A Book Review by Nathan Rule.
If you’re looking to kick-start some local missional activity, authors Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon deliver a simple work of genius to help you in your quest.
Warning: Reading this book will give you new eyes of looking at people who live on your street. You may experience signs of genuine community and develop neighbourly tendencies leading to deep relationships and gospel transformation.
The Art of Neighboring has a really simple purpose: to help you become a better neighbour. Its subtext, building genuine relationships with people right outside your door, is exactly what it helps you do. Pathak and Runyon take the well-known words of Jesus, "Love your neighbour as yourself" both seriously and literally, crafting practical ways of reaching out to those in close proximity (i.e. your actual neighbours).
"Loving one’s neighbour", they contend, has become more of a slogan than a command, and therefore lost its original intent. The problem is that “when we aim for everything, we hit nothing. So when we insist we’re neighbours with everybody, often we end up being neighbours with nobody.”
This book showed me that neighbouring relationships really do matter. And my light bulb moment came in the introductory chapter which quotes a local government official: “the majority of the 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 neighbours”. Wow. Could it really be that simple? Was Jesus onto something here?
The book’s twelve short chapters pair bible illustrations with practical applications to shift the Great Commandment from a lofty shelf-sitting aspiration to a series of repeating ’rubber meets the road’ moments. You can't help but apply (almost instantly) what you read. There are no programs or quick fix solutions on offer here. Neighbouring (simply being a good neighbour) is portrayed as an art not a science - something creative, spontaneous and real.
The part I love most about the book is where it begins. According to the authors, neighbouring starts in our hearts. It is here that the battle must begin. When we start to see people with eyes of compassion—their needs, their brokenness; it does something in us. “Start by looking around your own neighbourhood", they implore. "What problems do you see?"
With more take-aways than your local Chinese, the book will help you identify a framework to begin neighbouring well. You will watch as the faceless and nameless people around you transmogrify from stranger to acquaintance to relationship. Their basic neighbouring formula (being faithful and flexible with intentionality) provides the foundation to help you become a great neighbour with the potential to make a real difference. And the best news of all is you can start anywhere. You might have just moved into a new area, or you may have lived in the same street all your life. It doesn't matter where you're at, you just have to start!
You might say, ‘oh that all sounds so basic, what could I possibly learn?' The book goes deeper into those often unchartered parts of neighbouring, thoughtfully addressing common barriers like time and fear, and even how to establish heathy boundaries while navigating through messy people issues.
The book showed me how to adjust my thinking to accommodate my neighbours. It helped me overcome the individualism that has become rampant in our culture. It also clarified the issue of motives when it comes to neighbouring (ultimate vs ulterior): "We don't love our neighbours to convert them; we love our neighbours because we are converted." Because we are simply called to love and serve our neighbours, good neighbouring is an end in itself. This is very freeing because it removes the front-door sales approach of evangelism and replaces it with an “open house” model of hospitality, service and availability.
There are countless benefits to good neighbouring, many of which my family and I have benefited from since moving to Springfield. We have even used the block map tool that helps with remembering names and details of people on your street. This, along with other practical resources are available here.
I highly recommend The Art of Neighboring to anyone serious about making a difference in the lives of people right next door. So why not give your theology some feet and add this resource to your missional library. Then put your love into action and see Jesus show up in the midst of it all.