Nobody wants to be your project. When we start with the call to love our neighbors and build Kingdom relationships, we need to start by remembering this. Yes, it is our desire to see neighbors, family, co-workers, and friends come to know Jesus, and yes, we need to seek intentional avenues for sharing our faith in the context of relationships. The call from Jesus to love neighbor as we love self does include the commission to share Jesus with them, yet, this is not all that it means. To love someone is be in an authentic relationship with that person or people, seeking to love and pursue the best for them regardless of their response to the Gospel or personal lifestyle. To love like Jesus loved people means just that, to love them, pursue authentic relationships, and invest in their lives, while trusting God with the outcome. I start with this reminder because the following contains ideas for how we can build intentional and authentic relationships for the cause of the Gospel. As we build relationships we pray for God’s mercy in their lives, and seek opportunities to share Jesus. Yet, if our attempts to share Jesus with them are met with a wall or even hostility, it should be our goal to continue to build the relationship regardless.
Ideas for getting to know people
I spend most of my life with my head down, really not seeking to engage people I don’t know in conversations. This is a confession (good for the soul?), I have to work at lifting my chin to see people. It is so much easier just to pass them by and ignore. For some, learning names, discovering facts about people, and engaging in conversation comes natural. For others, it takes a lot of energy. Yet, the journey to authentic relationships begins with that first step of meeting people, learning names, and initial introductions. Lets begin with some thoughts and ideas for this.
- Learn names and call people by their name – Whether at a restaurant, in the Walmart line, or even in the neighborhood, it is easy to see people only from the perspective of what they do or don’t do for my own benefit. I have discovered that learning a person’s name is often the quickest way to change both my and the other person’s perspective. For me, it forces me to lift my chin, look them in the eye, and recognized the beauty of the Imago Dei in them. Often, for the other person it catches them off guard and causes them to realize that you are seeing their humanity. In some settings people will wear name tags. Notice them, and then address the person by their name. In other settings (a restaurant with a waitress for example) you may have to ask. The truth though, is that taking the time to learn a persons name and call them by it is a significant first step in building a relationships with another person.
- Back to the neighborhood notebook – Mentioned this in the first post, but a reminder again to create a notebook or excel file you can use to put names and other information about neighbors so you can remember at a future time. As you meet neighbors include their names, address, phone, and kids names and ages. You can even include other information they share over time so you remember (for example, remembering that one couple in our neighborhood has a spouse from Ecuador and another from Argentina).
- Host get to know you events in neighborhood – It amazes me how people can live just feet away from each other for years and never really know each other. Host parties in your driveway and front yard, fun and simple get togethers for people in your neighborhood. Think about things that are simple, kid friendly, and filled with ways to get to know neighbors. Simple ideas include a movie or game watch party (pull a big screen TV or borrow a projector from church), hot dog cookout, whiffle or kickball game, ice cream or sno cone night, or an outside board game night. If you have other ideas for fun neighborhood events, throw them out in the replies.
- Leverage holidays to meet neighbors – Holidays provide some unique opportunities to meet neighbors and develop relationships. When you do these events, make sure you lift your chin, meet people, remember names, etc. Here are a few examples.
- Give neighbor gifts at Christmas – bake some cookies, make fruitcake, buy ornaments. Gives a reason to go to people’s doors to meet them and get to know them as you give them your gift.
- Easter – Host an neighborhood Easter egg hunt in your yard or a neighborhood park
- Be the place to be for Halloween – Don’t just hand out candy, set up in the driveway, build a fire, give out good candy. And as parents walk their kids around make it a point to go say hello, find out where they live in the neighborhood, get their names, etc.
- Fourth of July – Do sparklers and popcycles in the yard
- Back to School – Take your kids to the bus stop and meet the other parents there as well. You may even form a pact about who will be at bus stop each day and how you can work together to keep kids safe.
- Pay attention to For Sale Signs – when the “Sold” shows up on the sign, watch for move-in day. Show up with a care package, maybe with a loaf of bread, your favorite Eureka restaurant, some bottled waters, and a card with your name and address.
