When Skip asked his neighbor Peter* to join a group of men reading the Bible together, Peter didn’t exactly jump at the chance. “I don’t know anything about Jesus,” he said. “And why use the Bible? It’s been proven unscientific.”
Still, Peter decided to take his neighbor up on the invitation. And by the time the group had finished the book of Matthew, Peter was ready to follow Jesus.
Peter is just one of several men who have met Jesus in Skip's neighborhood Bible reading group. At the group’s outset, only two of the 10 in the group knew Jesus. Over the past decade, all the rest have entered the Kingdom.
Skip and his wife, Linda, weren’t even considering this neighborhood when they wanted to move 12 years ago. They hadn’t pictured themselves in the suburbs, and they didn’t think they could afford a house in this newly-built subdivision.
As they look back, they attribute their involvement to the prayers of Sarah, a friend who lived in the neighborhood. Sarah had asked God for partners in bringing Jesus to her neighbors. She knew Skip and Linda wanted to relocate, so when she saw a house for sale nearby, she told Skip. As Linda and Skip prayed and asked others to pray, finances fell into place and they felt God leading them there.
After moving in, Skip and Linda immediately began making connections with their new neighbors. They were regulars at the weekly Friday night parties held in different people’s garages. Skip and Ray, Sarah’s husband, hosted a men’s weekend at a cabin and 13 men came.
After the men’s weekend, Skip felt led to ask some of the men to read the Bible together. “I went to Target and found the most masculine-looking invitations I could,” he says with a smile. “I was so nervous, I wrote the wrong date on the invitations!”
Skip visited 13 men at their homes, inviting them to the group. He asked, “How would you like to get together a couple of times a month to read through the historical accounts of Jesus’ life, so that we can practice our spiritual life here in the neighborhood?”
Ten men began getting together. Ten years later, though some have come and gone, eight still meet. Each week, the men begin by catching up on each other’s lives and what’s going on in the neighborhood. Then they take turns reading two to four verses at a time aloud and discussing what they’ve read.
They started with the books of Matthew and Luke. Acts was next, along with Paul’s epistles. Then, since some of the men have scientific backgrounds and were curious to learn what Scripture says about the origins of life, they tackled Genesis.
It’s an eclectic group. Ages range from 41 to 77, Skip says. Some have no church background, while others are veteran churchgoers.
The main guideline is that discussions center around the text. When Peter asked, at the end of Matthew, “I believe in Jesus now and I want to follow Him—how do I do that?” Skip responded, “What do you guys think? What have we read?” They reviewed what they had learned in Matthew about following Jesus.
Skip doesn’t feel compelled to have all the answers about difficult passages. He doesn’t hesitate to say, “Wow, that is really harsh,” about troubling texts.
“I’m in the learning process with them,” he says. At times he has wrestled for weeks with a puzzling passage. He encourages the group to trust the Holy Spirit to reveal meaning instead of relying on outside sources.
As the men “have Jesus invade their lives,” as Skip puts it, some are reaching beyond the neighborhood to serve the community. A doctor in the group started a free medical clinic for uninsured people in the community. An IT specialist taught a middle school class aimed at getting kids to use computers as a creative tool, rather than a toy. He started a robotics program where they could work together, using computers to build robots that compete with other schools.
“There’s a lot of power in a neighborhood pitching together to make the community a better place,” Skip says. “We ask, ‘How can I be a positive contributor, rather than a sideline critic?’”
What has allowed Skip and Linda to have such an influence in the neighborhood? It starts with prayer, which is something “anyone can do,” says Linda.
Their neighborhood’s transformation began with Sarah praying and believing God would work there. Then God brought Skip and Linda. Skip walks in the woods, praying for the neighborhood, several times a week. He prays for each of the 34 households, asking God to protect them from evil, and for the Kingdom of God to continue to percolate through their families and natural network of relationships.
Skip and Linda say another crucial part of the equation is “showing up.”
“I’ve learned to be a real part of the neighborhood and of the community,” Skip says. That means saying yes to invitations and finding other ways to get involved in neighborhood life. For example, Linda has been a middle school study hall teacher for the past ten years, and every year Skip has taught around 30 of her students how to play cribbage.
Recently Linda invited Peter, the former skeptic, and his family over for dessert. As they savored homemade peach pie, Peter’s teenage daughter began talking excitedly about how she had experienced Jesus’ love from people she was around on a mission trip. Skip and Linda marveled at how the Holy Spirit had worked in this family. Peter’s wife, Shelley*, had also begun to follow Jesus. As Peter and Shelley began to discuss the Bible at home, their children were curious and eventually wanted to follow Jesus themselves. In addition, Peter talks to people in his workplace about Jesus.
Skip and Linda emphasize that any believer can do what they’ve done. “We are learning from our neighbors how to be good neighbors,” Skip says. “And we’re learning about Jesus together.”
*Not their real names.