Kristin Schell, (author of the Turquoise Table) and Rick Rusaw and Brain Mavis (authors of The Neighboring Church) give us insight into what it really means to live out Jesus’ great commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” with practical and life-changing ways we can create community where we live and expand God’s kingdom from our own front yards.
Narration: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Today, we are spending some time with guests who know and have experienced the importance of community, and have first-hand knowledge of how it can be a lifeline to those who feel disenfranchised and alone. Our first guest is Kristen Schell, a writer and mom from South Texas. Kristin tells us how her longing for community led her to take a bold step in making her front yard a gathering place for meeting new people.
Kristin Schell: My name is Kristen Schell, and I am the author of The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection In Your Own Front Yard. Tony and I have been married for 20 years and we have four children. We live in Austin, Texas. When I’m not sitting out front at The Turquoise Table, I’m most likely driving carpool in my minivan.
Where I grew up, we used to play outside all the time. Our neighbors all had kids our same age, and it was wonderful. We’d spend every day after school and all summer long outside, and the only time we knew when it was time to come home was either it got dark, or we were hungry and we knew it was time for supper.
Middle school is really when I can trace God’s working in my life. I went to a regular school for middle school, which in Dallas was seventh and eighth grade, but about three or four weeks into my seventh grade year, I got beat up in middle school by a bully. I didn’t have lunch money and she needed lunch money; I didn’t have it. All I know is that I was kind of thrown up against the lockers.
I never knew her name, but it was it was sort of an inciting moment if, you will. Not so much for me, but for my parents. My mom; her mama bear instincts came out, and so she took me out of school. A few weeks later they realized, “well, we need to send Kristin to school.” So they sent me to a neighborhood private parochial school and that’s really where I see the story starting.
Looking For A Relationship With Jesus
>While I was there, part of the daily schedule at the school was to attend daily church services. I was not of this particular denomination, so I was not allowed to participate in communion. So in my faith, growing up, everyone was welcome at the communion table, so this was something new and different. I have to be honest, it kind of hurt my feelings as a seventh grade girl who was already feeling sort of excluded and worried about being included, and sitting at the right table, and all of these things. I never imagined that I might not be invited to a table in a place that I held so dearly in my heart as church.
At that point in my life, I gave up on a God who I believed had given up on me. So, for much of my high school years, for all of my high school years, and my college years, (I call those my “wanderlust” era) where I traveled the world and did a bunch, but I was seeking. At the time, I didn’t know I was looking for my way back to Jesus. But now, looking back through those journals and having the hindsight and knowledge that I do now, I know I was desperately looking for a way back into a relationship with Jesus.
So then in high school, I was flunking French class, and I got a big fat F on my transcript, and that was just a no-no. My parents really didn’t know what to do, so the school called us in and said “maybe we need to get this ‘F’ off of Kristen’s transcript.” So, they recommended that I participate in our summer exchange program in France to help, because clearly I wasn’t memorizing or studying hard enough.
I know I was desperately looking for a way back into a relationship with Jesus.
I didn’t want to leave. I was the kid that my parents had to come pick me up at camp because I was so homesick, so sending me overseas by myself wasn’t exciting to me; it was like the worst punishment I could ever think of, until I got there. By about the second or third night living with a host family, sitting at their table, still not understanding any of the language, I was so captivated by the way that this family sat at the table for two or three hours every night and just enjoyed each other’s conversation and company. It was so different from our busy lifestyles that I was experiencing back growing up in Dallas.
How To Belong At The Table
I was in France again another time. This was post college, and I was living with a woman who rented out rooms to students and young women. It was like a boarding house. She invited me to go to church with her. I just said,” no, no thank you. I’m not going to go to church.” She persisted in a really loving and truthfully fun way, and so I thought, “OK, I will go. I will go to church with you.”
I can see that God clearly had a plan and a design.
It was where I really heard the Lord speak to me again, and I was kneeling in a pew. Everything was in Latin and in French, so I really couldn’t understand it, but I heard clearly the Lord just welcome me back. It was that moment that I realized, He had never left me. I had just taken a little detour from Him for a while and it was beautiful. It was a beautiful moment.
