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Intersection of Life and Faith

How to Be a Good Neighbor

  • Whitney Hopler Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2012 7 Jul
  • COMMENTS
How to Be a Good Neighbor

Editor's note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon's book The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door (Baker Books, 2012).

In what’s known as the Matthew 22:34-40 Jesus says all that’s truly important can be summed up in love – loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving your neighbors as yourself.

It’s often easier to obey the first part, because God is perfect and easy to love when you get to know Him. But the second part is more difficult, since sinful people can be hard to love.

The good news is that when you answer God’s call to reach out to your neighbors in love, He’ll help you every step of the way – and in the process, both you and your neighbors will be blessed. Here’s how you can be a good neighbor:

Realize who the term “neighbors” includes. In the broadest sense, your neighbors are all of the people you encounter as you go through life. But your literal neighbors are the people who live close to your home – those in your actual neighborhood – and Jesus wants you to do your best to love them.

Recognize the benefits of reaching out to your neighbors. You’ll enjoy a closer relationship with Jesus when you obey His commands (such as the one to love your neighbors), and you’ll experience His love in new and powerful ways. You and your neighbors will be able to connect your stories to the greater story that God is creating in the world. Finally, developing relationships with your neighbors will help you all feel cared for rather than isolated.

Pray for compassion and flexibility. Ask God to help you notice and care about the needs of those who live near you, and to empower you to be flexible with your daily schedule so you can accommodate your neighbors.

Make room for new relationships in your life. In order to have enough time and energy available for reaching out to your neighbors, you must create space in your life by letting go of activities that aren’t as important as loving your neighbors. Ask God to help you move from a lifestyle of busyness and accumulation to one of conversation and community. Adopt a slower pace of life so you’ll have some free time and energy available to use regularly to develop relationships with your neighbors. Ask God to help you say “no” to some good activities that aren’t really important so you can focus on what’s most important, like spending time with your neighbors. Make relationships a high priority in your life, and build your schedule around activities that will help you invest in your relationships. Identify time-wasting activities in your life (such as watching too much TV) and eliminate them to free up more time for developing relationships. Be flexible about your daily agenda. Ask God to help you be willing to be interrupted and inconvenienced by your neighbors so you can really love them when God wants you to do so.

Overcome fear. Since the unknown often scares us, it’s natural to feel afraid of approaching people you don’t yet know. But keep in mind that very few people are actually dangerous; they’re usually just normal people with interesting quirks. Remember, too, that God has placed desires to be known, accepted, and cared for into every person’s soul, so your neighbors will likely welcome your efforts to get to know them. Pray for the strength you need to overcome fear, take the initiative to break through the isolation in your neighborhood, and start relationships with your neighbors.

Record information about your neighbors on a chart. Draw a chart in which your home is at the center. Then include eight other boxes that represent the homes of your eight closest neighbors. Inside those boxes, write down a list of whatever facts you can about the people who live in those homes: their names, and anything else you might already know about them. Then use that chart to gradually add information as you connect with your neighbors. The chart then can help you remember details about the people you meet. 

Check your motives. Make your goal loving your neighbors unconditionally, whether or not they choose to begin relationships with Jesus or grow closer to Him. Don’t view your neighbors as projects you must work on to convert or change. Instead, see them simply as people whom Jesus calls you to befriend. As you do, opportunities to talk about your faith who come naturally as you share the story of who you are and what’s important to you. Never force sharing your faith; trust God to lead you to do so naturally for the best results.

Get to know your neighbors. Seek out opportunities to meet and talk with your neighbors so you can begin the process of befriending them. Approach them to start a simple conversation while they’re out in their yards, bring a pie or some other treat to their doors and introduce yourself, or take a walk around your neighborhood and look for neighbors to meet. Host a block party, or invite neighbors over one household at a time for a meal at your home.

Give what you have. Even a small amount of effort can make a big, positive difference in your neighbor’s lives. When you give whatever you have to give to reaching out to your neighbors, God will multiply it to bring about miraculous results in your relationships with Him and your neighbors, and God will also empower you to keep giving as you go along.

Be willing to receive. Keep in mind that healthy friendships are two-sided relationships where both parties give and receive to and from each other. Don’t just give without receiving. Pray for help to be humble and vulnerable in your relationships. Allow your neighbors to help you when they offer and you could use help with something.

Set boundaries. Pray for the discernment you need to set healthy boundaries with your neighbors so you all don’t resent each other. Be responsible to love, encourage, bless, pray, and serve people, but don’t take on responsibility for your neighbors’ choices, emotions, or circumstances.

Focus on the most promising relationships. While you should be friendly with all of your neighbors, you can realistically only build close friendships with a few of them. Focus on investing most of your efforts on the few neighbors who prove to be the most open and responsive to you.

Forgive neighbors who offend you. Overlook minor annoyances by giving your neighbors grace, and work to resolve major conflicts. Pursue healing by following Jesus’ command to forgive in every situation, and whenever possible, work to reconcile relationships.

Adapted from The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door, copyright 2012 by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.bakerbooks.com. 

Jay Pathak is the senior pastor of the Mile High Vineyard, located in a suburb northwest of Denver, Colorado. Prior to planting this church in 2001, he served at the Columbus Vineyard as a leader in its young-adult ministry, Joshua House, and as an intern to the senior pastor, Rich Nathan. Jay is a graduate of Ohio State University with a BA in philosophy and a graduate of the Vineyard Leadership Institute. He has spoken nationally and internationally for the Vineyard and other groups in both conference and classroom settings. Currently he serves on the National Board of Vineyard USA. Jay and his wife, Danielle, have two daughters. Visit his church’s website at: www.milehighvineyard.org. 

Dave Runyon is the executive director of CityUnite, a non-profit organization that exists to help government, business, and faith-based leaders unite around common causes. He also works with the Denver Leadership Foundation in order to bring transformation to the city. Prior to founding CityUnite, Dave served as a pastor for nine years in the Denver area. In 2010 Dave led a neighboring movement that mobilized over 20 churches and 15,000 people in the Northwest Denver Metro area. He graduated from Colorado State University, where he studied history and secondary education. He speaks locally and nationally encouraging leaders to work together to serve the common good. Dave and his wife Lauren have four kids.

Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and the editor of About.com’s site on angels and miracles, at: http://angels.about.com/. Contact Whitney at: angels.guide@about.com to send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience like an answered prayer

Publication date: July 31, 2012