The One Question That Revolutionized Loving My Neighbors
I’ll never forget the day my husband shared a new ministry principle with me. He suggested, “What if you stopped doing things for people and did things with people?”
That single question revolutionized what it meant for me to truly love my neighbor in ways that included both acts of service and also a relational commitment that changed my neighborhood forever. That year, I began to gather the neighbors together based on what our family already did each day. I was going to live with my neighbor, not simply do tasks for them.
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, comfort the grieving, and bless those with new babies. I might have even talked about running errands for one neighbor with a broken leg or volunteering to help with childcare or household tasks for the graduate student down the street who needed a break. While all of these acts of service showcased a way to love my neighbors, they left me feeling exhausted and my neighbors rather unfulfilled.
I knew God wanted me to love these neighbors, but I wasn’t feeling inspired or particularly fruitful in doing so. Still, I believed He had searched out the exact place for me to live (Acts 17) on my Pennsylvania street and had set the boundary lines of my life (Psalm 16) in this tree-lined neighborhood. I further lived convinced that Jesus specifically commands us to love our neighbor (Mark 12). Most of all, I knew that God had commissioned me to “seek and save the lost” and live as His ambassador (2 Corinthians 5) right here on this street.
What did loving all these people even mean?
When my husband challenged me to do things with people, and not just for them, I wondered about ways I could join my neighbors–and have them join me–in regular activities of the week.
For example, our family played outside after dinner, so I called all the neighbors to join me for a “Neighborhood Fitness Group” that met to ride bikes, throw 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 in what became a “Walk to School Campaign.” Since my husband made pancakes for our family every Saturday, we began hosting “Saturday Morning Pancakes” to bless the neighbors.
For 8 years, we intentionally invested in the lives of our neighbors by inviting them into what our family was already doing. Many came to faith in Jesus, gathered for Bible study, and were baptized, and now, 10 years later, we continue to live as an evangelistic and mentoring presence in our neighborhood. Because most of the original children left for college or stay busy in high school, my husband and I now seek ways to gather teens for meals or activities they might enjoy.
Small beginning, big impact
When people ask about the impact of our small neighborhood ministry, they love hearing these statistics: Over a 5-year duration (2008-2013), our neighborhood ministry not only received local news coverage, but we also received a letter from Michelle Obama, on White House stationery, thanking our neighborhood for our commitment to exercise and healthy living.
Together, our neighbors walked over 2,500 miles with children; at the most, 50 neighbors gathered for Monday night fitness group; and at the most, 35 neighbors joined us for the Walk-to-School campaign. We not only became healthier, but we also bonded socially with luncheon clubs, father outings, creative writing groups, and service projects we completed together for schools and shelters.
Most importantly, we talked about Jesus in everything we did, and we saw the fruit of new believers and eternally impacted families.
I still do things for my neighbors, but mostly, I do things with them.
As you think of your daily activities, which ones lend themselves to inviting neighbors to join along with you?
Reposted with permission. Thank you, Heather, for sharing your heart for neighborhood ministry.
HEATHER HOLLEMAN, PhD, serves as a college instructor, speaker, and writer. She loves helping women connect with Jesus and delight in studying the Bible for themselves. Heather is the author of Seated with Christ, Guarded by Christ and Included in Christ. Her new book, Chosen for Christ, will be released fall 2018 from Moody Publishers. Heather teaches advanced writing at Penn State and writes daily at HeatherHolleman.com. She loves walking with her neighbors, baking with her teen daughters, relaxing with her husband, Ashley, and writing whenever she can.
Very good simple questions, Heather. I appreciate the challenge to do things WITH people.
I, too, enjoy loving my neighbors and families in need by not only serving them, but also valuing the opportunity to build relationships in the process. One way I've tried to put that into practice is when I'm taking a meal to someone, I ask if I may bring enough to stay and eat with them. Most times the invitation is accepted and we make a memory while sharing a meal and conversation.
Additionally, I've tried to be attentive to my neighbors who may be lonely by not just saying "hello", but making the investment to sit down and visit.
Sometimes I take meals or baked goods to my neighbors for no reason at all... other than to bless them.
Thank you, Kelly, for sharing these ideas with us. They are wonderful. What a blessing you are to your neighbors!