In their book The Art of Neighboring, Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon tell of a time when Denver area ministers met with their mayor and asked him, “How can we as churches best work together to serve our city?”
They asked the question because they wanted to help make their city a better place to live for everyone. They mayor surprised them with his answer. “The majority of issues that our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors.”
The mayor left and the pastors were left feeling a bit embarrassed. They realized that the mayor had just preached a sermon to them that was lifted from the words of Jesus himself. Jesus had said the greatest commandment was to love God. He had then added that the second was like it: love your neighbor as yourself.
Here’s an understatement: I think Jesus was onto something. (I actually believe he was the smartest person to ever walk this earth.) This one thing can change our world. Here are some examples from Jay and Dave:
- Did you know that people who have close bonds with their neighbors live longer? Feel like sticking around this earth an extra few years? Get to know your neighbor.
- Did you know that in areas where people know the names of their neighbors the crime rate is 60% lower? Want to feel safer? Get to know your neighbor.
- Did you know that when natural disasters strike, your neighbors are your first responders? Those of us who live in the Houston area have experienced this recently.
Jesus told a story of what it meant to “love your neighbor as yourself.” A man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho, got robbed, beaten and left half dead. Two religious men came by and walked on by. A Samaritan stopped to help. This was the pivotal point of the story. Samaritans and Jews did not get along. Lots of baggage in their history. But he helps. He bandaged the beaten man, put him on his animal, and took him to an inn (a first century version of a hospital). He even left his credit card to take care of any further needs. The Samaritan proved to be a neighbor to this man.
Jesus’ teaching was for us to go and do the same. We can be a neighbor to anyone in need. But we can also be a neighbor to our neighbors. Literally. So try this exercise. Write down the names of the people in the eight houses that are closest to you.
Can you? If not, you’re not alone. The authors have conducted this experiment a number of times and have arrived at these results: About 10% can fill out the names of all eight of their neighbors. About 3% can name some relevant information about those neighbors. And less than 1% know any in-depth information about their neighbors.
How can this change? The first, simple step is very profound so you might want to get ready for this: get to know their names. Knowing a person’s name is a big deal. And knowing a person’s name leads to getting to know them better.
A second step is to understand that God may have placed you right where you are because you have a neighbor wanting to find him. The Apostle Paul was teaching in Athens and was telling the crowd about the one true God. He said that God had “determined the exact places where people would live so that they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find him.”
Did God pick out your house or did you? It’s an interesting thought. Regardless of how you answer that question, you have been placed in your neighborhood for a very specific reason. You are there so that when someone reaches out for God there is a handle they can grab onto.
What would it look like if everyone reading this column were to learn the names of eight neighbors? This one thing could change the world.
Question: What can you do this week to get to know one of your neighbors?