Being a 21st Century Neighbor

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While we think it should be easy, building relationships with the people we live around is actually hard work. In our neighborhoods, apartment communities, and dorms we struggle to form meaningful relationships with the people we live around. Why is that?  

Well, for starters, Americans today have more ways to use the limited time and attention they possess. Also, thanks to increased connectivity around the world, we’re able to spend more time interacting with the people we care about and love the most, even if they’re far away. That’s not to mention all the time we spend in front the TV, computers, and our phones.

Because of these reasons, and more, few Americans today say that they know their neighbors’ names, and far fewer report interacting with them on a daily basis. A couple of years ago, the General Social Survey reported that only about 20% of Americans spent time regularly with the people living next to them. 33% said that they’ve never interacted with their neighbors at all.

Regardless of the reason, we’re spending less time building relationships with our neighbors. And while that’s harmful for us as Americans, it’s especially harmful for us as Christians.

Quite literally, we’re missing the mark as Christians if we’re not actively building relationships with and witnessing to our neighbors. That’s because wherever God has planted you and your family – that’s your primary mission field. That’s the place, and those are the people, that you’re called to reach with the love of Christ.

Being a 21st century neighbor means that this mission is more complicated than ever before. But thankfully, the way in which you’re called to make it less complicated is actually quite simple. That’s because being a Christian neighbor simple means stepping out, stepping up, and setting the example:

Stepping Out

First up is the importance of stepping out. And the reason we’re starting here is pretty simple: in order for your neighbors to know you, they first have to know that you exist. It’s impossible for us to build relationships with our neighbors if we’re not willing to step out and make ourselves accessible to the people around us.

Do yourself a favor and remember the words of Matthew 5:14-16, where Jesus says that we are the “light of the world.” Whether you know or not, God’s positioned you to be His light in your neighborhood. And trust me when I say that your light has a better chance of shining bright when you’re outside and accessible as opposed to when you’re inside and isolated.

Stepping Up

Now in addition to stepping out, we as Christians also need to be focused on stepping up in our neighborhoods too. That’s because when we’re presented with opportunities to engage with the people around us, we need to be the ones to step up and initiate first contact. We can’t just wait around for our neighbors to engage with us – because chances are if we won’t, they won’t either.

While we live in a society that’s hyper-sensitive about people’s privacy, we must remember the words of Jesus in Luke 6:31, as we contemplate whether or not to engage with the people around us: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” As Christians, it’s not on your neighbors to engage with you, it’s on YOU to engage with your neighbors! And sure, while the prospect of engaging with total strangers might seem challenging, a recent study shows that it’s not nearly as challenging as we think. In fact, this study shows that when people didn’t step up, they imagined that interacting with strangers would be the worst. But when people did step up, they discovered that there was nothing to be afraid of at all.

Setting the Example

So far, we’ve talked about the importance of stepping out and stepping up in our neighborhoods. But we’d be missing the mark if we failed to stress the importance of our final step – setting the example. As Christians, we always need to be aware of our witness in the world and how the things we say and do, for good and bad, ultimately reflect upon our faith in Christ. Because of that, we need to be focused on setting an example in our neighborhoods of what faithfulness to Christ looks like.

Regardless of how our neighbors might treat us, we need to treat them as if they were us, and we were God. For by setting this example where we live, we can share a glimpse of what God’s love looks like – all in the hopes that one day, our neighbors will desire to know the fullness of God’s love through faith in Christ. Folks, that’s the most important part of being a Christian neighbor in the 21st century. We need to show our neighbors the difference that Jesus makes in our lives, and that needs to be on display through how we love the people around us.

So, what are you waiting for? Step out, step up, and set the example where you live!

  Tyler Ward, Minister for Shaing Christ

Tyler Ward, Minister for Shaing Christ