By Ashley Vaughan
2020 has been a year of isolation unlike anything in our lifetime. With government lockdowns and growing political division, our natural inclination can be to circle the wagons and hunker down. Besides, I can’t do anything to change the political climate or culture … right? Or can we?
Dave Runyon , a pastor from Arvada, Colorado, learned the answer to that question from an unexpected source.
He and some other pastors were gathering with local civil leaders to see how churches could help in the community, when the mayor made the passing comment that what would really help would be if they started a neighboring program in each of their communities. He said that they had found that neighbors who are connected have no need for government programs, because everyone knows one another’s needs and helps meet them. He also said that in his experience, relationships trump programs every time.
After the meeting, the pastors sat back in shock, realizing that a government official had just asked them if they’d consider obeying the second greatest commandment (Matthew 22:24-40).
We are all familiar with this command from Jesus, and yet how often are we like the lawyer in Luke 10:29, who, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (ESV). How often do we do the same thing when we define “neighbor” to fit what we are already doing and comfortable with?
That meeting changed Dave Runyon’s life. He realized that if he were to pack up and move, his neighbors wouldn’t know the difference. He realized he didn’t even know the first names of any of his neighbors.
After telling his wife about the meeting, she asked what he was going to do? Begrudgingly, he said that he would try to spend more time in his front yard and make an effort to learn his neighbors’ names. This involved embracing awkward situations, like reintroducing himself to neighbors and having to admit that he’d forgotten their names. But God blessed the small steps Dave took, and learning names turned into talking about Broncos games, which led to neighbors sitting around their table sharing their life stories over dinner. Strangers became acquaintances, and then became friends.
Dave now travels the US, encouraging other Christians to love their neighbors as God has taught him to. In all his travels, he says that he has yet to be in a room of Christians where more than half of the room could name even half of their neighbors.
Hearing Dave’s story, I was convicted. Thinking about my own neighbors, I can only name two of them, and we only have a relationship with one of those. Yet how often do I complain about the direction the country is going? Or even bemoan the fact that so few people know Jesus?
If, like me, you too have been convicted by Dave’s story, here are some of his suggestions for how you can start loving your actual neighbors.
- First, just commit to learning and using the first names of the eight neighbors whose houses are adjacent to yours. This simple act communicates that you care about them as a person, and it will help open the door for potentially growing your relationship with them even more.
- Be interruptible. These days it is so easy to cram our schedules full with every activity under the sun. But if we have no margin in our lives, how can we be available if someone is in need? Try loosening your schedule a bit. You’ll be less stressed, and you’ll be more ready and able to minister to those around you.
- Lean into the mildly awkward moments. This may be as simple as re-learning names, or learning to live and maintain a relationship with those who see the world differently. But in those messy moments, how great of an opportunity there is for God to grow and refine you, and use you to be His light in a lost world!
- Be willing to serve. Offer to shovel snow or rake leaves. If you make some cookies, take a few over to your neighbors.
- Be willing to be served. As Christians we tend to think that we should have all the answers and always be the ones serving. But this removes the blessing others get when they serve us, and it only furthers a feeling of us being unapproachable goody-two-shoes. One way Dave has chosen to let himself be served is to not buy a leaf blower. It saves on storage in his garage, and he can continue building their relationship by asking his neighbor if he can use his every year.
- Finally, realize that this “loving our neighbors” habit is a muscle, and it can grow. And this muscle of habit can then stick, making it easier in the future if you ever move somewhere else.
For more ideas on loving your actual neighbors, I recommend checking out Dave Runyon’s website, ArtofNeighboring.com, or watching one of his interviews on Focus on the Family’s radio show (here and here). For myself, I plan to take a plate of cookies to my neighbors and reintroduce myself to them and learn their names. I pray that you will join me in showing Christ’s love to the world, one neighbor at a time.
About the Author: Ashley Vaughan
Ashley Vaughan is a Gen 2 homeschooler living with her parents and siblings (because rent prices in Colorado 0_0). When she isn’t working as the CHEC Independent School Registrar, she enjoys reading counseling books, baking, painting, singing, triathlon training, writing thoughtful Instagram posts, having deep conversations, or playing board games or volleyball.