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Book Review: The Art of Neighboring

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Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But how do we put that into practice? The Art of Neighboring, by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, explores this question in detail. The authors decided to take this commandment seriously by putting their love for their neighbors into action. The result is that they came to know their neighbors on more intimate, spiritual levels.

How do we love our neighbors? The authors suggest that we take a look at the rhythms in our lives. What are we doing that is simply unproductive, and what can we do to make room for our neighbors in those rhythms? They remind us of the story of Mary, who sat at the feet of Jesus while Martha cleaned the house and prepared meals. Jesus told Martha, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” This story, the authors say, tells us that “sometimes we have to learn how to say no to good things to focus on what’s most important.”

The authors say that the art of neighboring involves taking the time to build relationships with our neighbors. They recount the story of a friend of theirs who simply took time to talk with her neighbors. She said, “It’s like I have been living next to a gold mine, but I was too busy to know there was gold right next door.” One way to do this, suggested the authors, is by initiating an old-fashioned block party. Not only does it help us get to know our neighbors, but it also helps them get to know one another.

The important thing about neighboring, the authors say, is to just do something. For example, bake your neighbors some cookies, invite them over to watch sports with you, or invite them to share a meal with you. “Do what you’re already doing, invite others to the table, and watch what God does as a result.”

The authors warn that motives matter. Neighboring is not evangelism. However, “if neighboring is done with the right posture, then people who don’t know God will most certainly come to know him.”

The art of neighboring is a natural, but intentional process. The authors challenge us to begin the process of neighboring by making a “block map.” Think of the eight people that live closest to us. Then, write down their names and whatever personal information we know about each one of them. Next, ask ourselves what we would about them if we connected with them on a deeper level. The results indicate the level that we love our neighbors. If it is a low level, we need to deliberately strengthen the way we love our neighbors.

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I think I like that verb. And it seems that they have captured a distinction that neighboring is not evangelism, but can lead to evangelistic and spiritual conversation.

    Motives matter. We should love our neighbors in practical ways, no matter the result of our spiritual conversations.

    I’ve not read the book myself yet, but would it help a deeply entrenched Christian (with no non-Church friends) make simple steps to get to know their neighbor?

    Based on your review, seems like this book would make that task accessible.

    December 5, 2013
    • Great comment. Yes, I think it is precisely the point of the book to help entrenched Christians with only Christian friends be better neighbors. That lays the foundation for evangelism to naturally happen. Thanks!

      December 5, 2013

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