The Art of Neighboring
I recently finished a short but helpful book entitled “The Art of Neighboring.” In this post I offer a brief summary of the major points of the book, and then a couple of personal takeaways.
The main point of the book is that Christians should think of their actual, geographic neighbors, as people who are included in Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbor.” Too often, the authors argue, Christians apply this command to other groups of people (which is not wrong), but fail to apply it to the neighbors that God has placed right next door to them. Christians are urged to “apply Jesus’ teaching to our literal neighbors --real people with real names, phone numbers, and addresses.”
The authors then list a couple of barriers that often keep us from doing this. The chief barrier is our incredibly busy schedules. We cannot love people we don’t know, and in order to know people we must take the time to be present and connected with them. The authors encourage us to ask ourselves “if we live at a pace that allows us to be available to those who live around us?" Most Americans, suffer from what one writer has called “hurry sickness.” We live our lives at a frantic pace, and it prevents us from ever being truly present with people enough to love them as Jesus has called us to. Christians need to take a hard look at their schedules and priorities. Are we willing to reprioritize our time in order to be more present with close family, friends, and make space in our life for our neighbors?
But how can we actually do this? The authors offer several practical ideas on how Christians can better love their neighbors.
- Learn their names
- Do you know the names of your five closest neighbors?
- Throw a block party for your neighborhood
- While we can’t force relationships with anyone, we can create environments which allow for relationships to develop and grow into something significant.
- Block parties are a very easy and natural way to do this. The authors challenge us: "What would it be like if we were to make a commitment to take the next step with each of our immediate neighbors this year? What would it be like to make a commitment to throw at least one good block party every year, and then to sit back and see how God uses it on our block?”
- Shared activities
- Invite others to join in your regular activities. It’s easy to assume that people are too busy to want to join you in some activity. But plenty of people are hungry for interaction, the world around us is lonelier than we know.
- One of the easiest things to do is eat together. It’s not hard to invite others to join you because you are already going to eat any way right?
- Ask (and Listen) to their story
- Every single one of our neighbors has a story to tell. Deep down we all want to share our story, and know that our story connects to something larger than ourselves. As we learn to hear their stories, we can connect to their heart and see how God is at work in their lives. Often this leads to an opportunity to share our story.
- Develop The art of Receiving
- This is hard, because we don't like being on the receiving end of things. Our temptation is to turn our neighbors into projects. We want to serve our neighbors, but won’t allow them to serve us or meet our needs. But true relationships need this kind of reciprocity.
- The authors recommend recovering the lost art of borrowing. Instead of jumping in the car and going to the store the next time you need eggs/tools/etc, ask your neighbor! Keep in mind that a bond is created anytime someone serves you, or whenever you serve someone else.
First, while there is nothing in this book that is groundbreaking, I found it to be personally challenging. I agree with the authors that Christians should want to know our neighbors and seek ways to make our neighborhoods better places to live. Yet, as they point out, how many of us even know the names of our closest neighbors, let alone have any kind of relationship with them? I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t made consistent efforts to do that with my neighbors. I appreciate the challenge, and will be prayerfully mulling over some of the ideas and suggestions this upcoming year.
Second, I was struck by how relevant this book is for community life in the church. Most of these ideas could just as easily be used to help build community in the church. Do we know the names of the people we see every week? Do we know the stories of those we worship with on a regular basis? Do we even have time to ask? Have we prioritized community enough to give ourselves the time to actually be with people and form relationships with them? Have we made any efforts to invite people into shared activities in our lives? Meaningful friendships within the church don’t just happen, we have to prioritize spending time connecting and simply being with others. The author’s warning about ‘hurry sickness,’ and the need to evaluate our busyness and priorities is an important one for all Christians to consider. I have spoken with many people over the years who complain of being lonely in the church, but who have made little effort to prioritize connecting with and being present with others. We can’t have it both ways.
Finally, I believe that everything this book said about us as individual Christians should also be true of our churches as an institution. Churches should make efforts to know and love the neighbors that God has providentially placed around them. Churches should desire to make their neighborhood a better place to live for all, to be throwing the best parties, and willing to lend a helping hand to those in need. This is one of the reasons that last summer (and again this summer) our church will be throwing a block party for the neighborhood. In a world that is increasingly skeptical of the church, what a difference it would make for opening doors, and opening hearts, if Christian churches were known to love their neighbors in these kinds of tangible ways?