REVIEW: True outreach points to Christ, not a building
Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon. The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2012. 204 pages. $14.99.
(??? 1/2 stars out of 5)
Kevin and Sherry Harney. Organic Outreach for Families: Turning Your Home Into a Lighthouse. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2012. 191 pages. $16.99.
In a bygone era it was common for neighbors to be close and intimately involved in each other’s lives. They depended on each other for support and survival.
It seems that not only are neighbors less likely to be close these days, but it is common that they don’t know each other at all. They may wave as they pass each other or invite each other to events, but when it comes to a real relationship, it seems there’s just not enough time.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his classic work on Christian community, “Life Together,” “Who dares to force himself upon his neighbor? Who is entitled to accost and confront his neighbor and talk to him about ultimate matters? It would be no sign of great Christian insight were one simply to say at this point that everybody has this right, indeed, this obligation.”
In “The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door,” Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon pose a challenging question: “How are we supposed to love our neighbors if we don’t even know our neighbors?” The authors have asked large groups of people to write down the names of everyone who lives in the eight homes nearest theirs in their neighborhoods.
The result: Only about 10 percent of respondents can name everyone.
Pathak and Runyon, both pastors of churches in the Denver area, are recognized as leaders in the emerging neighboring movement. They encourage Christians to obey the greatest commandments (found in Matthew 22:37-40) by rearranging social calendars and spiritual priorities to be intentional about being a light where they live.
The authors suggest planning a strategy for meeting and becoming acquainted with those who live next door. They recommend block parties, cookouts, gifts of food, helping with projects and loaning of household items — all with the goal of shining as lights.
Pathak and Runyon weave a story largely from personal experience, recounting both triumphs and misses in their efforts to be godly neighbors. Their confrontation is gentle but plain as they call Christians to overcome common barriers like time, fear and conflict to become involved in the lives of the people with whom God gives daily opportunities simply because of where they live.
The authors also warn against setting out to be a good neighbor with the underlying motive of trying to convert others. They say, “We don’t love our neighbors to convert them, we love our neighbors because we are converted.”
In “Organic Outreach for Families: Turning Your Home Into a Lighthouse,” authors Kevin and Sherry Harney also advise against reaching out to neighbors with the hidden motive of pointing them to the church. In their book, the authors — husband and wife for 28 years — relate tales from their years of living in different places, raising their three children and striving to be Jesus to the world.
Readers may find the authors’ style a little too prescriptive and may have the feel at times of watching a family slide show, but the message couldn’t be clearer: shine the light of Jesus where you live.
The Harneys’ first goal was to raise their children to be points of light for Jesus wherever life took them. They tell of how they raised their kids to know Jesus and to take him to the world. They did not try to keep their children from associating with others who did not share their faith but instead saw that as an opportunity to let their lights shine.
To reinforce this, the Harneys made their home a place for their neighbors, work friends and friends of their children and their families to come and experience the love of Jesus.
They warn that this kind of outreach doesn’t just happen. They admit that they often found themselves tangled up in the activities and relationships at their church — so much that they had little energy to focus on loving and spending time with their neighbors.
Although the relationships should grow naturally — or organically — they still require nourishment and cultivation.
These books propose a new paradigm for outreach, or perhaps a very old one. Rather than pointing people to a building, we become involved in their lives to simply point them to Jesus.
He is not found in a building. He is found in the lives of ordinary people reflecting an extraordinary Savior.
TIM TRIPP is family minister for the Northeast Church of Christ in Cincinnati, where he directs the annual Conference on Marriage and Family. He and his wife, Lenore, have been married for 25 years.