Who’s Your Neighbor?

Three quick observations: One. Jesus said the whole Torah was fulfilled in learning to love God and to love our neighbors. I call this the Jesus Creed, others call this the Great Commandments. Two. Jesus illustrated love of neighbors with the Good Samaritan, who had the wrong answers (theologically) but the right kind of love. He was the foil for the priest and levite, who had the right answers but the wrong kind of love. Three. Jesus said our enemies are to become our neighbors in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:43-48).

We don’t need the scribe’s question (Who’s my neighbor?). We need another question: What is the art of neighboring?

Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon have answered that question because they’ve devoted themselves to studying and practicing the art of neighboring, and the’ve done this in a new book called The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door. I can’t recommend this book enough as a concrete manifestation of what the Jesus Creed entails for us — where we live.

What if Jesus meant our literal, next door neighbors? Did he? Of course, and more, but at least our next door neighbors.

Dave gathered some pastors to hear a local mayor, Bob Frie, and Frie listed the problems in the communities — drugs, housing, at-risk kids etc.. But then the mayor said the big need was if people could figure out how to become a community of neighbors because relationships resolve problems better than programs. [Underline that.]

Then he talked to Vicky Reier (whom Kris and I were privileged recently to meet during our trip to Denver) who said in Arvada there is no distinguishable difference between how Christians and non-Christians “neighbor.”

So Jay and Dave have this book about how to neighbor. It begins with learning names and it means having block parties and learning how to help one another — to love one another.

For more (and we’ll do more posts), see this site:


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  • I love the way that Jesus flipped around the scribe’s question – rather than simply telling him who the man’s neighbour was, he gave him the charge, “Go and do likewise.” But I also think it’s worth noticing that before this, Jesus DOES answer the question: the Samaritan is the neighbour who the man ought to be loving. This is a radical claim – that the heretical Samaritan is more the neighbour than a priest or a Levite! This aspect of the story is vital though – I think we DO still need the scribe’s question of who our neighbour is, and the answer is that our neighbour is those who show mercy – not those who belong to our family or tribe. Does that mean that we don’t love people who are cruel or unfeeling? Of course not – we’re called to be the neighbour as well as love the neighbour. But I think it does indicate that we should be looking for and loving and supporting is that spirit of mercy in others, in addition to meeting their more basic physical needs.

  • Sounds like a good book. In our book, Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk, we talk about the question that precedes “Who is my neighbor?” It is “What is my neighbor?” Because that question has lacked an answer for so long, neighboring has grown more difficult. And even in neighboring, we’ve seen it project oriented and agenda driven which hurts relationships in a community.

    Glad to see more correctives hitting the bookshelves.

  • Less on the finer points of Jesus’ teaching and more on the pavement level: I’m here to tell ya — it’s working. In Arvada, we have a network of about 50 pastors (probably bigger by now) who have ahold of this loving-our-neighbors thing by the teeth and we’re drawing the congregations toward it as well as we can manage. There may not be statistics yet to back it up, but there are more stories than you can count about nice holy church people getting real with messy sinner people. And getting loved back. We’re having the time of our lives over here, you gotta get some.

  • DMH

    Glad to see this is getting some attention. My wife and I have been doing this for years. I have never understood why we go to church 10 miles away and get involved in ministry 15 miles when there are people who we could impact (and impact us) 20 feet away. From my experience it seems that most (?) Christians have no concept of neighboring with their actual neighbors. When you serve someone in a real pracrical way where they live they tend to take what you have to say more seriously.

  • Angela Kantola

    This makes me realize how blessed I am to live in a place where neighboring is the norm! Granted, we’re an end-of-the-road semi-rural neighborhood in the foothills above Denver, but many mountain neighborhoods are not like this at all. I think one neighbor was the catalyst many years ago (before we arrived), but today, nearly everyone here is intentional about knowing, getting together with, and helping out their neighbors.