Being a good neighbor is a Jesus-directed way of life, says Michael Taylor, citing Luke 10.
Taylor, pastor of First Baptist Church of Ponca City, is leading his church to expand that concept in 2021.
“One of the things I saw during COVID, in multiple places, I saw people spending time with their neighbors, the people who actually live next door to them,” Taylor said. “We’ve always known we are supposed to be good neighbors – that’s a biblical concept – but we really want to take it a step further in 2021. We want to go beyond being a good neighbor to being a gospel neighbor.”
First Ponca City is also a global neighbor, with a longstanding emphasis on giving at least 10% of undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program (CP), the way Southern Baptists work together locally, regionally and throughout the world to draw people to God’s unconditional love for them.
“The Cooperative Program is the best way for us as a church to engage in missions at every level: locally, nationally, globally,” Taylor said. “I don’t see a way for us to do ministry better than through CP. Southern Baptists are holding the rope on this end so missionaries get to stay overseas, doing what they’ve been called by God to do and don’t have to come home to raise funds.
“When you invest in the ministries the Cooperative Program funds, you are investing directly to your future and in the future of your church. By giving through CP, First Ponca was investing in my training as a young seminary student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary long before they had ever heard of me.”
Taylor was called to pastor the church, which dates to 1899, in March 2016. “This church has been a gospel presence in Ponca City for a long time,” he said. “It’s a solid church that preaches the gospel and loves their community. We’re trying to be faithful where God has put us.”
First Ponca City partners with Liberty Elementary School through a chamber of commerce program, a relationship that Taylor said has allowed the church to serve both students and teachers.
The church also hosts and helps facilitate a weekly Celebrate Recovery group and provides financial help, food and volunteers to The Mission, a local ministry center.
And despite the national pandemic that halted Sunday morning worship from mid-March until early June, First Ponca City ministers and staff found other ways to minister to the church family.
“At one point we worked through the entire membership, the entire staff calling each family,” Taylor said of the church, which has a resident congregation of about 700 people. “We already had a lot of online ways to help minister to people. … But we realized very quickly that some of those ways needed to be tweaked and upgraded to make it work in a digital setting. Thankfully we had the resources to be able make those changes and help our people stay connected.”
First Ponca City began in November to build awareness for its 2021 “Being a Gospel Neighbor” emphasis. Plans involve using the neighborhood mapping tool at BlessEveryHome.com, a ministry service of the mapping center for evangelism and church growth, to pray for, care for, meet and share the gospel with neighbors.
“This tool allows us to keep track of what our church people are doing,” Taylor said. “In the limited roll-out we did before Thanksgiving, 27 households adopted 875 houses; at least 538 were prayed for; at 46 of those adopted houses we know them by name and they know us; and 10 of those have had the gospel shared with them. It’s a tool that we hope encourages us and allows us to track how we are doing in being gospel neighbors.”
The church encourages several ways to share the gospel. One is the North American Mission Board’s “3 Circles” evangelism tool, which helps people use three circles that represent God’s design, brokenness and the gospel. The circles can be drawn in the dirt, on a fence slat, or on a napkin during lunch to communicate the gospel.
“The simplicity of it makes sense to me. It’s so open-ended you can start anywhere, just like Phillip and the Ethiopian,” Taylor said, referring to Acts 8:35, which states, “Then Philip began with that very passage of scripture, and told him the good news about Jesus.”
“I feel like the 3 Circles lends itself to a conversation more than just presenting basic truth claims about the gospel,” the pastor continued. “It helps the gospel sharer find common ground by listening first and then allows you to apply the gospel more naturally and specifically to people’s lives.”
Taylor’s sermons in January are focused on what it means to be a good neighbor, as the congregation starts developing neighbor awareness. As winter weather clears to spring, they plan block parties at various members’ homes, with other members of the church assisting in activities so the homeowner can focus on meeting their neighbors.
At least eight neighborhood block parties, plus one in the park across from Liberty Elementary during Back to School week, are anticipated by the end of the year.
“Essentially these will be in-town mission events,” Taylor said. “The whole idea is, we want to expand the gospel in our community, building on some of the relationships that were ignited, built or began this COVID year, and do it with gospel focus and intent. It’s really trying to build on the fact you can stand outside and talk over the fence.
“Maybe Jesus has allowed us to be stuck at home, just to build the bridge that will allow the gospel to go to a neighbor we have known of for years, but have never taken the time or opportunity to speak the gospel to with intent.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.)