Love Your Neighbors: Discipleship Rooted in Mission
By Victor Cyrus-FrankliN
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." - Mark 12:28-31
As disciples of Jesus, we search the scriptures for guidance on how to be better followers of Christ. In Mark 12:30-31, in response to a question about what the “greatest commandments” are, Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus is clear that his disciples are to love God, love themselves, and love their neighbors. There are many ways to live into that call. The First United Methodist Church of Inglewood, California, is growing in its discipleship journey through a campaign to build sixty units of affordable housing and a community hub on its site. Affordable housing has been integral to Inglewood First’s community engagement and outreach journey; it is a cornerstone of the congregation’s spiritual formation and worshiping identity as well.
Inglewood First has served in the Inglewood community since 1905 and has been based at its current site since 1941. A smaller membership, multiethnic church, the congregation’s discipleship through its housing justice journey began in 2017 when the congregation joined LA Voice, a multiracial and multifaith community organizing network, and the Uplift Inglewood Coalition, a local federation of small business owners, mom and pop landlords, and religious congregations that organized for a rent stabilization ordinance in the city of Inglewood. At the time of the campaign, rents had increased 31% in six years, and residents were being priced out of their homes. Inglewood First UMC discerned that one way to live into Jesus’ call to ‘love our neighbors’ was to fight to help their neighbors afford to stay in their homes. After winning rent control along with their partners and neighbors, the church began to discern whether it could do more by working with a developer to convert two-thirds of its buildings into affordable housing units.
As part of this discernment process, in October 2021, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the church engaged in a congregation- and community-wide experience of guided prayer and journaling. Led by Pastor Linda Furtado of Cross Vocational, the guided prayer experience invited members of the congregation and wider community to participate in a “31-Day Prayer Challenge.” Participants received daily e-mail prompts for biblical reflection, a journaling activity, a housing story, and a call to prayer for the community. The stories ranged from video testimonies of those experiencing houselessness to news articles about the housing crisis across the country and inspiring accounts of churches that have built affordable housing in the love of God and their neighbors. On Sundays after worship, a Zoom gathering enabled participants to reflect on their previous week of prayer and look to the week ahead.
The call to prayer tied to a communal missional cause opened the door to new discernment of following Jesus for members of the congregation and non-members alike. Many who started worshiping with the church online were invited into the church and joined in the newfound spiritual disciplines of journaling and prayer through an online community. Risa Wheat, Inglewood First UMC’s worship chairperson, said, “I was inspired to create and give myself another thirty-one-day challenge. I don’t know that I would have completed it if I hadn’t done the ‘31-Day Prayer Challenge’ first.” That prayer challenge helped the church and community be open to new possibilities of loving God, self, and neighbor in ministry.
Discerning the call to “love their neighbors” through affordable housing has also inspired creative discipleship through worship. In April 2022, the church organized a special Good Friday worship experience themed, “What’s Going On.” This intergenerational community experience of Christians turning their attention to Jesus’ human suffering and divine sacrifice on Good Friday was an opportunity in worship to discern what it means for people of faith to “take up their crosses and follow Jesus.” With a local band of young adults playing music from Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On album and intergenerational voices sharing their perspectives on Jesus’ seven sayings from the cross, the worship experience inspired and challenged people to confront the “crosses” that create suffering in our communities and to follow Jesus through crucifixion to Resurrection. The evening’s offering went to support costs for architectural plans for community space to complement the housing development that will host programs ranging from music lessons to food distribution to mental health services. All left worship (in-person and online) inspired and committed to growing in faith, hope, and love as followers of Jesus.
With the approval for a mixed-use permit for construction in hand, Inglewood First UMC is scheduled to break ground on its affordable housing development in the spring of 2024. The ministries of prayer and worship have energized the efforts of the congregation and the community. As Rev. Victor Cyrus-Franklin, Inglewood First’s lead pastor, told Sojourners magazine in July 2022, “Theologically, this is about a congregation becoming incarnational. Not just God for us, but God with us. This is not something we’re doing for the community as something paternalistic, but with the community.”
As Christ lives incarnate in the church, new pathways of discipleship are born. Inglewood First UMC’s testimony reveals that when a local church commits to loving its neighbors, new possibilities for growing as disciples emerge, and we live more fully into our mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our communities and the world”!
- What needs are in your community that your congregation may be able to meet by exploring how to better demonstrate love for God, self, and neighbor?
- What challenges might you face in your context if you attempted something similar?
- How does your congregation link discipleship with community action?
- What are you going to do this week to love God and love your neighbor as yourself?
Rev. Victor Cyrus-Franklin is the lead pastor of Inglewood First United Methodist Church and Grace United Methodist Church of Los Angeles. He is an ordained elder in full connection in the United Methodist Church. Through teaching, preaching, living, and learning, Pastor Victor has a passion for ministry that crosses racial, gender, and generational boundaries as we follow Jesus toward wholeness, reconciliation, and justice.
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