Just finished reading The Art of Neighboring (buy here). Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon address the issues of neighboring and social issues. They say.
What if the solution to our society’s biggest issues has been right under our noses for the past two thousand years? When Jesus was asked to reduce everything in the Bible into one command he said: Love God with everything you have and love your neighbor as yourself. What if he meant that we should love our actual neighbors? You know, the people who live right next door. . . .
In 2009 I (Dave) gathered a group of twenty lead pastors in the Denver area so we could think, dream, and pray about how our churches might join forces to serve our community. We invited our local mayor, Bob Frie, to join us, and we asked him a simple question: How can we as churches best work together to serve our city?
The ensuing discussion revealed a laundry list of social problems similar to what many cities face: at-risk kids, areas with dilapidated housing, child hunger, drug and alcohol abuse, loneliness, elderly shut-ins with no one to look in on them. The list went on and on.
Then the mayor said something that inspired our joint church movement: “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 neighbors.”
Later he explained that often when people identify a problem, they come to civic officials and say something like, “This is becoming a serious issue, and you should start a program to address it.” Frie shared candidly with us that, in his opinion, government programs aren’t always the most effective way to address social issues. He went on to say that relationships are more effective than programs because they are organic and ongoing. The idea is that when neighbors are in relationship with one another, the elderly shut-in gets cared for by the person next door, the at-risk kid gets mentored by a dad who lives on the block, and so on. (pp. 15, 18-19)
I live in the south--in the very politically and religiously conservative upstate of South Carolina. Most (although not all) of the people I interact with regularly are Republicans and Baptists. Nothing wrong there.
One statement I hear over and over again--on my facebook timeline, in conversations about politics, in conversations about religion, and in just personal interactions--is “We have a nation full of people who feel entitled to welfare. Most of these people are lazy and won’t work.” Whether some, none, or all of this is true would be a discussion for a political blog.
But let’s get back to the conversation Jay and Dave had with their city officials. “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 neighbors.”
I wonder how many of us complain about the high taxes required to fund our social welfare programs yet we aren’t interacting with the very people the Lord has sovereignly placed in our path. In the Old Testament, the Israelites had to make provision for helping their neighbors and the poor. For example, they donated 10% of their harvest and living to provide for the Levites. They also were not allowed to go back and pick up grain that may have fallen out on the ground.
My main point is--they were intentional about serving their neighbors and the poor. The beauty of the system the Lord laid out was that it was built to serve the poor while also preventing any family from being perpetually poor. Being intentional about serving your neighbors and the poor doesn’t mean you allow people to take advantage of you. Jay and Dave make that point emphatically in The Art of Neighboring.
However, how much difference could we make in our community and our country if all the Christians would be intentional about serving their neighbors and the poor that God has placed in their path? Maybe that’s inviting the single mom and her kids in your neighborhood over for dinner once or twice a month. Maybe that’s using your talents (fixing cars, handiwork, sewing, etc.) to save your neighbor money. Maybe that’s providing free babysitting. There are a thousand opportunities.
So often by our very inaction and lack of love for our neighbors we’re creating the welfare state we often despise. We must invest our time, talents, and resources in those we live around. Love them unconditionally and don’t pull the bait and switch with the gospel.