Getting to know neighbors is often easier said than done. This is a problem as a Jesus follower. Jesus clearly showed us, both with the way He lived and the things He said, that to be His follower means to love our neighbors as ourselves.
But how do we do this?
We have to get specific about how we will love our neighbor’s not just in theory, in practice; not merely someday, but tomorrow; not just somewhere, but on your block, in your apartment building, or even in your workplace (which some refer to as the modern day neighborhood).
Mill City has really wrestled with these questions. We have tried some things, failed some things, and stumbled into some things God seems to be doing. Here are some practical ways you can better engage with your neighbors.
These are from a conversation we had in the summer of 2014 called “Moving Back Into the Neighborhood.” (Points are based on the work of The Missional Network, and the work of Caesar Kalinowski)
7 ways to get to know your neighborhood:
Listening to our neighbors is the first thing we should do. In most every relationship we encounter, it is safe to assume that we need to do much more listening than speaking, at least initially. We need to ask more questions, rather than springing to offer answers. We are looking to listen our way into free speech. To be a good neighbor is to be quick to listen and slow to speak.
Try this: Take regular walks. Allow yourself the time to ask the people you encounter “how are you?” Actually stop and listen to the answer, and ask a follow up question about what they say.
You’ll eat 90 meals this month (give or take a few ;). What would it be like to share one of those meals with a neighbor? Make it your goal to invite a neighbor over for a meal, or even, invite yourself over. It’s as easy as saying “I’m making my favorite spaghetti tomorrow night; you should come over and have some.”
TIP: sometimes it’s less intimidating to eat with a neighbor at local restaurant than in a home, especially if this is your first time sharing a meal.
Try this: Next time you eat, eat in your front yard or another place that’s visible to your neighbors (weather permitting of course). You never know who might be passing by. Make enough food that you could invite others to join you in the meal. Leftovers never hurt.
Sermon on eating with your neighbors: Listen
Prayer is simply talking to God. It helps us grow in awareness of what God is doing and what is happening around us. This couldn’t be more important in our neighborhoods. When we pray for and in our neighborhood we are paying attention… to what God is doing; to others’ struggles, celebrations, and stories; even to the physical spaces that make up the neighborhood.
Try this: Make a map of your neighborhood including who lives where. Put this in a place that you see often, such as on the fridge or mirror. Pray for one family/person every time you look at it. It doesn’t have to be a long prayer; maybe it’s just a breath prayer sometimes: “God, may they have peace today, in Jesus name.” Download a PDF to help.
Listen to a podcast with myself, and Associate Pastor of Community and Care ChristianAnn Larson, discussing what it looks like to map your neighborhood and why this is an important tool.
When it come to getting to know your neighborhood, it’s better to receive than to give. A lot of people see their role as a Christian in the neighborhood as being the one who has to bless everyone, bring the cookies, give the gifts, and ultimately be the generous one. By all means, do those things, but when it comes to building relationships with your neighbors receiving something from them first actually establishes a more meaningful relationship. Humbly embracing the generosity of others, is the best foundation for a reciprocal, respectful relationship. After you’ve received well, giving will come much more naturally and be more meaningful
Try this: Next time you need a tool or cooking utensil, don’t buy it or borrow it from a friend outside your neighborhood; ask a next door neighbor instead. Borrow it well: don’t break it, return it on time, and express your gratitude and appreciation. You’ll be amazed at the relational dynamic that grows between you and your neighbor. Relationships take humility and mutual respect. By receiving from your neighbor, you are taking the first step towards meaningful relationship.
Here’s a sermon on receiving first: Listen
God has given us a wonderful gift in his instruction to Sabbath. Sabbath literally means “stop.” God invites us to stop every week — to rest. This does not mean just to be idle or lazy, but to do what gives us delight and makes us come alive — recreation, to re-create, to play! When we have consistent space in our calendar to rest and play we have an amazing opportunity to join God in what He’s doing in our neighborhood. Sabbath can be a space where we rest and play with our neighbors. If we take the time to ask what it looks like to rest and play, not only for us but for our neighbors, we can find God working, and join in.
Try these: (1) Next time you have a free afternoon and the weather is nice, go to a local park. Sit and observe what the community does to rest and play in that space. Do people bike? Play tennis? Perhaps you will find neighbors who share your recreational interests. (2) Find a neighborhood bulletin board at a coffee shop or park and take not of what the community is doing to rest and play (community workouts, bike rentals etc.). (3) Next time you are chatting with a neighbor ask what they do for fun. If you find the courage ask to join them next time.
We can learn so much about what God is doing in a neighborhood by participating in neighborhood events. Does your neighborhood have traditions? Many have parades, block parties, and art events. Does your neighborhood have groups like neighborhood associations, neighborhood crime watches, Nextdoor (app/social network) presence, or other clubs. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn by participating in one of these activities.
Try this: Google the name of your neighborhood (if you don’t know already). Next, google if there is a neighborhood association. Figure out when their next meeting is, then go, and learn about what ways you can participate.
Northeast Minneapolis neighborhoods.
Every neighborhood celebrates in their own way. Discovering how people celebrate on your block and joining in can be a great way to connect with neighbors. How does your neighborhood celebrate? Are there Christmas parties? What is the 4th of July like on your block? Figure out how your neighborhood celebrates and join in, or if there is nothing happening, try to create the celebratory space. Host a Christmas party, or have a 4th of July celebration in your front yard where others can join in.
Try this: If you have a birthday in the summer months, throw a birthday party on your front lawn. Plan enough food for passersby to be offered food and drink. See what happens.
Enjoy moving back into the neighborhood!