Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22: 36-40
Jay Van Groningen, the founder of Communities First Association, teaches that a “great neighbor” is someone who cares for the condition of the entire community – someone who knows everyone’s name and brings neighbors together to address the issues facing the community. Jay suggested that I add an 11th shift to my list top paradigm shifts – “From Serving to Discovering” but I think from “Serving to Neighboring” might help us gain even more clarity into this important shift.
A while back I read these words in an article by Leadership Network about Denver Mayor Bob Frie who challenged local faith leaders to become a community of great neighbors. His challenge sparked a community development movement in his city.
“After hearing from Mayor Frie, the pastors realized that their mayor had just invited them to get their people to actually live out the second half of the Great Commandment. Fueled by Frie’s comment, the pastors launched the “Building Blocks” initiative. Their goal is to challenge and equip the people in their churches to be intentional about building relationships with their neighbors. The goal is to see people move from strangers to friends. To accomplish this they have asked people to commit to two things: first, learning the names in eight households closest to theirs and second, partnering to throw a great block party.”
The goal of the Denver movement was not to “serve the community.” Instead congregants were encouraged to leave the church to re-discover what it means to be a great neighbor in their neighborhood by simply getting to know their neighbors and bringing them together in a way that fosters a sense of community.
Community Service is a good thing but we are missing something if we see it as the same thing as “neighboring.” I have hosted and participated in a lot of “service” events and it is very easy to get so focused on serving that you fail to learn names or listen to stories. The goal of community development is to foster neighboring. For this to happen, the focus must be on the relationships that are being formed not on achieving tasks.
We have all heard countless sermons on the importance of “serving” but how many sermons have we heard about “neighboring?” Many churches have adopted “missional” language but I wonder how many see the goal as shaping their congregants into “a community of great neighbors.”