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5 Keys to Being a Good Neighbor

At the County Commissioners meeting last week, there were a lot of neighbors who were mad at us. Mad at me in particular, mad at my son, and mad at Adventures In Missions. We have a dream of a special needs ministry that would start on our property. We have 37 acres of property and we want to …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

At the County Commissioners meeting last week, there were a lot of neighbors who were mad at us. Mad at me in particular, mad at my son, and mad at Adventures In Missions.

We have a dream of a special needs ministry that would start on our property. We have 37 acres of property and we want to share it with those who could benefit. But as is true with dreams, obstacles stood in the way. The neighbors didn’t want it. They felt that it would destroy the peaceful atmosphere on our road.

Several hundred people crowded the room. The five commissioners sat like judges at the front. Our side had 20 minutes to present and their side had 20 minutes. My special needs daughter sat next to me. The atmosphere was tense.

My son began with an overview of why the ministry was needed. A couple of fathers of special needs children gave heart-felt pleas for the ministry. And then the neighbors used their 20 minutes to make the case that it shouldn’t happen. Some were near tears. The future of the neighborhood was at stake.

When it was over, the commissioners quickly voted in our favor. We had brought a large number of special needs people and their family. We celebrated our victory.

Only, I realized, it wasn’t a victory for the neighborhood just yet. In fact, some might make the case that it actually put our ability to walk out our faith in jeopardy insofar as God has commanded us to love our neighbor as a key part of our faith.

No, this was just the first in a series of conversations we will be having about what it means to be good neighbors. This time the conversation involved words, but the next time may be more about actions. 

The Bible doesn’t mince words about the subject. One of the Ten Commandments is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18) And Jesus says, along with loving God himself, “There is no other commandment greater.” (Mark 12:31)

Meeting needs

So, we have our work cut out for us. For starters, there are a number of things that our neighbors fear. Our job is to allay those fears. And behind the fears are a number of needs or desires they have that we need to be aware of and try to address. As with all neighbors everywhere, we share three things that need to be protected.

Physical space

Neighbors share space. “Good fences make good neighbors,” goes the saying. Good intentions aren’t enough – you need boundaries. In apartment buildings, neighbors share floors, ceilings and walls. Noise can destroy the atmosphere.

In our quiet country neighborhood, the road is windy. Driving slowly is part of being a good neighbor. Intruding on the peaceful atmosphere means failing to follow Jesus’ command.

Emotional space

When we lived in Florida, our neighbors became good friends. Sandra was like a second mom to our kids. Years later, when she died of cancer, we had her family come spend Christmas with us. When neighbors help bring life and encouragement, our lives are so much brighter. Similarly, when we have issues with a neighbor, our lives can feel claustrophobic.

Community space

We were lucky – our house in Florida backed up to a park. Our kids loved that park. Every afternoon they were on the swings with the neighbor children. We had a great ethos in that neighborhood. When I was away on trips, sometimes our lawn grew too long, so neighbors would take it upon themselves to cut it. At Christmastime, I’d get our kids and we’d go caroling at our neighbors’ homes. Our community space was rich.

How do we love our neighbor?

In our case, we have a long path ahead of us to walk with our neighbors. How do we do that best? Here are five ways we want to love our neighbors better.

1. Communicate

In the past, when we’ve had training camps, we’ve let neighbors know that we expected a lot of people at our property during those dates. We gave our immediate neighbors vouchers for dinners out as a way of saying thank you for their grace. We took cookies to others.

In the future, we can let our neighbors know what our plans are and how we’re implementing them. We can address their fears directly. We can make ourselves available to hear concerns and complaints. We can look for opportunities for casual conversation. We need to listen to them and show them that their concerns are important to us. If we can modify our plans to help them, we can do that.

2. Care for the public space

The road leading to our property has lots of curves. We need to slow down as we drive on them. We need to pay attention to other spaces that we share and care for them. In a lot of neighborhoods, pets are an issue. One yappy dog can ruin the experience of sitting on your porch. Lately, drones have been causing problems in some neighborhoods.

3. Meet specific needs

We had a neighbor who was struggling financially. We helped her to meet her obligations. Once we helped deliver a calf when a neighbor’s cow was having a breach birth. One year we had a team build a shed for some neighbors. In the future, we’ll be looking for ways to discover and meet other neighbors’ needs.  

4. Reach out

Even though our relationships with our neighbors are poor, we need to keep reaching out. We have a long history of doing so over the 21 years we’ve been there. When new neighbors move in, we can welcome them. Given our neighbors’ fears, we need to make sure that our actions match our words. 

