“And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Stan is one of the most spiritually influential people I know. He’s not a popular speaker, seminar leader, or bestselling author. Stan is a small-business owner in southern Ohio. He simply loves his neighbors, living in heart-to-heart ways.
For Stan, loving his neighbors starts with his family. I’ve never met anyone who is so committed to ministering to his extended family as Stan is. He tells me story after story of spiritual conversations and practical service to his siblings, children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren.
Loving his neighbors extends to his church family where he disciples men and mentors leaders. His neighbors include people at work, where he loves and cares for each employee, sharing his faith in Jesus in appropriate ways, discipling people in the workplace. He regularly invites people to walk with him as he walks with Jesus.
Stan takes the Great Commandment of loving his neighbors seriously. This love is often one person at a time, one “neighbor” after another. Now, a neighbor is not necessarily someone who physically lives next door. A neighbor is anyone that I’m “next to” in a sustained relationship. They may occupy a physical space, such as a nearby house or workplace. They may also occupy a “space” in my relational network, like a sibling, spouse, or friend from church.
You would think that loving people in heart-to-heart relationships would be a given in discipling others. Stan should not be the exception. Unfortunately, our tendency to package programs and craft formulas for growth has diminished the relational side of the Great Commission. Here’s an example.
After a friend met with a spiritual leader in his church, his wife asked, “So, did he ask you about your family? your marriage? your walk with God?”
“No,” was my friend’s sheepish reply. “At first, he asked how I was doing but we quickly moved to a discussion about church ministry. He gave some advice on my small group and encouraged me to think bigger when it came to the size of the group.”
This was not heart-to-heart; it was activity-to-activity, program-to-program. When we relate this way, we’re saying something about the value of people. What they do and participate in becomes more important than who they are and what God is doing in their lives. It’s easy to invite people to attend a meeting; it’s harder to ask them to walk with me as I walk with Jesus.
The apostle Paul treasured people, loving and cherishing them as friends. He knew when to love and when to pull rank as an apostle. Most of the time he loved. Heart-to-heart words easily flow from his mouth to his new converts in Thessalonica:
He is “a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thess. 2:7).
He is like a “father with his children,” exhorting, encouraging, and charging each one (1 Thess. 2:11–12).
He calls them his “dear brothers and sisters” (1 Thess. 1:4; 2:1; 2:9 NLT).
They are his “joy” and “crown of boasting” (1 Thess. 2:19).
One commentary describes how the word “crown” means the victor’s crown for an athletic contest. “The only prize in life that [Paul] really valued was to see his converts living good lives. . . . Our greatest glory lies in those whom we have set or helped on the path to Christ.”
Paul modeled how love, expressed in heart-to-heart relationships, is the vehicle in which discipleship travels. Real people with real stories were the recipients of his endearing comments. He loved and treasured people. What does that look like today?
Kim is a pharmacist, but her life mission is passing on her faith in Christ to other women. “I made a simple decision when I was in college,” she told me. “I wanted to always be discipling a woman, passing on my faith to another.” Coworkers have come to faith, friends in her neighborhood have embraced the Savior, and she’s even discipling a woman in eastern Europe via Skype. Kim treasures people.
Kim and her husband, Rob, have a new group of neighbors to treasure: international students at a nearby college. Here’s how she describes her heart-to-heart disciple-making ministry: “A great way to meet international students is to have lunch with them in the school cafeteria. On off days from work, I sometimes visit the cafeteria to meet with students. One of the things we’ve discovered is that international students love hanging out with Americans. So, Rob and I take them apple-picking with us, or we invite them over for Thanksgiving dinner, or Rob recruits them to help him with yard work.” Because they treasure people, they invite people into their lives.
Heart-to-heart ministry loves our neighbors, inviting them into our lives, walking with us as we walk with Jesus. They can be people who are exploring Christ or people in whom Christ lives. Kim and Rob are not doing this because of a church’s program. They voluntarily spend their time with people because that’s what Jesus’ disciples do. When we love God, we will love our neighbors in heart-to-heart ways, inviting them to walk with us as we walk with Jesus.
If you’d like to read more about Heart-to-Heart Ministry from Bill Mowry, check out the entire series of articles:
 William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 223.
by Bill Mowry
Have we over complicated, over systematized, and over formalized making disciples? When our hearts are changed by Christ, it’s natural...
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