HARRISBURG — Buff McNickle knows “breaking down walls with our neighbors is hard” and “breaking down the wall from knowing someone publicly to privately is HUGE!!!” but it is still possible, he said.

“I’ve got good news for you today,” shared McNickle, Baptist Resource Network (BRN)  director of compassion ministries, who taught the breakout, “How can we know our neighbors if they won’t talk to us?” during the BRN’s 2021 Accelerate Conference on Oct. 5.

“We are all in great company! Jesus experienced this as well,” he said, noting the Pharisees would be at the top of the list of of people who were opposed to Jesus during his ministry. But they were also the most curious.

“The very neighbors that can be the hardest to get to know will also be the most curious about knowing you,” McNickle asserted, sharing Jesus had been in their midst for three years; yet, they were still clueless of who He was and why He came.

Pharisees were too busy looking for a spectacle when it came to the Kingdom of God that they were missing that He was already there, he conjectured, urging his listeners to “Look for and try the UNEXPECTED rather than rely on what is EXPECTED.”

He explained, “We are facing the same struggle today. The church is working so hard trying to be a main attraction – a relevant voice amid so many voices – while it seems noble and logical, it must be known that it is foolish.”

The church doesn’t exist to be an “attraction to be seen but an agent to bring change,” he added.

“How do we reach and get to know that neighbor that doesn’t want to be known? LOVE THEM!” he said, stressing, “LOVE is our only weapon. It is the only tool in our toolbox.”

He added, “This means that we are going to have to get out of our comfort zones and expand our contact list and be willing to take risks to love people and show love” to them.

He offered a few pointers on how to do that.

First, choose to see people not as problems but as opportunities to grow closer to God.

“Isn’t that what it’s all about? Our personal relationship with God? We don’t have to get to know our neighbors – we get to know our neighbors – why? Because their resistance and our struggle to get to know them are the very things that can stretch and grow our faith,” he shared. “We all encounter people in life that are prickly. We have to be willing to look past that. Those prickly parts are just the camouflage they wear that keeps us from seeing the beauty of who they really are.”

Second,  be willing to love people without an agenda.

“When you love people with an agenda that is just a PROGRAM. The world, your neighbor doesn’t need another program,” he stressed.

Third, love people with a clear awareness.

He explained, “You and I are just three or four bad decisions away from disaster. We aren’t better than anybody. GRACE is the key!”

McNickle told participants they “have something that someone needs.” “You may not know what they need and you may not even be aware that you have IT, but if you lean in to the Holy Spirit and walk in step with Him, you will discover what it is they need and what God has given you or will give you to meet that need.”

He also explained how shame drives people away.

Fourth, recognize that loving people isn’t easy.

“Don’t settle for going after the low hanging fruit,” he urged. “Go after the harder ones – all of us have that neighbor – that coworker – that person who make it so difficult to love.”

“What is it in that person that makes us bristle? Step back from? Pause? Love is the vaccine that will help you breakthrough it or move beyond it,” McNickle said.

Finally, consistency over costly wins the day.

“Just be willing to engage, love, listen, lean in consistently no matter what. Leave the agenda and expectations and just love them with same love God love us with,” he said, sharing three key questions that have helped him turn strangers into friends:

  1. Where were you born?
  2. What is your favorite childhood memory?
  3. What is the worst job you ever had?

To learn more about loving your neighbor, visit www.lovepasj.com.