5. Pray for them

Prayer is our secret weapon. As we go to God with our neighbors’ concerns, he’ll show us how to pray and then what to do. This needs to be our first response.

How are you doing at loving your neighbors? It’s not an option – it’s central to our faith.

Comments (8)

  • Seth, thanks for the tender and practical description here which is a wonderful celebration of advocacy for those with special needs. The ministry is of personal interest and has some branding, marketing and fund development gambits you should consider. Love you brother. Butch

  • Seth-
    The Bible provides many scripture verses regarding the responsibility / duty / commitment we as Christians – sons and daughters of God must inject – treat – view- interact- react to our “neighbor”
    The scripture with the interaction of the Holy Spirit illustrate the neighbor is far beyond the close proximity person(s) who reside near or within shared space-
    In fact the spiritual connection to our actual brothers and sisters –
    Saved / not saved represents the stewardship of the foundation of faith- love- companionship – the root of our humanity-
    I believe the Holy Spirit provides the stability and fortitude for all to learn share and give to meet the advancements of humanity at large-
    Many have children – have friends- are associated with- read about- families with special needs Children- young adults – adults- but as God Angles- we become the caregivers and supporters – thus fulfilling our requirements by law- God’s Law as found in the books of James- Exodus- Mathew- Luke- Ephesians-……

    What a special moment time event to share with your community- neighbors –

    Thanks for sharing


  • Seth-
    Our family is excited about the news about the Flourish Community. People with special needs have been in the center of our lives for many years. We will continue to pray for this ministry.
    Your blog reminds me of a story. Almost 25 years ago, a realtor showed us the house we now live in. The people who lived in the house had a huge garden. After he showed us the beautiful garden, we walked between our house and our neighbor’s house. The realtor pointed out a wonderful grape vine: telling us we would have plenty of grapes next summer. We bought the house and when summer came, the vine was full of grapes. As we began to harvest them, we decided to make grape jelly……….lots of grape jelly!!! We had so much we started to give it away. We took a couple jars and knocked on the door of our neighbor. When she answered, we asked her if she wanted some grape jelly. She said. “I should get some, you are taking my grapes to make it” and shut her door. As it turns out, the realtor was wrong and the grape vine was on her side of the property line. We soon found that she was angry and had been telling people in town that we were stealing her grapes. For a while we tried to explain and to be speak to her, but she just avoided us. This went on for many years and we more or less just gave up. A couple years ago, our pastor did a sermon series about being good neighbors. He challenged us to get to know our neighbors and if we had a neighbor that we needed to reconcile with to do so. We knew it was the right thing to do. We decided that if she was outside when we got home we would try to talk to her. When we pulled into the driveway, wouldn’t you know it, she was outside. Before she could get back into the house, I got out of the car and asked her how she was doing. She said she had been having a hard time and that she had a lot of pain in her back. I had noticed that she had not been keeping her lawn wowed and the grass was very long. I asked her if It would be a help to her if we mowed her lawn. For the rest of the summer, our son Joshua and I mowed her lawn. After a couple months, she started to visit a little when we were out. After a while she shared with me that she had cancer and thought she would be able to beat it. A couple weeks later, she came up to me and said, “you know, I never use those grapes, please take all that you want”. It was not to long after that, she passed away from the cancer. As I look back at this I don’t think a lot about what caused the friction, I think about how I should have done more to be a good neighbor after I found out why she was upset. We found out that we were the ones who had to make the first step. I am thankful that we took that step………just wish we had done it a little sooner.
    Thanks for all that you do……looking forward to hearing stories about the Flourish Community and your wonderful neighbors. Michael Beebe

  • I love this! Last year I moved into a new neighborhood with some other Alumni and one of our goals has been to be intentional in building relationships with our neighbors. It looks like a lot of things you outlined here. I’d like to add one more that we’ve found to be helpful: receive from them. They’ve lived here a lot longer than I have, so I’ve got a lot to learn from them. Usually it’s in the form of simple questions: our porches don’t get a lot of sun, how do you keep your plants alive? How many kids should I expect for Trick or Treat? Can I borrow your (fill in the blank… can opener, shovel, etc)? Who lives in that house; can you introduce me? How many guests can I have at the pool? Even in the Midwest where people tend to stick to themselves, my neighbors are so willing to share and help!

    • That’s a good tip, Katie. It’s amazing how much we can learn from our neighbors. Our original neighbors across the street were two old ladies who didn’t have running water or a car. They would walk eight miles just to get to church on Sunday.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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