Sunday, April 13, 2008

Meeting People Where THEY Are

The mission (central purpose) of our church is "to meet people where they are on their spiritual journeys and lead them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ." This weekend, we had the great privilege of having Pastor Glenn Bone III and some of his leaders from Good Seed Ministries in Chicago, as they shared with us a how we can be more effective in accomplishing our mission.

There were a few things that Pastor Glenn said that resonated with me. For those of you who heard him, I know you can make your own list, but this is mine:

  • To be completely fulfilled in the Christian life, every member needs to have a ministry (something we do for God inside the church) and a mission (something we do for God to bless the community outside our church).
  • Our natural tendency is to expend our efforts and resources trying to make the mechanisms of the church run, but that will never bring anyone in who is now out.
  • Rather than positioning the church as an institution, we need to postition ourselves as a family. In worship, people should feel they are attending a family gathering, not a meeting. In membership, they should feel they are joining a family, not an organization. In service, they should feel they are working alongside their brothers and sisters, not advancing the interests of an establishment.

I realized this weekend that despite our desires, our intentions, and our rhetoric, we are still in many ways an internally focused church. We do not invest a significant part of our individual lives or our corporate life away from the property boundaries of our church in a missional way.

BUT... I sense in talking with many people after this weekend that a lot of us came away with the same realization, and there is a widespread urgency in our congregation to do something about it. There are many ideas that have been percolating in our hearts; here are some of the ones that I have heard expressed this weekend:

  • A financial literacy course (based on biblical principles) offered through area banks or libraries to help people with debt, mortgages, credit, saving, and investing.
  • A marriage seminar (based on biblical principles) offered through Marriage Matters Jackson or the United Way to help people develop stronger marriages and families.
  • A free or very low-cost daycare that will take care of school-age children of single parents on days there are no school (e.g., holidays, vacations, half-days, snow days, teacher in-services, etc.).
  • Developing a relationship with the Inter-Faith shelter, not just to bring or serve food, but to interact with the residents there and spend time with them. Perhaps assisting in job-training, interview skills, and other needs the shelter has.
  • Partnering with Northwest Schools to see what needs exist within the school district that we might be able to meet.
  • Establishing an after-school club or group to mentor young people.

I know there are other ideas out there--they just haven't been shared with me yet. But all of them are geared around this one concept of meeting people where THEY are... because if they're not yet in the church, then we need to go take the church to them. Already, three of our leaders have asked when they can have some of my time before I leave for Florida on Thursday, and I can't tell you how thrilled, excited, encouraged, proud, and hopeful I am as I look forward to talking with each of them.

Rev. Bone says at Good Seed, they try to partner with four groups:

  • Businesses in the community
  • Government agencies serving the community
  • Schools
  • Non-profit groups

With each of them, they go and introduce themselves and ask, "What do you do to serve our community?" And then, "How can we help?" In each case, they only ask that they be able to explain who they are (they don't lose their identity to whoever they're partnering with) and why they are helping (they don't compromise the mission of the church).

One other thing that Pastor Glenn said that rang my bell was to ask, "If Pathway burned down tomorrow, would anyone be sad besides us?" Would anyone wonder who would provide the essential services that the community relies on if Pathway were gone? Would the community recognize it as a loss? If the answer is no, then we know we're not making an impact for Christ on the world around us.

If we can turn this corner, it may take a little while before we see tangible results. It will take time to develop a trust with our neighbors. It will take time for them to see this isn't just one or two things, but a lifestyle change for us. And we'll have to wait, one by one, for them to have a season in their life that brings them to a time of spiritual searching. But be assured that there will be fruit from this. This is the missing link for us in becoming a church that is fully healthy, growing, relevant, and impactful.

Two years from now, when we're talking about planting our first church, there's no reason we shouldn't be a church double our current size or more.

No comments: