There has been lots written about the church’s involvement in the community. And rightly so. Call it being missional. Call it outward focus. Call it whatever other label you have picked up on. It’s important that we be thinking and talking about these issues. But it’s important that we do more than talk. We need to act.
I recently listened to an interview with Reggie McNeal of the Leadership Network. He made this small point in a larger conversation: when it comes to our missional engagement/outward focus – both as individuals and corporately as the Body of Christ – there are three spheres we need to be paying attention to. McNeal talked about these being a progression. But I think all three spheres can be functioning at once.
1) We need to be doing things in our community. This is mostly about being mindful of your ministry context. It’s paying attention to the community. It’s about learning who is there, who is new, what needs there are…those types of things. People always assume they know all about their community. But change happens quickly, and we often don’t notice right away.
2) We need to be doing things for our community. This about serving. It’s about meeting needs. It’s about making the love of God real and tangible to folks outside the walls of our churches. And it isn’t always about trying to get more people to “join our thing.” There is a time and place to share the God story with the people we serve. But there is also a time and place to simply “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” where God has placed us – see Jeremiah 29 for God’s instructions to His people living in exile.
3) We need to be doing things with our community. This is different than doing things for our community. If we are not careful our “doing for” can still be about us inside the church. We try and set up our stuff (run by us, led by us) instead of looking for ways to join in with others who are already doing good work. If we just stick with just us or if we set up a competition to meet needs, are we missing the chance to do more than meet a need? Are we missing the chance to reveal God and His love to all kinds of people – those we serve and those we serve with?
Again, it would be good to pay attention to all three spheres as we think about and pray about our missional engagement/outward focus. We need to always be checking in to make sure we understand our ministry context and the needs around us. And we always need to be looking for ways to serve and love others beyond our walls. As we do that, let’s make sure we are open to partnering with others beyond our walls as we serve. I feel like if we pay attention to all three, God will be honored and we will be amazed at what He does.
Director of Church Health, the Free Methodist Church in Canada