Looking back over journal pages, torn and tattered, you reach a point in your life where you kind of go “Aha.” While you’re living and pouring your heart out on the pages of these journals, it seems like there’s no plan; there’s no rhyme or reason. But looking back now, I can see that God clearly had a plan and a design.
I met Tony after both of us had graduated from college. I was actually a little bit older than most of my friends who had already gotten married. We met in 1996 and got married New Year’s Eve of ‘97. We decided that we would make Austin, Texas our home, and we have been here ever since.
When the children were first born, and they were all really little–actually it was when Will, our oldest, was born. I joined a Bible study at our church. I just started through Scripture, and through Bible studies, and through conversations. realizing that maybe what God was trying to teach me was how to belong at the table, and not just every table, but His table.
Open Your Life And Home To Others
My morning devotion time is really the most important time of my day. In the middle of my kitchen, I have a prayer couch. Tony gave me a small little couch a long time ago. We call it “my prayer couch” So I start each morning and most mornings, let’s be real, I start most mornings on the couch with a cup of coffee, and work through scripture and my devotionals. I have a copy of Jesus Calling. I don’t remember not having it. My children have it. In fact, we have several versions of Jesus Calling.
My faith was growing. I longed to be in deeper community with not only my family, people at church, in the community where I was living, but I was struggling, because there was no time. I thought about all the ways that I could be opening my life and home to others, which is the verse the Lord put on my heart. It’s Romans 12:13, and in The Voice translation it says “take every opportunity to open your life and home to others.” So, I had this deep desire to take Romans 12:13 to heart, but yet I had four small children, and a husband, and life was just seemingly crazy, and all those opportunities; how were they going to happen?
So, I trusted that He would provide some sort of answer. I never in a million years thought that the answer to the prayer would be a turquoise table in my front yard.
We were having a backyard barbecue with friends, and I needed a simple and easy, casual way for people to gather in our backyard. So I ordered a plain old pine picnic table; as ordinary as ordinary can be. When the delivery guys delivered it, it was super heavy. They put it in my front yard, and left it, just right by the street, under one of our trees. They came to the door and said, “Ma’am, where do you want this picnic table?” I walked outside and I saw it right there next to the edge of our lively street, underneath the magnolia tree, and it was like right then and there, God had answered my prayers. So I had this just crazy vision of that table staying in the front yard.
My thought was, “what if we were able to take all of our everyday, sort of ordinary activities that we were already doing, because remember we’re busy; we don’t have time to take on a new program or to create something new. So, what if we were doing homework? What if we were having casual meals?”
My thought was that maybe that was a way to live out Romans 12:13; to take every opportunity to open our life and home to others. What if that could happen in the most ordinary place of all, our front yard?
The Turquoise Table
We painted it turquoise because it’s my favorite color. There was a side of me that thought, a turquoise picnic table in my front yard might be really weird. I went out to the table that very first day and there were some doubts, but there was also just a hope, and I sat down with a journal and a mug of coffee.
I sat at that table and I thought, “OK, here we go Lord.” I mean, within just a few minutes, a neighbor who I had never met before walked by, and I obviously didn’t know her name. But within minutes we were chatting about just everything. For 30 minutes we sat outside at The Turquoise Table, and now Susan is one of my dearest friends. She lives, as the crow flies, about three or four houses from me, but we had never seen each other at the grocery store or our paths perhaps had just never crossed. From that experience not only did I meet Susan, but it also was just a huge encouragement.
So after I met Susan, I was encouraged and I was like, “OK, I have to try this again.” So I brought the kids and I went out and we started doing homework in the afternoons. Every time we went out there, something would happen. Something so simple and so small. But it was such encouragement.
Then, after about three or four little spontaneous gatherings, with just my family out at the table, I thought, well I’m going to invite some of my neighbor friends over, so I had a planned coffee. We met for coffee and they immediately loved the idea; and they loved it because it was it was something so simple and so doable in all of our lives. I never anticipated it, but a couple of them said, “well, can we put picnic tables in our front yards too?” I was like, “sure!” It totally caught me off guard.
Inviting Others To Join Us In Life
So pretty early on people started putting turquoise tables in their front yards. My role shifted; it just became kind of the “encourager.” I remember thinking, “really God, you want me to encourage people to put turquoise picnic tables in their front yards? Like for real?” And clearly He did.
