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Locally Grown:
Making Disciples in a Subdivision

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By Candice, RMM staff writer, from an interview with Rob and Doris Swartz

Rob and Doris Swartz and their family of four children (Larissa, Kevin, Danae, and Bryce) moved into Amherst Meadows subdivision in London, Ohio about 10 years ago. Rob, a self-described “country boy” never would have imagined himself in such a place but as they outgrew their former home, they felt God calling them to live in a neighborhood with close neighbors. From the beginning, they felt called to share Jesus with those neighbors. Rob said it took a lot of initiative on their part to start forming relationships. As introverts who enjoy family life, they had to challenge themselves to approach their neighbors. They don’t see evangelism as a natural gifting for either of them and learned they had to make an intentional place in their life for relationship building. They took walks around the neighborhood in the evenings, took cookies to the neighbors, and eventually, even began hosting an annual block party. These initial friendly encounters often lead to deeper, growing friendships.

Although Rob is a pastor, it was never his intention to evangelize only in order to grow his congregation, although he is always glad when neighbors join the body at London Christian Fellowship. He says it was always his goal to “bring people closer to Jesus.” In this process, he has learned the value of flexibility. Sometimes Rob’s perception would be that a certain person would be open to God or that another would never consider a relationship with him. What he found was that God had his own plans and his own unexpected ways of working in people’s lives. “You don’t know who God is working in,” he said.

After meeting neighbors and developing some mutual friendships, Rob and Doris began to invite some of those interested friends to a Bible discussion group in their home. In the beginning, they chose not to call it a Bible study, so that it would be more open and feel less threatening. A group formed and has continued to meet for the past nine years. The group has changed over the years as people have come and gone, but one thing has remained consistent: God has worked in the lives of their friends. Some have been baptized, which has been a great joy to Rob and Doris. Some have joined the body at London Christian Fellowship where Rob pastors. Others have come and gone, but the Swartz’s are sure that God’s Word did affect their lives and that the study may have laid a foundation for a future encounter with Jesus. Even those who seem to fall away or lose touch sometimes return during times of pain or stress. Recently, Rob was able to perform a funeral for a hurting family and re-establish connection after a separation.

Although reaching their neighbors for Jesus is a heart-felt passion for the family, there are challenges as well. A constant challenge is the busyness of people’s schedules. It’s also difficult at times for Rob and Doris to find time in their own busy schedules to make time for people. Rob says his time gets eaten up even by good things and he has to cut back in order to have time to meet with people. He sees it as a huge challenge in our culture. However, the family has learned how to make the most of even those busy times. At soccer games, there are lots of parents and of course the players themselves. Rob and Doris have gotten to know parents that way and have had a lot of good conversations. Two friends from Danae’s soccer team came to church the Sunday of this interview. Rob said, “You have to get creative with what is happening in the culture.”

Another challenge has been feeling lonely in the work sometimes. It’s hard to be connected enough with other people who are doing the same thing or have the same vision, so it’s possible to get discouraged at times. He says, “We can’t let Satan convince us that we are alone because we’re not. It’s a tactic he uses to discourage us.”

Although the challenges are great, the rewards are also great. Doris says that watching the transformation of people is the best part. Katie came out of a Catholic background. After youth Bible studies with Rob and Doris, she grew a lot and became a committed believer. When it came time to choose a college, she chose a Catholic school. Doris remembers a feeling of disappointment, as though that could be a setback. Instead, Katie became involved in a Navigators group on campus and she continued to grow and was baptized. Doris said, “God put her where he wanted her and it wasn’t what we would have chosen for her but he is using her there. This girl is going to change the world. One person you’ve had contact with or lead to the Lord can be used in big ways. We never know how the effects will ‘ripple out’ from our group. We have to set aside our need to measure our progress, and accept that he works in various ways and the impact will grow. To see God helping people change their behaviors, to have breakthroughs in their understanding of God is so encouraging.”

I asked Rob and Doris for any parting words of advice for those of us trying to reach our own neighbors for Jesus.

They said it’s challenging to accept that church can happen in various ways. Even if people don’t quite fit into the mold you would like to fit them in or if ministry looks different from how you imagined, you should trust the Lord in that. We need to have a flexible view of what “success” is in this mission. Do I need them to go to my church? Do I need them to be baptized for this to feel like success? Or do I need to use a certain model? God is creative. There isn’t one method or one way that works in all situations. We need to be more flexible in the tools and methods we use and also with people and how they grow. That’s hard because we have our ways of doing things and the way we’ve grown up influences us a lot.

Be available and be praying. We don’t have to go find people. God will bring them into your life. It shouldn’t feel like work, projects, or pressure. We want to give him the control and to give him the glory!