Five years ago, I invited some of the other pastors in my community to a gathering with our mayor. We asked our mayor a few questions in an attempt to identify the best way that our churches could serve people in need. He told us that the majority of the issues facing our city would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just become a community of great neighbors. It was sobering to hear the mayor tell our pastors group that there was great power in this idea of “neighboring.”
When Jesus was asked to boil everything in the text into one command he said: Love God with everything you have and love your neighbor as yourself. What if Jesus meant that we should love our actual neighbors? You know, the people who live right next door to us.
It’s tempting to view the most important teaching of Jesus as simply a metaphor. When we do, we end up with metaphoric love for our metaphoric neighbors, and metaphorically things work out really well for us. But in reality, there are people living all around us, our actual neighbors, and often we don’t even know the majority of them by name. Much less anything of significance about them.
When we aim to love everyone…we often end up loving no one. That’s why there is great power in drawing a circle around the places that we live and making it a priority to engage with the people that God has place around us.
Over the last few years, our pastors group has partnered with local government leaders to launch a neighboring movement. The plan is simple:
1. Learn, retain, and use the names of the people that God has placed around you
2. Take the next small step with one of your neighbors.
The civic leaders in our city have told us over and over again that relationships always trump programs. They are passionate about our community and they are convinced that the answers to our city’s biggest problems lie in the strength of the bonds that neighbors have with one another.
Take a moment to imagine what would happen if every Christian took the Great Commandment literally? Neighborhoods and cities all over the world would be transformed overnight.
Start by doing something small with or for someone who lives right outside your front door. Learn names. Throw a block party. And follow the crumbs that God puts before you!
*** This article contains excerpts from The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak & Dave Runyon. Baker Books 2012.
Dave was a guest speaker at our church for a few weeks and I was struck by his message. Although he tailored his message to all people, it really touched me deeply pertaining to us mamas.
Dave Runyon serves as the executive director of CityUnite which helps government, business and faith based leaders unite around common causes. For 10 years Dave served as a pastor in the Denver metro area.