Church groups, MOPS groups, and other people wanted me to come speak to 10-15 people at a time and just share the story, share the encouragement of how easy it was to begin to build community in your front yard.
The Turquoise Table has never been the hero of the story. God’s people are the heroes of the story.
What was remarkable about what I was seeing unfolding at that point, is, yes; there was our turquoise table in our front yard. But then, as they started kind of branching out across the United States, there was this second layer of community; of people who were really trying in all honesty and earnestly to build a community in a simple way. I think that’s the beauty of the story is that it’s not about The Turquoise Table. The Turquoise Table has never been the hero of the story. God’s people are the heroes of the story. But it gives us a tangible tool; a whimsical and delightfully creative fun way to invite people to come join us in life.
So at this point now, tables are kind of popping up all over. I feel like I’m the one that is so blessed by the creativity, the passion, the stories, the vulnerability, the honesty of what other people are doing and how they’re living as front yard people. It overwhelms me most days.
I was speaking at a women’s Christian writing conference and it became clear at that point, from people telling me, “you’ve got to write a book! We need advice on how can we set this up.”
Gathering Your Community
My hope is that anyone who picks up the book, The Turquoise Table, comes away really encouraged, and not just encouraged in the heart, but encouraged to take action in very practical ways.
One of the things that we talk about in the book, and I encourage people when I meet with them is, if you don’t have a front yard, where are the natural places that people in your community tend to gather? I’m astounded by the creativity of how people are adapting the Turquoise Table Movement for their very specific needs. For example, we have our turquoise tables now on church patios, school atriums, hospital areas and farmers’ markets. Really, it’s amazing to see how creative people can adapt the concept.
I’ve really tried to stay grounded in Scripture and in God’s Word, which is how this whole movement really began. It was birthed out of my relationship, and my conversations, and my quiet time with Him. So I think it was just again, a testimony of God’s goodness; His love, not only for me, but for everyone.
The day before the book came out, I was reading Jesus Always and it says, “Do what you can and leave the rest to Me.” I just thought, that is what we all need to do; it’s just, “do what you can with what you’ve been given, but let God do the rest.” I often say, when I’m encouraging other people to live as front yard people or to build community where they live, just open up your door, take three steps out, and let God do the rest.
Narrator: To find out more about Kristin Schell and The Turquoise Table book and to learn about how you can become a “front yard person,” visit turquoisetable.com.
As we continue our show about building community, our next guests are Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis, writers of “The Neighboring Church; Getting Better at What Jesus Said Matters Most.” We’ll hear from Rick and Brian after this brief message.
As a special offer to you, the listeners of The Jesus Calling podcast, Audible is offering a free audiobook download with a free 30-day trial to give you the opportunity to check out their service.
Find your favorite Sarah Young titles, including Jesus Calling and Jesus Always in an audiobook version and get it for free by trying audible.com. Check out a small sample of the Jesus Calling audiobook, featured at the end of this podcast. To download an entire free audiobook today, go to audibletrial.com/JesusCalling. Again, that’s audibletrial.com/JesusCalling for your full, free audiobook. Now, let’s return to our next guests Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis.
The Neighboring Church
Narrator: Our next guests are passionate about the life of the church and what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself,” as commanded in Matthew 22:37-40. They are the authors of “The Neighboring Church; Getting Better at What Jesus Said Matters Most.” Rick Rusaw is the Lead Pastor of LifeBridge Church and Brian Mavis is the president of the non-profit “America’s Kid’s Belong. They are committed to teaching believers how to take the Great Commandment of loving your neighbor both literally and seriously.
Rick Rusaw: I’m a Rick Rusaw. I’m the lead pastor at LifeBridge church. Been here 25 years.
I didn’t grow up in the church so I kind of came at Christianity and church a bit skeptically. And so here we where our church was growing, and you know we were in Outreach’s list of fastest growing churches in the West, all those kinds of things, And I was still wondering if we were making any difference.
Brian Mavis: Hi I’m Brian Mavis.
About 10 years ago. I was not even attending church. I was kind of done and but at the same time feeling like well, this isn’t the solution either. And I read Rick’s book The Externally Focused Church and I said if this is even halfway accurate, this is a church I can be a part of; a church that really is trying to focus on caring about the community it lives in and trying to have that answer the question of “if our church disappeared would the community care?” – and have the answer be yes.
