Just Who is My Neighbor, Anyway?

Does your church realize that Jesus really meant that they should love their actual neighbors? Do you?

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested Him with this question: “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest Commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40, NIV)

Do you think that Jesus meant we should love our actual neighbors – those who live next door, behind us, or across the hall?

We may live in the most connected time in world history, but as a society we are as isolated as we have ever been. People drive alone to work, sit alone in an office, eat alone, drive home alone, and watch TV alone, all while our neighbors are doing the same thing.

Implicit in the Great Commandment is the admonition to break out of that isolation and walk across our yard or down the hall and make a connection to our neighbors – those who live closest to us.


THE QUICK SUMMARY – The Art of Neighboring, by Jay Pathak and David Runyon.

When Jesus was asked to sum up everything into one command, He said to love God with everything we have and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Most of us have turned this simple idea of loving our neighbors into a nice saying, putting it on bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets and then going on with our lives without actually putting it into practice.

What would happen if every follower of Jesus took the Great Commandment literally? Is it possible that the solution to our society’s biggest issues has been right under our noses for the past 2,000 years?

The Art of Neighboring is a unique and necessary addition to any serious Christian’s missional library.


If we take the Great Commandment literally, we must open our eyes and our hearts to love the people on the street where we live. The act of loving our actual neighbors is one of the simplest and yet most powerful things that we can do to make an impact in our world.

The solutions to the problems in our neighborhoods can’t be found in governmental programs or getting more people to come to your church. The solutions are with people just like you in your neighborhood.

The solution is to get back to the basics of what Jesus commanded: love God and love your neighbors.

What if we took the time to get to know the people next to us and discovered that they aren’t so menacing after all? Perhaps we would find that the people on our block are normal people just like us. At the end of the day, they long for a place to belong, a place to be accepted and cared for.

The people you don’t know by name are strangers. You might occasionally see them, and they have hopefully seen you, but the level of your interaction with them is minimal; perhaps it’s only a wave from the car on the way to work in the morning. You may even know something about them, but the bottom line is if you don’t know their name, you really don’t know them.

The first step to taking the Great Commandment literally is to move from stranger to acquaintance in your relationships with those who live nearest you. Learning a person’s name is the first and easiest step you can take to become a better neighbor.

Once you have learned and remembered someone’s name, your relationship has moved from stranger to acquaintance. That’s a crucial first step. However, Jesus didn’t tell us to become acquaintances with our neighbors; he called us to love them, and that means we need to have an actual relationship with them.

Moving from acquaintance to relationship is not as clean or as easily defined as the first step. There isn’t a simple tool that can move you into relationship, because it is impossible to program relationships. All of us can, however, create environments where relationship might develop and grow into something significant.

It may sound weird to categorize levels of friendship, but we have found it’s crucial to define where we really stand with our neighbors so we can know what to do next. And understanding the neighboring framework of stranger-acquaintance-relationship can help us accomplish just that. It prompts practical steps that we can take to make real progress.

Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, The Art of Neighboring


Sketch the image below on a chart tablet.

Imagine that the middle box in the image is your house and the other boxes are the eight houses situated nearest to you – the eight households that God has placed closed to where you live.

You probably don’t live in a community that looks so neat and precise as the image; that’s okay! Whether you live in or on a neighborhood street, a cul-de-sac, a rural lot with five-acre parcels, or in a corner apartment, try to picture the locations of your eight nearest neighbors, however they might be situated.

In the box representing your home, write your address. In the other boxes, fill in the three sub points within each box – A, B, and C – as follows:

  1. Write the names of the people who live in the house represented by the box. If you can give first and last names, that’s great. If it’s only first names, that’s fine too.
  2. Write down some relevant information about each person, some data or facts that you couldn’t see just by standing in your driveway – things you might know if you’ve spoken to the person only once or twice.
  3. Write down some in-depth information you would know after connecting with people. This might include their career plans or family dreams or anything to do with the purpose of their lives. Write down anything meaningful that you’ve learned after interacting with them.

How did you do?

According to the experiences of authors Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, after leading this exercise with thousands of people, the results are strikingly consistent.

  • About 10% of people can fill out the names of all eight of their neighbors on line A.
  • About 3% can fill out line B for every home.
  • Less than 1% can fill out line C for every home.

Are we fulfilling the Great Commandment with our actual neighbors?

– adapted from The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon

Make a plan, include your family, to get to know more about your neighbors. Ask God to open the door for natural and meaningful interaction. Bottom line: take the time to invest in their lives, who knows, eternity may depend on it.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 63-1, March 2017.


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. Each Wednesday I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt here.


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