- Hang out at frequented places or serve in your neighborhood or city. It is amazing how conversations can start just by being present in a city park with kids, or by serving on a city board. I saw this on display last night as our Community Group ended up having two amazing conversations with people just last night at our neighborhood park.
Ideas for Developing Relationships
The New Testament has multiple commands challenging the people of God to show hospitality. We think of hospitality as a the characteristic of a person who likes having family and friends over for big house parties, with lots of food and drink, full of fun. But in the New Testament hospitality is the act of welcoming strangers and outsiders (Hebrews 13:2). Therefore, hospitality involves the intentional effort to welcome those who are outside of your tribe in order to demonstrate the love and grace of Christ. There are myriads of ways we can show hospitality, but at the core hospitality must have three characteristics:
- Intentional – we make the effort to welcome others and create opportunities for relationship. In other words, hospitality starts with an invitation and taking the initiative to clear our calendars and leave space for relationship for outsiders.
- Relational – Hospitality involves the opening of doors to people so they are welcomed, loved, and known. In other words hospitality is not done in short conversations across a fence, but in longer conversations in lawn chairs or at tables
- Safe – Biblical hospitality always involves the welcoming of those who are outsiders. In the Old Testament hospitality was to be shown to foreigners and sojourners as well as the poor. In the New Testament it includes opening homes to the poor as well as welcoming those who are different culturally and/or outside of the faith. It becomes hospitality when the people feel comfortable and safe in the context of these relationships even if they do not share the same culture, socio-economic status, or religious beliefs.
So where can this happen. Here are some places and spaces for these types of relationships for the purpose of evangelism and Kingdom love.
- Meals and fun outings
- Coffee or milkshakes – A quick reminder, we are willing to buy the coffee. Pick up a gift card to one of our two great Eureka coffee shops
- Backyard barbecues and parties at your home
- Outdoor activities such as golf, disc golf, hikes, bike riding, etc.
- Kid play times at parks, pools, back yards
- Holiday parties
- Cardinal games (I have found this to be an easy one, buy a couple cheaper tix to a Cards game and invite someone you want to get to know
The ideas for showing hospitality and deepening relationships are endless. But this really won’t happen unless we are intentional, relational, and committed to making sure others feel safe and welcomed in our homes and lives.
Ideas for Authentic Care
When we develop authentic relationships with people it might open the door for service, ministry, and care for people. The next step in development of relationships can come when we are observant of the lives of those around us and intentional in caring for needs. Here are some thoughts on how believers might create a culture for this.
- Make your house the place to be for kids – this is something Heidi and I have worked on. We want our house to be a place where our kids friends want to be. So we keep snacks, made a fun place in the basement to hang out, and have an open door policy. Kids in our basement has led to relationships with families in our neighborhood.
- Pay attention to suffering and hardship – When crisis does come, be intentional about sending a card, or even showing up to pray and care for neighbors and friends.
- Celebrate big days – Take the time to notice yard signs or other indicators about big days (graduations, weddings, birth of children, etc.), and send a card or take an appropriate gift basket.
- Watch their dog, cut their grass, etc, – What would it look like to let your neighbors know that you would be more than happy to help them out if they go on vacation or have a time of need. And you can even let them reciprocate if they volunteer.
- Serve your neighbor – Find simple ways to serve and care for neighbors. Pick up their dog poop without complaining, blow their leaves, mow, bake cookies or a meal for them, deliver groceries, bring them apples from Eckerts or buy a pie from a restaurant, smoke a rack of ribs and deliver it to them. Lots of other ways to do this.
Jesus’ command is clear, we are to love neighbors as we love ourselves. This love will hopefully lead to Gospel conversations, but love of neighbor is not dependent on these conversations or the outcome. We are just to love like Jesus, then trust Him with results.
Join in the conversation, if you have other ideas about how to build intentional relationships throw them out.