Brian: There were two personal failures that happened that got Rick and I to really focus in on this.
We were challenged to write down the names of our neighbors; the closest neighbors next to us. Rick and I both got F’s and we checked out the rest of our staff and they did as bad as we did. And we said, “OK, we don’t even know our neighbors’ names and supposedly we love them.” Then we thought, “OK. Do we even know their hopes or history either, their hurts?” So, it was that personal failure that we said, we’re just giving lip service to loving our neighbors.
Calling On Your Neighbors For Help
The other thing was a little bit more of a corporate failure. But one day, we got a phone call from the city and they asked us to help out with a home that the grass was out-of-control, feet tall and they said they’d sent a few letters to that household and weren’t getting any responses and they just said, “would you take care of it?”
So I said, “sure.” So we went knocked on the door. Young woman opened the door and she start crying and she was embarrassed and she said she had stage 4 cancer. Her yard was out of control because of her illness.
And I said “you know, don’t worry about this we’ll take care of it.” So I called a dozen of the usual suspects at the church who volunteer for everything. They brought lawnmowers and all that; took care of it. Then came a couple of weeks later we did some more work, and then a couple of months later I called just to check in on her. After I hung up the phone, I was essentially patting myself on the back that the city knew that we were the kind of church they would call, and knew they could count on us, and that we would deliver. When I was patting myself on the back, the Holy Spirit convicted me and said, “stop doing that. The reason the city had to call you is because her neighbors had failed at loving her.” I thought, “Okay, if I could do this again, what should I have done?” I realized, I shouldn’t have called the usual suspects, I should have checked with her neighbors to see if they could’ve stepped up to help her. What should have happened is the grass should have never gotten tall, because people knew her and knew that she was sick.
I was convicted that we had become extremely good in a sense of crossing the tracks and serving, but we hadn’t yet become strong at just crossing our own streets and living there and loving our neighbors.
Rick: And so that’s what drove us. I’m a bit of a practitioner so I’m looking at what are the real ways we can actually meet needs of people around us. What if we love God and love our neighbor and our actual real neighbor?
Brian: We started with the staff and challenged them to get to know their neighbors; to learn their names, to learn their histories, where they work, learn where they lived and grew up, learn their hopes, what they dreamed about for their future, and learn even their hurts, and what experience in their lives. When you just look at your neighborhood, a lot of people that are listening right now, they’re probably thinking, “you know my neighbors are great.” But if you get to know them a little bit, they’re all carrying losses and hurts. They’re also carrying hopes of a better life. So it was a challenge among our staff and then our elders. On one hand it was highly well-received. On the other hand, people couldn’t wait for it to be over because it was so challenging.
Four Practices For Our Everyday Lives
Rick: Brian helped us organize around four practices that started as a thing he was doing with his girls. I’m not much for stuff that rhymes, but this actually works.
Brian: Yeah, it’s a little bit cheesy, but when my girls were much younger, they were four and six, I just kind of had some self-reflection and thinking, you know, I’m an okay Dad, I’m not nearly as good as I thought I would be or hoped I would be, so I just need to do something consistently that helps me get better. So I came up with three things. Then my daughter, the youngest, added a fourth and they rhyme and it’s just as I said, it’s cheesy but I can remember it and the first thing was just to “stay.”
I needed to stay connected to my girls. So whether somebody is married or divorced, they still need to stay connected to their kids and know about their world and know what’s going on in their school.
The second one was to “pray” for my girls, and because I was connected, I would know how to pray well for them. The third thing that I had was “say”; that I would say I loved them every day and that I’d also speak into their lives our values.
God loves your neighbor. God knows your neighbor.
My youngest at four said, “Daddy, my favorite of you is when you’re silly.” I realized I had skipped one; “play” and how important play is.
Well then, when we were thinking about like, this can’t just be theoretical neighboring, what are some four practices that would apply not just to kids, it applies to anyone and so it’s like, well, “stay” connected to our neighbors. I mean again. we were like, “do we even know their names? Do we know their hopes and hurts?” Then, when it comes to praying for them; I don’t have a scientific study, but I bet I’d be surprised if more than one percent of Christians literally pray for a neighbor. That could be a game changer all by itself. God loves your neighbor. God knows your neighbor. He knows our names, hopes, and histories.
