As Christians we are called to be more than "State Farm" neighbors, more than just there. Jesus calls us to be great neighbors, not just good ones. The second prong of the Great Commandment is to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We are called to love them, not with an ulterior motive (sneaky, sneaky), but with an ultimate one, to gently and humbly introduce them to Jesus Christ. After all, how much do you really love someone if you don't tell them about the One who died to meet them and lives to transform them?
So why aren't more Christians reaching out to their neighbors with the love of Jesus? I once heard my close friend and former church planting co-conspirator, Pastor Rick Long, say that the problem is that Christians tend to view their homes as their castles. He emphasized that this is the challenge when it comes to reaching neighbors with the love of Jesus. If our home is our castle, then our driveway is our moat and the garage door is our drawbridge. We enter our castles and close our drawbridges without ever having to say hello to our neighbors.
Guilty as charged.
There have been times I have spent so much time inside my castle that I didn't think about getting to know my neighbors. I travel a lot so, when Iâ€™m home, it's like a Stier family party inside the castle walls (okay, it fluctuates from party to fight to party at times.) Our times together as a family are precious. I love hanging out with my wife and kids. But that time together inside the walls made us less aware of the people outside them. It's not that we didn't want to get to know our neighbors but, sadly, we didn't think about it that much.
Last year that began to change. I began to get convicted about reaching my neighbors with the love of Jesus. As the President of Dare 2 Share Ministries I mobilize teenagers to reach their friends and classmates with the gospel. I inspire and equip these teenagers to take risks at their schools that I was not willing to take in my own neighborhood. Don't get me wrong. I share the gospel a lot to a lot of people. But, to be honest, it's far easier to reach a stranger on a plane or a Barista at a Starbucks than the neighbor down the street. Why? Because I have nothing to lose with a stranger but a lot to lose if I alienate my neighbor! So last year we began to get out more, get to know our neighbors better and start to take those risks.
As we have become more intentional as a family we've seen God do some amazing things. Here are three action steps we've taken to be more than just State Farm neighbors:
1. Get out of the castle.
Let the drawbridge down and keep it down. Go outside. Walk your dog. Cross the street and chat it up. Open up your yard for neighborhood kids to play.
Our yard has become the default neighborhood baseball field. Over the summer months they have created an indented brown spot on my grass. That brown spot is home base. That brown spot is a small price to pay to own the yard where kids come to play. It is a trophy of grace. It represents tons of chats with a lot of kids over the last two summers. It has opened up conversations with both neighborhood kids and their parents.
There are many ways to get out of the castle and get to know your neighbors. Dave Runyon, an old friend and former youth pastor, is working with pastors all across the city I live in (Arvada, Colorado) to help Christians rediscover the art of "neighboring." He encourages block parties to launch the neighboring initiative. This whole movement has been exploding all over our city and starting to spread to others. It is exciting to be a part of it.
However you choose to do it, get out of the castle more often and get to know your neighbors.
2. Pray for your neighbors.
One of the best ways to begin reaching out to your neighbors is to simply start praying for them. As a family we've been praying more and more for our neighbors. We've been praying that God would open their hearts and draw them into a relationship with the Creator of their souls. We've been praying that God would use us to introduce them to Jesus.
As you get to know your neighbors ask them how you can pray for them. Awkward as it may feel, in that moment you become a neighborhood â€œpriestâ€ of sorts. As 1 Peter 2:9 makes clear, â€œBut you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, Godâ€™s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.â€
When you offer to pray for your neighbor you are shining a light. Even if they say â€œnoâ€ at first, theyâ€™ll know where to turn when things get dark in their lives. When things go bad everyone needs a priest right? Well, guess what? You brand yourself as the closest one when you offer to pray for your neighbors!
Pray for their physical, relational, emotional, financial and spiritual needs as well. When you personally can do something to fulfill those needs do it. Is there a better place to start obeying the command of loving your neighbor than in your actual neighborhood?
3. Start a neighborhood spiritual discussion group.
Last year my wife and I used a reality series we produced at Dare 2 Share, as a kind of spiritual discussion group. We invited several couples from the neighborhood, gathered together at a neighbor's house, watched the 30 minute episodes and then talked about it. It was more of a discussion than a "Bible study." Everybody was encouraged to share their beliefs and ask questions. Nothing was off limits. As a result we had one family come to embrace Christianity as a relationship with God and not just a religion. This family is now plugged into a local church, growing in their faith and reaching out to other neighbors with the love of Jesus.
Recently we launched a new discussion group and had something amazing happen last week. My ten year old son, Jeremy, had gone to his friendâ€™s house to play last Saturday. He invited his friendâ€™s single mom to attend the discussion group. She reluctantly agreed.
The next day at the discussion group she showed up late and sat through the meeting quietly. At the end she piped up and shared with the group that she had recently been burned by a faction of Christians. She admitted that she had been at a spiritual crossroads and was seriously starting to question Christianity. The day before she actually went out and bought a Koran to start evaluating other belief systems outside of the Christian faith. â€œThatâ€™s whenâ€ she shared, â€œyour boy came, like an angel sent from God, to call me back to Christ and invite me to this group.â€ We all got chills as we listened to her share the power of what had taken place on her doorstep the day before.
This is the sort of thing that happens when we love our neighbors. We didnâ€™t send our boy on a mission to go and recruit her. But Jeremy had been a part of our family prayers for our neighborhood. He had seen the power of the gospel unfold as a result of other neighbors coming to Jesus. My 4th grade boy was simply joining the spiritual block party that the Holy Spirit was already throwing in our neighborhood.
The Holy Spirit wants to throw a block party in your neighborhood too. He wants to use you to be the invitation. Get to know your neighbors, love them, pray for them and gently nudge them closer to Jesus. Love them as your neighbor now and win them as your neighbor in the city called "heaven" someday.
It all starts when we decide to be more than State Farm neighbors. Because just being there is not enough.