I wanted to love my neighbor, but I didn’t know how.
I felt guilty about Christ’s command to love my neighbor, but I didn’t even know most of the people who lived around me. Some of my neighbors were scary (like the ones who named their dog Demon) and some were rude (like the ones who didn’t answer the door when I delivered a welcome basket). Sure, most of them were quite nice—but some of them were intimidating, and others were uninteresting.
You’d think I’d have this thing down: I was a church planter, worked on staff at church, and had my degree in ministry. Why was it so hard to follow one of the most basic tenets of my faith?
Trouble was, I couldn’t find an exception clause to Christ’s second-greatest commandment (trust me, I looked hard)—
“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37–39
I had every excuse in the book for not loving my neighbor, and a few I’m sure God had never heard before—but I couldn’t find an asterisk or exemption to get me off the hook. After months of arguing with God, I finally knocked on my neighbors’ doors and invited them for coffee at my kitchen table.
When it was my neighbors’ turn to knock on my door, most of them were as nervous as I was. We learned each other’s names, we laughed and talked and shared, and these strangers walked out my door as friends.
I invited my neighbors back for a Bible study, and we met every other Friday for the next eight years—and after I moved away, they still gather in another neighbor’s home. I kept notes on what worked well and what failed miserably, how my neighbors responded, and every mistake I made. A ministry called the Neighborhood Café was born from my experience, and women across the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, and Australia have hosted a Neighborhood Café in their homes. These ideas and a whole bunch more became a book called How to Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird.
A few months after the book was published, a cross country moved dropped me in the High Rockies of Colorado, far from my neighbors and friends and the church where I worked that had been birthed in my living room. And while we’re plugged in at a great new church, I have few full-time neighbors in our little tourist town. Now, I live and work on Main Street, and there’s an ice cream shop closer to my house than my mailbox used to be.
My neighbors are merchants and business owners, store clerks and customers. I serve on the Board of Directors for an organization devoted to improving the local economy. It’s weird not starting our business meetings with a prayer, so I pray silently and ask God for wisdom. I’ve made friends outside of church and found fellowship outside the sanctuary. We may have different worldviews and different ideas about what’s best for our country and our community—but we find what we have in common, and work side by side for this place we love.
I don’t want to be a freak or fanatic, I just want to be their friend.
You know what’s weird? Insisting that our neighbors enter into a relationship with us through one door—the Religion Door. It’s weird to invite our neighbor to church before we’ve invited them into our lives. It’s weird to tuck a thou-art-going-to-hell-unless-thou-repenteth tract into your neighbor’s door, then run away in case they answer (true story—this happened at my house).
God created lots of doors in our communities we can knock on to transform the culture where we live, and mobilize our congregations around social issues where they already have passion and influence. There are actually seven open doors: family, government, religion, education, business, arts and entertainment, and media.
When it comes to loving my neighbor, there’s no excuse I haven’t had myself, there’s no mistake I haven’t made. But I’ve found that as I engage my neighbors about issues that are important to them, I have opportunities to talk about what’s important to me—a relationship with Jesus Christ.