I’ll never forget the day my husband shared a simple idea with me. It’s an idea that changed the way I thought about taking steps of faith with the people in my life.
“What if you stopped doing things for people and did things with people?” he asked.
That single question revolutionized what loving my neighbor meant for me. I saw afresh how my approach to building relationships with the people I live alongside could change my neighborhood.
So with this in mind I began gathering our neighbors together around what our family already did each day.
If you asked me back in 2008 what it meant to love my neighbor, I would have talked about bringing meals to nourish the sick, comforting the grieving, and blessing those with new babies.
I might have even mentioned running errands for a particular neighbor with a broken leg, or volunteering to help with childcare when the graduate student down the street needed a break.
While these acts of service demonstrated love for my neighbors, they left me feeling exhausted and my neighbors unfulfilled.
I knew God wanted me to love these neighbors. But I was not feeling inspired or particularly fruitful in doing so. Still, I believed he chose the exact Pennsylvania street and tree-lined neighborhood for me to live in. I also believed that Jesus specifically commands us to love our neighbors.
And most importantly, I knew God had commissioned me to act as his ambassador right here on this street. That was not just my way of seeing things. I had read that truth in 2 Corinthians chapter five.
What does loving my neighbors actually look like?
My husband challenged me to do things with people, and not just for them. So I searched for regular activities in my week that I could invite people to join me in. Here are three items from my list:
- Our family played outside after dinner. So I called all the neighbors to join me for a “Neighborhood Fitness Group.” We met to ride bikes, throw the football and jump rope.
- Since I was already walking my children to school every morning, I invited all the neighbors to walk to school with me. This became known as the “Walk-to-School Campaign.”
- My husband made pancakes for our family every Saturday. So we began hosting “Saturday Morning Pancakes” to bless the neighbors.
For eight years, we intentionally invested in our neighbors by inviting them into what our family was already doing.
A vision for neighboring: Big impact requires small beginnings
Various people ask me what kind of transformation we’ve seen happen in our neighborhood. It’s not about hitting some kind of numerical target; it’s about building relationships over time. But we’ve seen some cool things happen as we chose to trust God.
- Our neighbors walked over 2,500 miles together as we gathered for our Monday night fitness group.
- 35 neighbors joined our “Walk-to-School” campaign.
- We not only became healthier, but we also bonded socially. Luncheon clubs, father outings, creative writing groups and service projects brought us together.
- Our neighborhood ministry became the focus of local news coverage, as we received a letter from Michelle Obama. She thanked us for our commitment to exercise and healthy living.
- Most importantly, we talked about Jesus in everything we did. And we saw the fruit of new believers and changed families.
But all of this did not begin with a grand plan. It started with a small change in my mindset. I still did things for my neighbors, but mostly, I started looking for things I could do with them.
A question to help you take your next step of faith
As you think of your daily activities, which ones lend themselves to inviting neighbors to join along with you? Let us know in the comments section.
Maybe you need to see how people like you bring their faith into everyday relationships. Or perhaps you’d like someone to suggest steps of faith and remind you about what you’re trusting God for in your neighborhood.