Neighboring: 5 Steps to Earn Trust

Our family has moved more times than I ever thought we would. The first couple of times were cross-town moves to homes better suited to our growing family. But then we moved to Allendale, SC in 2011, and then back to Greenville in 2014.


The latter two transitions didn’t just involve a change in zip code. They also meant a completely new culture than the suburban life that we were used to, and which we never expected to leave. More than that, we made those moves with the intention of becoming an integral part of our new community.

But whether we move a few miles or a few hours (or a few days!) away, we must look for ways to be engage our neighbors, in a way that earns their trust. Here are some things we are learning along the way, and which we are striving to apply:

1. Get on their turf.

I don’t want take away from the importance of inviting people to your home, your church, or your events. But we also need to engage people where they are, where they feel comfortable. Yes, this may be uncomfortable for us, but that makes sense if we are “aliens and strangers in this world” (I Peter 2:11). We need a “go and do” mentality not a “come and see” one.

2. Be humble.

I tend to proudly assume that I know best, or that I can teach others so much. But I’ve learned that I know very little about the communities and cultures that are around us. Ask questions. Listen. Don’t make demands or give directions. Trust in the wisdom of the community leaders (especially the “unofficial” leaders).

3. Build relationships.

Showing up may be half the battle, but remember that it’s just a start. Those moments are opportunities to build relationships in which the gospel of God is made known. George Robertson writes, The ministry of “showing up” is underestimated by most of us, but it should not surprise us given that the incarnation makes the gospel good news.”

4. Love and empathize.

I am not writing this as someone who is discerning and sensitive. I am writing this principle as someone who has failed all along the way. But I’m learning. Here’s the thing: no one wants to be your “Jesus-project” – someone you are only getting to know for the purpose of evangelism. (Before I was a Christian, I was repulsed by others who treated me this way.) Yes, we are called to spread the Gospel, but we are also called to love and empathize. Love them for love’s own sake. Mourn and rejoice when they mourn and rejoice (Romans 12:15). If you are doing this, Gospel-conversations will naturally arise.

5. Trust in God.

If you are in close relationships with others, you will be hurt, and you will get frustrated. Likewise, you will hurt and frustrate others. Why? Because your friends are sinners, and so are you. If some rejects you or hurts you, or you spend years loving and empathizing without any visible fruit, that is your opportunity to remember that your hope and trust can only be in the Lord. Wait patiently on God (Psalm 37:7), just as He has been patient with you.

These tips don’t just apply to moving to a new home. You can think through them if change jobs (or departments in your job), or your children are enrolled in a new school.

Last month, I read these challenging words on this blog, in Present + Engaged:

“Have we chosen a particular neighborhood, school or gym because it is where our friends from church live or go to, or are we looking around for opportunities to live life with and develop community with those who need the restorative love of Jesus in their lives?”

Let us work to earn trust in our communities, jobs, and schools. And let us remember that the goal is to bring glory and attention to Jesus Christ. As we live incarnationally in our community, we can reflect His image to those around us.

Joey Espinosa