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.
After the mayor left the meeting that day, our group of pastors was left to reflect on what he had shared. I (Jay) can remember sitting there, and before I could think, I just blurted out, “Am I the only one here who is a little bit embarrassed? I mean, here we were asking the mayor how we can best serve the city, and he basically tells us that it would be great if we could just get our people to obey the second half of the Great Commandment.” In a word, the mayor invited a roomful of pastors to get their people to actually obey Jesus.
You know the Great Commandment, right? Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. It’s a teaching found in Matthew 22:37–40 and repeated in the Bible for the purpose of reminding us how important it is. In Galatians 5:14 the apostle Paul says it most succinctly: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”
Love your neighbor as yourself. Could it be that simple? I (Dave) remember thinking, Jesus is a genius! He is asked to pick one commandment that is more important than all the others. And he shares something that would change the world, if only every person who believes in Jesus would actually do it.
The depth of the irony was not lost on those of us who were sitting in the room that day. God works in mysterious ways, and on that day he used a government official to urge a group of pastors to start a movement that was simple, powerful, and biblical.
Leaving that meeting, we began to pray about what God was leading us to do next. As we began to talk to other leaders in our city, we found that many of them shared the mayor’s assessment. They saw that our neighborhoods were not as connected as they needed to be.
The next time we gathered, we invited Vicky Reier, the Arvada assistant city manager, to attend our meeting. We had heard her talk about neighboring in the past and we wanted to hear her thoughts on how to begin. As she talked about the reasons neighboring matters, Vicky said, “From the city’s perspective, there isn’t a noticeable difference in how Christians and non-Christians neighbor in our community.”
This was a moment that galvanized us. We realized something was wrong. We thought, This isn’t the way Jesus wanted it to be. We had to do something!
As church leaders, we began to dream about what it would look like to start a neighboring movement among our people and in our city. We decided to come together and, with one voice, create a joint sermon series around the idea of taking the Great Commandment literally.
Each church in our network held a three-week teaching series following Easter Sunday. We developed a few resources for the churches to use, such as video interviews, sermon outlines, and illustrations.
Soon after the sermon series was launched, people responded and began taking steps to get to know their neighbors. Stories about block parties and new relationships began to pour in. City leaders began to talk about the initiative—as well as the value it created in their communities—all from people simply learning their neighbors’ names and working with others to throw a block party. The results were immediate. New friendships evolved, strangers became acquaintances, and acquaintances began moving toward genuine relationships with one another.
By working together as churches, we drastically increased the scope of the initiative and quickly gained traction throughout our city. Such immediate results made us dream about how we could further connect the people in our twenty-plus congregations while encouraging them to continue making positive changes in their neighborhoods. The solution was to create a relatively simple website (www.artofneighboring.com) that connects people with one another and helps them link up with others who are willing to partner in their neighborhood. We realized that by working together in this manner, we were able to do things that we could never do alone.
The mayor was right. More importantly, Jesus was right. Neighboring relationships really do matter.
 Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012), 18–22.
Free resources and a small group guide at www.Artofneighboring.com