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.