Dean Kuest – Glendale Campus Pastor
I am currently reading, along with most of our staff and life group leaders, a book entitled, “The Art of Neighboring” by Jay Pathak. I hope that it is a book that goes viral at Central and that hundreds of you will read it. It challenges those of us who follow Jesus to develop the art of building genuine relationships with those who live in our neighborhoods as we seek to point people to the God who has changed our lives. If being a neighbor is an art, I grew up watching Van Gogh paint the neighborhood.
I had just finished the first grade when my family moved onto 56th Avenue & Carol in Glendale, AZ. It would be my home until I went off to college. My father had just become the pastor of Glendale Christian Church, a congregation of approximately 25-35 people who met in the local YWCA. There weren’t really any church people in our new neighborhood outside of a Lutheran family down the street. It was on this blank canvas that I saw my parents go to work. My Mom started attending a Women’s Bible Study at Lutheran home, inviting the neighbors that she met to be a part of it. My Dad became a baseball coach for the Glendale Parks and Recreation. Instead of going into a draft and picking the best players, he picked all the kids who lived in our neighborhood. Real and genuine relationships developed over time and everybody my parents met received some sort of invited to church… and most of them came.
Looking back at the work that God did in our neighborhood and our immediate group of friends still astounds me. I don’t have the time or space to tell all of the stories, but suffice it to say that when I graduated from high school, the art of neighboring had been practiced on Carol Avenue. I can count 14 houses on our little street that were a part of our church that probably never hit much over 500 in attendance (if that). There are seven of us who attended Bible College – two of us are on staff at Central. (Can you guess who the other is?) Three families (not counting mine) attend our Glendale Campus and one is active on our Mesa Campus. One is my youngest son’s fifth grade teacher this year, working at the same school with the wife of one of our close friends. Another is a Physical Therapist and an elder at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Peoria. The breadth of our neighborhood art project extends far beyond what I am even aware. There is an Assistant Police Chief along with a homicide detective. A computer networking guru, an owner of a sporting goods company and a social worker. There are others…working in the marketplace, coaching their kid’s soccer and baseball teams. Each of them a part of the art project that God led my parents to embark on almost forty years ago.
But among the beauty of the art projects, I always thought God missed a spot – my friend and next door neighbor, Tommy. He grew up without a father, living as the only child with his Mom and Aunt who were (and are) devout Catholics. Tom was a good kid, but he had an anger burning underneath the surface that always got into him into trouble. He came to church on occasion, went to church camp with us a few times, and was always a part of whatever was going on in the neighborhood, but his catholic school upbringing had him convinced that religion was not for him.
Fast forward twenty-five years. I was leading a church plant in Seattle, WA and through the miracle of the internet and the social fascination that is Facebook, I got a message from Tom that basically said, “I have been listening your sermons online. Can we talk?” I vividly remember sitting in my car in an Office Depot parking lot, reconnecting with Tom on the phone. Life had not been easy. His wife walked out and left him with four kids to raise. Given that he had no example himself, he was determined to always be there for his kids, but he had just found out that his oldest son was addicted to Meth and it had taken him to some dark places. I prayed for Tom over the phone and then I wept for he and his son, Thomas, in the parking lot. It was awesome to be reconnected with an old friend, but the pain that he expressed was overwhelming.
Take a jump ahead another year. My family and I had felt led to return to Central and take up residence in my old stomping ground as the Campus Pastor of our Glendale Campus. Tom was at Central in Glendale from week one. His son was in Sheriff Joe’s Tent City. We made regular visits together and reestablished a friendship that went back to elementary school.
Today, I can say that it has been my great privilege to baptize both of them. Thomas is out of jail, clean, and working in a program, assisting others who have struggled in the same ways that he has. You can find my friend Tom in the Tech Booth on the Glendale Campus on almost every weekend. Myself? I have learned a powerful lesson…God is never finished with His art projects.
What will the art project that is your neighborhood look like in five years? Forty years? It’s time to get started on it today!