To Love Neighbor, Find Neighbor

As Christians we are called to “love our neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:28-31)  Too often, however, as we become more and more engaged with our faith and the community where we worship, our neighbor tends to look more and more like us.  As humans, our tendency is to hang out with those who share our passions, worldview, and goals for life.  Our small group interactions are with Christians like ourselves and before we know it all our friends are Christians.  We fill our time with activites that are faith based narrowing our network to those that agree with us and our worldview. 

And the irony is that for those that take their faith seriously and that of their surrounding network they have a desire to live out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20), but they have no immediate network to actively do so outside of ”cold calling.”  To be a Great Commission people, we need to expand our network of friends and associates beyond our Christian ones.  To do so demands an intentional effort on our part to make friends beyond our inner circle.  How do we do this?  We do this by getting involved in activities (not sinful) that enable us to meet new people and expand our sphere of influence.  In secular terms this is called “networking.”  For the Christian, proper networking could have eternal significance. 

One of the best books I have ever read on networking is called Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi.  In this pivotal work on networking, Ferrazzi believes in building relationships.  Networking for Ferrazzi is more than just exchanging business cards and making as many contacts as possible (quantity).  It is about helping make the other person successful and focuses on the “quality” of the relationship.  If he is at a party or event, he doesn’t go around trying to meet as many people as possible, but finds it better to focuss on a few he can get to know well.  His book discusses sending out a newsletter regularly to contacts related to books you’ve read, contacting people on significant occasions, the importance of staying connected through calling and texting regularly, and the use of social media,  how to make use of small talk and listening, and the importance of following up. 

One chapter that particularly struck me is the dinner parties he would host regularly and how he would try to “never eat alone.”  The dinner become focused less on the food and more on the people present.  He would invite some people he would already know and others he would not.  The dinners became opportunities to network (build relationships) for everyone involved.  Doesn’t this sound like exactly what Jesus did in his ministry?  

My wife and I tried this recently. We got involved in our neighborhood yard sale, inviting friends to bring over their “junk” and we and they were to invite other neighbors we did not know.  After the yard sale, we hosted a dinner to get to know people even better.  I am convinced that Ferrazzi’s thoughts on networking could be easily used for Christians to be better evangelizers in a way that is more than just sharing of words, but sharing of self (1 Thessalonians 2:8).  Good evangelizers are good networkers!  We are relational evangelizers! 

So, let’s go out and bring Christ to the nations.  To do so, let us look around at work, in our neighborhoods, at the gym and find opportunities to meet new people, form friendships, and share the most important people in our lives–one of them being Jesus.  To love our neighbor, we must first find neighbor.  This requires going to where neighbor is.  This is not just the first steps towards love of neighbor, but like Christ leaving the ninety-nine sheep to find the one (Matthew 18:12-14), it is, in and of itself, love.

About Jason Shanks

A convert to the Catholic faith, Jason Shanks was raised Methodist. During college at Miami University of Ohio, he became active in an evangelical Protestant organization and began investigating the beliefs of Protestantism. This investigation ultimately led him, much to his surprise, to the Catholic Church. Jason sites his discovery of the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist as the ultimate turning point of his conversion process, saying, “I knew then, I had to be Catholic.” Since his conversion in 1999, Jason has worked in many areas of ministry, but he finds speaking with groups on various issues of faith to be the most rewarding. Jason has held positions as a youth minister in the Catholic Church, is the co-founder of a Catholic youth camp for junior high students, and was President of Greater Columbus Right to Life for two years. He recently received an award for his work with GCRTL. He has published articles in Catholic magazines and newspapers, and has spoken to various groups and ages about the Catholic faith. Jason has a Masters in Theology from the Pontifical College Josephinum with a concentration in Evangelization. Later he would go on to receive a Master in Nonprofit Administration from the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame. For eight years Jason served in pastoral ministry as both pastoral associate and parish administrator. Currently he is the Secretariat Leader for Evangelization and Parish Life for the Diocese of Toledo. You can read about his conversion here: http://chnetwork.org/2011/01/jason-shanks-from-evangelical-to-evangelical-catholic/
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6 Responses to To Love Neighbor, Find Neighbor

  1. Elise says:

    Another great resource about developing and maintaining relationships is The Art of Friendship by Roger and Sally Horchow. Roger is profiled as a “Connector” in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point (Gladwell’s book, Outliers, is interesting, too). Certain people are naturally gifted in this area, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t all get tips from them.
    Thanks for sharing about Ferrazzi’s book — I look forward to reading it!

  2. Catherine Palmer says:

    Never Eat Alone is one of my dad’s favorite books for his business and he has shared passages and ideas from it with me before. :) We didn’t necessarily think of it in an evangelizing context, though, and we’re lovin’ it. Thanks, Jason!

  3. Nicole says:

    Jason,

    I think this is very insightful and very true. The Lord has surprised me by speaking this very message to me lately. Today’s Gospel says, “I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the Evil One.” John 17: 14-16. Jesus does not take us out of the world, although we need to make sure we have community and support, we also must defy our own comfort zones to bring His truth to the world.

    • Jason Shanks says:

      Nicole,

      You raise a very good point. We definately need “community and support.” I am definately not suggesting we need to totally adandon our Christian friends and the Christian activities that gives us support and help us grow, nor do I think “lone ranger” Christianity is wise. I am suggesting that we need to add activities and network with people that don’t share our worldview and Christian faith. All things in balance! Our faith only grows when it is given away.

  4. Nicole says:

    Jason,

    I hope you know that I did not think that you were advocating for the “lone ranger Christian”. I was simply adding that community is an important part of being fed, so that we can go out into situations that challenge us, help us to grow, and make us able to share our faith. I think the thoughts you shared are very insightful and something for all Christians to think about. We simply can’t put ourselves in a bubble, we’re called to so much more!
    Thanks again for your thoughts.

  5. Vince says:

    Never Eat Alone- it is a classic! Found your blog from http://catholicaudio.blogspot.com/