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Who’s your neighbor?

If we are to love our neighbors, we must first learn their names


Who’s your neighbor?

Lance Ford and Brad Brisco’s Next Door as It Is in Heaven: Living Out God’s Kingdom in Your Neighborhood (NavPress, 2016) takes at its least abstract level the biblical injunction to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” They write, “Loving our actual neighbors begins with actually knowing them. And knowing them starts with knowing their names.”

If you draw a tic-tac-toe grid with the middle box representing your house and the eight boxes representing your neighbors’ homes, how many boxes can you fill in with neighbors’ names? If you can’t fill in some or most, you need to read this excerpt, and maybe more. If you can fill in all of them, congratulations—but what’s the next step? —Marvin Olasky

When Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon joined with a group of fellow Denver-area pastors to discuss ways to lead their congregations into better practices of neighboring, they ended up creating a simple tool that has become tremendously helpful as a metric for how well we know our neighbors. Imagine a tic-tac-toe grid. There are nine boxes. The middle box represents your house and the surrounding eight boxes represent your neighbors’ homes [see chart above].

The challenge is to see how many neighbors’ names you can fit in each box. For instance, the boxes above and below the “My Home” box represent the homes directly behind and in front of yours; the boxes to each side represent the homes next door to yours.

Jay and Dave have told us that in a typical audience they present to, only about 10 percent of people can fill in the names for all eight boxes. We have used this tool dozens of times ourselves and have found similar results.

Jesus says that the second-most important commandment—on which all the others hang—revolves around good, loving neighboring:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40, ESV)

Loving our actual neighbors begins with actually knowing them. And knowing them starts with knowing their names.

Many people live in apartment buildings or neighborhoods for years without ever knowing their neighbors’ names, much less anything significant about their lives. Consider the following excerpt from a 2014 Maclean’s article:

It’s a new day in the neighborhood all across the Western world. More than 30 percent of Canadians now say they feel disconnected from their neighbors, while half of Americans admit they don’t know the names of theirs. An Australian sociologist investigating community responses in the wake of the 2011 floods in Queensland found relations in “a precarious balance”; neighbors were hesitant to intrude even in emergencies—leading the scholar to conclude that “we are less likely than ever to know” our neighbors. Quite right, too: A recent poll of 2,000 Britons found a third declaring they couldn’t pick their near neighbors out of a police lineup.

Talk about going back to the starting line. Many of us will need to begin our mission of neighborliness with the simple step of getting to know the names of our neighbors. Only then can we begin to know something about their actual lives. This may mean we knock on our neighbors’ doors with a plate of cookies and humbly say something along the lines of, “Hi, I’m from a couple doors down. I feel embarrassed that I don’t know (or remember) your name, and I would really like to.” Most likely, that neighbor will ditto your feeling, tell you so, and the ice will immediately be broken. Bam! You’ve made a huge leap toward getting to know a neighbor. …

HOWARD LAWRENCE IS A NEIGHBORHOOD MINER. In 2013 he set about going door to door in his Highlands neighborhood in northeast Edmonton, Alberta, introducing himself to neighbors and finding out about their hopes and wishes for the neighborhood. He started a neighborhood database, logging what skills, abilities, and gifts his neighbors possessed, plus the hobbies they enjoyed and how they liked to spend their time.

Using his other contacts throughout Highlands, Howard found people who lived on other blocks who were willing to do what he had done on their own blocks. These “block connectors,” as he called them, began to cross-pollinate their databases in order to join neighbors with one another per the things they had in common. Strangers quickly became friends as the simplicity of the project started yielding rich rewards. Young mothers began groups to hang out with while their children played together. Guys started playing hockey together. An overarching neighborliness descended upon Highlands. The success of the program was to such a degree that Edmonton hired Howard on a full-time basis to develop block connections throughout the city.

As a friend and colleague of ours with the Forge Mission Training Network, Howard shared the “Neighbor Conversation Guide” they utilize as block connectors. The survey asks seven questions within three sections:

Part One: Vision for the Highlands Neighborhood

1. What makes a great neighborhood?

2. What else can we do to make the Highlands a great neighborhood?

Part Two: Participating Together in Activities and Interests

3. What activities would you like to join in with neighbors (e.g., oil painting, ball hockey, biking, skiing, bridge, gardening, worship, baseball, jazz guitar, dog walking, animal rescue, gourmet cooking, bird watching …)?

4. Do you have interests that you would value discussing or participating in with neighbors (e.g., refugee support, music appreciation, Oilers and Eskimos, art history, philosophy and religion, local food, TED Talks, furniture design, nutrition, politics …)?

5. Are there activities or interests with which you are familiar enough to lead in, or teach to, a group of neighbors?

Part Three: Gifts, Abilities and Experiences to Share

6. Do you have a skill, gift, or ability that you would be comfortable using to help neighbors or the neighborhood (e.g., snow shoveling, senior care, cooking, IT, maintenance, gardening, youth mentoring, hospitality, organizing …)?

7. Are there some life experiences that you would consider sharing for the benefit of neighbors (e.g., international travel and work, recovery, career path, grief, nurturing, foster or adoptive parenting …)?

Anyone could take these questions, or develop a new set, and start connecting neighbors in their own community right away.

Some content taken from Next Door as It Is in Heaven, by Brad Brisco and Lance Ford. Copyright © 2016. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers Inc.

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