Book Review: The Art of Neighboring

4152gbonbfl-_sx322_bo1204203200_“The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door” by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon

2017 Reading Challenge — Book 33: A about Christian living

I picked up this book a couple months ago when I visited The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, TX. They had a kiosk in the foyer with recommended reading relating to the topic of that morning’s sermon (which was excellent, by the way), and this was one of them.

I’d never read a book on neighboring. I don’t know that I’d ever heard of a book on neighboring. And honestly, I’d never considered “neighboring” to be a verb. So I bought it. I’m glad I did!

Pathak & Runyon are both pastors based in Denver, Colorado. This book grew out of an initiative in which their churches—along with eighteen others—joined forces to encourage their congregants to become better neighbors, at the encouragement of local elected officials. Their goal: mobilizing every church member to be intentional about reaching out to those who live close to them, and to build and foster relationships that lead to stronger, more caring neighborhoods all over their city.

“But why do we need a book about this? Shouldn’t the Bible be enough to convince us to love our neighbor as ourselves?”

Sure. Maybe. But do you intentionally reach out to your neighbors to the extent that you probably should? I know I don’t. So maybe I needed something like this after all.

One of their main points is a great one: We often misinterpret (or at least misapply) Luke 10:25-37. When a lawyer, seeking to justify himself, asked Jesus “who is my neighbor,” Jesus responded by telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The takeaway is that everyone is my neighbor. Who am I called to love as I love myself? Everyone!

Well, that’s all true, so far as it goes. But the argument Pathak & Runyon make is that if “everyone” is my neighbor, it can be easy to overlook those who are my actual neighbors, living in close proximity to me. And while Jesus’ commandment to love “everyone” stands, the fact remains that I can’t love “everyone” specifically; I can only demonstrate love to those I actually encounter. Since God has providentially placed me in a certain place and time, the authors argue compellingly that I have a special calling to love those He has placed near me in a specific, tangible, sacrificial way.

That’s an important point, to be sure, and they build their case effectively, but it doesn’t require a whole book to get that point across. The Art of Neighboring spends a couple short chapters establishing the “why” of being a good neighbor, but the bulk of this book is very practical. Pathak & Runyon lay out a very specific strategy for building relationships with your neighbors, and developing unity in your community.

One challenging concept which struck me as odd at first, but which I later grew to accept, is that “good neighboring” does not need to be—and sometimes definitely ought not to be—explicitly evangelical. That is, building genuine, loving, long term relationships with our neighbors does not require us to draw every conversation back to the Gospel. It’s not that we should avoid talking about Jesus… more that we should trust that, as we build trust and camaraderie with someone, the Spirit will open doors to share the Gospel at times when our neighbors will be ready to receive it. I know I’ve turned people off in the past by hitting them so hard with the Gospel that I forgot to love them (that is the point of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, after all!), resulting in doors that became closed for building any kind of relationship.

Each chapter is genuinely helpful, though I often found myself skimming large sections. The biggest drawback is that this good book would have been a great book if it were about 80 pages shorter. The concept and the content are excellent, but the authors obviously had a word count quota that caused them to restate their points more often than necessary.

Still, this book is very unique, and very much worth your time. Grab your copy here.