Refining Life, on Purpose

The Lost Art of Being Neighbors

The Art of being a Neighbor as Missional Evangelism

The old man who lived across the street from my childhood home had a wonderful bed of tulips in his back yard. I stumbled onto them one afternoon as I cut through on my way to a friend’s house. I had a long stick in hand and was swinging it like a Zorro sword. I was an awestruck six-year-old when I witnessed the top of a tulip lop right from the stem with one quick swipe. So I did what any kid would do… I swiped the heads of every one of Mr. Clapham’s tulips clean off their stems.

Bummed that I had to more destruction to pursue, I finished the journey to my friend’s house. He wasn’t home, so I hiked back through Mr. Clapham’s yard. As I approached, he came out to greet me. He then used his massive hand to snag the back of my shirt, lifting me off my feet and used his other hand to smack my rear end harder than anything I’d ever experienced in my young life.

I whimpered off and eventually made my way home where I would change out of my sopping underpants and sulk the rest of the afternoon away. That evening, he told my parent’s what had happened. They called me out and coaxed me into apologizing directly to Mr. Clapham.

I later learned that the bulbs for those tulips were purchased by he and his wife in Holland, Michigan prior to her passing away two years after my birth. Having no children that lived, watching the tulips bloom always helped him remember her and the life they shared.

And I took that from him through an act of childish whimsy. I was glad he whooped me and I remain grateful for that lesson to this very day.

Building Friendships of Neighbors

I tell this story about Mr. Clapham because of a book I recently had the pleasure of reading from author Dave Arnold; Building Friendships: The Foundation For Missional Engagement. This is one of those books that came to my attention at just the right time – funny how God does that.

You see, I’ve been thinking much about the degradation of neighborly relationships lately – relationships we’re commanded to pursue with loving fervor.

The title of the book did throw me at first, though. When I think of building friendships, I think of it in a social context. Pursuit of friendship as a means of missional intentionality is something I never considered. As Arnold points out, missional engagement usually evokes immersion, incarnation, outreach, and church planting while overlooking the idea of friendship. Yet, building friendships is the foundational component of missional engagement.

If we are to live out a gospel-centered life that reaches every corner of our neighborhoods, cities, and culture, we must learn to befriend others. To know one another. To connect with one another. To form trusting relationships where we earn the right and the ability to share the gospel.

This easy and quick read is hard-hitting. Building Friendships provides readers with many true and inspirational stories from Arnold’s experiences that complement direct and clear, biblical insight to show how we can build friendships in our neighborhoods, cities and communities. He, in fact, challenges us to rethink what it means to be missional as we serve Jesus as broken people in a broken world.

The Art of being a Neighbor as Missional Evangelism

Pursuit of friendship as a means of missional intentionality is something I never considered. Dave Arnold’s “Building Friendships: The Foundation For Missional Engagement” challenges us to do just that. Photo Credit: Geoffrey Coelho Photography via Compfight cc

Will You Be My Neighbor?

I’m a product off the Fred Rogers generation that asked “won’t you be my neighbor?” We embraced the individuals (and characters) that entered into our lives, brought their talents, taught us lessons and made our communities into the wonderful, cooperative places that makes us all we can be. As I grew older, I witnessed many neighbors moving to acres of land outside the city, staying put but putting up privacy fences, posting signs, installing alarm systems and doing everything possible to not-so-subtly tell everyone to “leave me alone.”

We shun beggars and are skeptical of those in need out of concern for the potential that they have identified us as “marks” within a system that promotes perpetual assistance and does little to build up individuals to break out of that system. Even worse, we keep people at a distance because they don’t fit the profile of the part we ourselves want to play.

There are very few Dan Claphams in this world as a result.

Recapturing What it Means to be a Neighbor

Yes, Dan Clapham gave me a spanking that made me pee my pants. That’s a feat not even my father accomplished – and he had well more than one shot at it. But Dan Clapham also gave me a little manila envelope with three bi-centennial silver dollars in it stating they were “from Santa” the first Christmas I was alive. I still have them and cherish them as a remnant of human compassion.

Dan Clapham was kind to me when and spoke to me like a more mature person when I was very much a child. Even after the beheading of his tulips and the swat that followed, he always bought from me when I was forced to peddle fund-raisers for school or Little League baseball. It was usually an overpriced bag of pistachios. When I would take them to him, he’d pay me and tell me to have a seat with him on his porch where we would eat them and talk about the happenings of our neighborhood and lives.

He never had an agenda other than to know me, about me and assure me that he cared. Often times, that’s all any of us needs in our lives. Someone we can count on, that we can trust and that we know will be there to steer us right… or perhaps slap us out of a funk when we’re (be)heading down a wrong path.

God bless you Mr. Clapman. Looking forward to the time when we will meet again in eternity and can laugh together about how you taught me to be a neighbor.