Once you ask God for help on it by praying for your neighbors, then playing with your neighbors, you know, as adults the main way we play is around hospitality, eating together; so pull out the barbecue grill. Invite your neighbors over.
Then lastly, “say.” We do hope that there comes a time when they say, “you know, there is something different about you,” and you share your life and you’re going to have a natural opportunity to point them to Jesus. These are the four practices that we’re trying to integrate into our everyday lives.
Emerging From Our Cocoon
Rick: So what we found, though, is that people who are doing this have discovered better, just greater relationships in their neighborhood. One of the questions we’re hoping people get to is when we ask “if the church disappeared would anyone care?” Now the question is, “if you disappeared from your neighborhood would it really matter?”
The stories we get back are phenomenal, about relationships that get created and the opportunities that happen. They end up actually being just one story, a simple story. What it has done, is that I think it’s put the mission of the church back in the hands of the church.
We do live in a day today when we cocoon more, we’ve got privacy fences, and garage doors that are up and down, and when we do head outside to jog we’ve got both ears filled with our running music, all those things that happen. Researchers call it “super cocooning” where we’re actually becoming more insular. There was a day when neighboring was a natural thing that happened in nearly every society; happened in our culture for a long time. Today there aren’t those connections. So you have to be more intentional.
I can love people generally, but specifically is a lot harder. So to know God loves me generally is a great thing, but to actually embrace it personally–I think that’s been what Jesus Calling has allowed people to do. I think it’s similar to this neighboring thing.
Brian: Through other devotionals and stuff, it always seemed like I was hearing about God’s love second hand. This was like hearing it firsthand; it kind of removed the veil between me and the words. So it’s one thing to hear that somebody said they love you to someone else, and it’s something else to hear someone actually tell you they love you.
The Neighboring Church
Brian: Jesus took from the Old Testament and said, “here’s the two great commandments. Love God with everything you have and with everything you are, and love your neighbor as yourself.” And we said. “you know, we can only be good at a few things in life. How about this church focuses on what Jesus said matters most?”
Rick: What I love about that passage too: Jesus gets to the end of that in Matthew 22 and He says “in all the law and all the Prophets; hang on these two commands.” So in other words, here’s what He’s saying; at this point in history, where I’m standing at this place on the planet, everything God has said up to this point, every command He’s given, every promise He’s made, everything the prophets have ever said on His behalf. All of it hinges off these two things.
Narrator: To find out more about The Neighboring Church book and to get resources and tips on how to be a better neighbor, please visit neighboringchurch.com.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling podcast, we have a very special God and Country episode featuring Lee Greenwood, the legendary country singer and songwriter of “God Bless the USA,” and Charlie Daniels, whose new book about his life entitled “Never Look at The Empty Seats” comes out in October 2017. Lee Greenwood shares how his faith has been a constant for him throughout any storm.
Lee Greenwood: Faith gives strength. You have to know that there is something stronger there that can protect you when you’re in harms way or in crisis. That’s the kind of faith I always have, no matter where I perform or what kind of disaster or crisis I may face.
There’s a story, you’re either coming out of a storm, you’re living one, or you’re about to have one. If you live by the faith, you’re not afraid of that storm.
Narrator: Our featured passage for today comes from the March 11th entry of the Jesus Calling audiobook:
Walk by faith, not by sight. As you take steps of faith, depending on Me, I will show you how much I can do for you. If you live your life too safely, you will never know the thrill of seeing Me work through you. When I gave you My Spirit, I empowered you to live beyond your natural ability and strength. That’s why it is so wrong to measure your energy level against the challenges ahead of you. The issue is not your strength but Mine, which is limitless. By walking close to Me, you can accomplish My purposes in My strength.
Narrator: Hear more great stories about the impact Jesus Calling is having all over the world. Be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling Podcast on iTunes. We value your reviews and comments so we can reach even more people with the message of Jesus Calling. And if you have your own story to share, we’d love to hear from you. Visit JesusCalling.com to share your story today.