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.
Pathak, Jay, and Dave Runyon. 2012. The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.