About Chad Gramling

Chad Gramling makes his home in Indiana with his wife and three daughters. He's the founder and primary blogger at 1Glories, a vision cast onto his heart and detailed in Listen Up Kids: Foolish Dreams, Syncing with God & Running to Win.

  • Chad,

    I love this post. Jenny and I often talk about how challenging it is to connect with others. It’s pretty common for us Californians to have multiple jobs. Due to the high cost of living, busy lifestyle, as well as many military families, it’s common for people to come and go quickly. Neighbors tend to be more guarded, as everyone moves in and out of each other’s lives at a very high rate.

    Engagement truly is a valuable commodity. I love the idea of missional engagement, and would add that the missional part does not need to be the only aspect. I’ve gained much value from both Christian friends, as well as from those who don’t hold the same beliefs I do. I suspect that when the missional aspect (which is very important) is overemphasized, people are turned off. But when friendship is the primary focus, good things happen.

    I’m sure not everyone will see eye-to-eye with me on this. However, I thought I’d add my thoughts, as I found this post especially inspiring. I love the story you shared, and the idea of relational engagements that add value to others. Sounds like an excellent book too!

  • Glad you enjoyed the post Jed. And great point about over the danger in emphasizing the missional side of things in relationships. It may in fact be one of the reasons people have put up so many barriers. Along those lines, I’ve discussed this very fact with many different people of the last several months. I’m convinced that – if the time is taken to form valued and trusting relationships rather than saying “Hi. I’m Chad. It’s nice to meet you. Now you need to meet Jesus or else you will burn in hell,” we are following a Biblical model of connecting with one another to earn the right to engage in such conversations for the sake of lovingly spreading the Gospel.

  • I enjoyed this very much Chad – I knew you admit to being a sinner but this level of depravity just may cause me to see you in a new light! Just kidding, great story about a lasting and important lesson. In a world of Twitter wars and virtual “experts” the title of neighbor is one we’ll have to wear more proudly.

  • Thank you Chad for this great post, and for mentioning my book! And thank you for helping spread the word. In our digital age, building bridges into others’ lives in a real and authentic way is more important than ever.

  • My pleasure Dave. I really enjoyed and drew much information from the book. Such an important message.

  • I often think of the biblical account of Jesus at the wedding. It’s clear he didn’t go “to tell them about God” or who he was. In fact, he has a bit of a conversation with his mother over the fact that this wasn’t the place or time. In the end, he “brings more wine” to the party to honor the hosts; but even with all attention on him, he doesn’t start preaching. It appears that Jesus went to the wedding … simply because he was being an good neighbor, with no other agenda.

    I believe that if we stop focusing on “what we’re supposed to do or say,” and actually just engage with people out of the natural overflow of of real love in our own lives, good things happen. Deeper conversations are introduced by them out of true curiosity. We don’t have to be looking for a way to make the pepperoni pizza into a conversation about salvation. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve brought up my own faith to people in more than a decade; yet I seem to talk about it a lot, because people wind up asking their own questions.

    People know the difference between proselytizing and genuine care. Ironically, the former is almost never effective for the intended purpose.

  • Great thoughts Erik. So much truth are and wisdom in there. We Christ followers often spend so much time in a tunnel-vision quest to “save others” that we forget the importance of true connection. People don’t like to feel like a box to be checked. They want to know they are valued and significant.

  • Chad,

    Thanks for the great story. I had a similar experience with an apple tree, the lip lashing I got felt like a spanking. I never have mastered the art of being a good neighbor. I have always struggled with this. I like my space and my own little plot of land. I can be a bit of an isolationist. I do run across the street and help an elderly couple by taking their newspaper to the door when the weather is bad and pick up branches that fall down in their drive way. However my other neighbors tend to be more guarded and care free how they impose on others. I know there is a critical balance, but I know I should extend my hand rather than just keep to myself. Maybe we are progressing. I did get a Merry Christmas a couple weeks ago when we happen to bump into each other taking our trash to the curb. I’ll have to check out the book. I guess at the end of the day I pick and choose more than I care to admit who I will be kind to and those I keep at arms length.

  • Hey Chad,

    I LOVE this post! I love what you’ve shared here about your neighbor, Dan Chaplan, and how he always showed you kindness and would invite you to sit on his porch and chat it up with no other agenda than to get to know you more. I want to be this kind of neighbor! Thanks so much for sharing.

    I’m your neighbor this morning over at Family, Friendship and Faith ((coffee shop conversations)). Good getting to know you a bit and really looking forward to reading “The Legacy of a Mom who Raised Men” (and the one about men and pretty toenails!).

    Have a blessed weekend!

  • Thanks Tiffany. This post is near and dear to my heart, so I am blessed to learn of your opinion about it. Thanks for stopping by and reading. We are fortunate to have a get LinkUp host in Jed.