neighbors.

Not Just One Community

I still remember the first time I heard the term micro neighborhood. It was in a video produced by Prayercast about Rogers Park. It means just what it sounds like. It refers to the smaller communities that exist in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. If you you’ve ever spent time in a city then you know that simply crossing a street can feel like going into a different country. Here in Rogers Park we have several micro neighborhoods. Perhaps the most obvious micro neighborhood is Loyola University. Then there is the Latino community on Clark Street and the black community north of Howard Street. If you go to places like Jarvis Square or Glenwood Ave you will find the New Age and arts communities. You can also see this community at the beach for Artists on the Wall. There is also a very prevalent LGBTQ community in Rogers Park.

What’s interesting about Rogers Park is that it boasts about having the most diverse zip code in Chicago. Yet, as you may have noticed above, that diversity is still segregated. There are events that will bring all the micro neighborhoods together, but that is not the norm. Even so, a neighborhood like this provides a great opportunity to have a church that reflects the one seen in Revelation 7.

The Time of the Judges

One result of the diversity in population is the acceptance of moral relativism. Just like the time of the Judges, everyone does what is right in their own eyes.  This can be a good thing. It means that people are not immediately put off by me saying that I am a pastor. However, I have seen this neighborhood rally against those who openly declare objective morality. In this regard, God put us in the right neighborhood. I have never been one to advocate for accountability without relationship. The good news of the Gospel is that God accepts you as you are. The reality of the Gospel is that if swear fealty to King Jesus, He will change you. Sometimes I think that people think the change needs to happen first. The truth is that we were all once enemies of God. Jesus died for us anyway. There is objective morality. God does have a standard. No one meets that standard. And for our actions to be truly changed, first our heart must be changed by the love of Jesus. 

Seekers of Truth

Paradoxically, this community also is desperately seeking truth. Nearly every person I meet and talk to is seeking. Some of them don’t even know what they are looking for. There is a desperate longing in the hearts of the people of Rogers Park. They are going to all the wrong places to find truth and for a time some think they have found it. But my conversations with people have shown me that everyone ultimately fails to find it in anything other than Jesus. This might seem sad, but it gives me hope. At the end of every journey for truth is Jesus Christ who is the ultimate truth. Those who seek truth will find it. This means that I do not need force the the truth on people. Rather I just need to be with them on their journey. It is God who brings people to Him. I am blessed that He chooses to use me in that process.

God Is Working Through His Church

Just a few weeks ago, Bethany and I attended a joint worship service of all the churches on the Northside. It was called Shalom Northside. The service was held in Warren Park and was in English, Spanish, and Hindi. This is just the latest example of how I have seen the community of believers become the hands and feet of Jesus. Even with all the challenges there is a strong Christian presence here in Rogers Park. 

When we first moved it was easy for Bethany and me to think that we were out here all by ourselves. Yet, in the past two years I have seen the numerous ways that God was already at work in Rogers Park. God has also used those other believers to give us encouragement when we need it. With this new knowledge we could think that God doesn’t need us. The truth is He doesn’t, but not because of the other churches. God has chosen to plant us here in Rogers Park. He has a work He wants to do through us. We are in a community of people who do what is right in their own eyes. Yet we are not alone. God is building His church through others faithful to the Kingdom of Jesus.

May you come to a better understanding of the community that God has placed you in. May you remember that we were all once enemies of God. May you help others on their journey to Jesus. And May God build His church through you.we 

Share Update:

Picture of Pastor Phil

Pastor Phil

Philip Lawton received a Masters of Divinity from North Park Theological Seminary. He is an ordained minster in the Seventh Day Baptist Church. He is currently working on a church plant in Chicago.

2 thoughts on “The People We Call Neighbors

  1. Great to read! Always love the insights and challenges you present. We are praying for you both and for your to be in step with what the Holy Spirit is doing and leading you in.

  2. Great observations, Phil. I believe you are taking the LONG but RIGHT tack on this initiative. May God continue to bless you both as students and servants of your community.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect with us!

Related Posts

Pastor Phil

Planted by God

Living in Rogers Park I have been regularly reminded that Christians often speak a different language then the world around them. If you didn’t grow up in the church or aren’t familiar with the analogies, then conversations about certain topics can become surreal. I had one such conversation with a guy who came to visit my downstairs neighbor. I told

Read More »
Ask Me Anything
Pastor Phil

The Quest for Truth

If you grew up in the church then you know that questions are not always seen as good things. They are often explicitly prohibited or implicitly silenced. I think there are several reasons for this. Perhaps the most common is that the people being asked the questions don’t have answers themselves. Rather than admit their ignorance they either give some

Read More »
Pastor Phil

The Power of the Presence of God

I was reminded of the Orthodox practice of icons because I think it is one of the most tangible ways that Christians have created to express the reality of the presence of God among us.

Read More »