Our clear call from Jesus is to partner with Him to establish His kingdom of love, peace, and power here on earth. One of the most apparent invitations to this end is found in the book of Jeremiah (29:6) where we are exhorted, as people living in exile, to seek the “peace and the prosperity of our city."
Many churches unintentionally disconnect themselves from this call, and as they do, everyone – both inside AND outside the church, experiences tragic loss. There isn’t a city official in our nation today who doesn’t want the community they govern to be peaceful and prosperous. When peace and prosperity are found in a city, everybody wins – families, governments, educational institutions, law enforcement agencies, small businesses, homeowners, citizens, churches and the kingdom of God. For our nations to thrive, our cities need to experience peace and prosperity. It is the church’s responsibility to help foster this.
Over the past three years, we have tried to take this call seriously and have planted a church that sees a direct correlation between the health and strength of our church and the city’s peace and prosperity. We are punching way beyond the weight of our influence in the various secular sectors of our society. We are discipling people to an understanding that Christ’s call in relationship with Him means a relationship to our community. The goal of our church is not greater numbers of “butts on seats” or “balances on spreadsheets”, but to see crime go down, grades go up and neighbors to know each other so that peace and prosperity can exist. Through our short history, there are five things that we've learned about connecting with our community.
1) Understand your City’s Ecosystem.
We believe that every city has an ecosystem in place that is essential to its survival. For example, the government must have a solid tax base to make our cities function. To have a good tax base, it needs people moving into the city. For people to move into a city you need successful schools. To have successful schools we need safer schools, to have safer schools, we need lower crime. To have lower crime, we need proactive, community-based enforcement. Each organization in our city is a part of a matrix that needs each other to survive.
We believe that the church has a vital role to play in this ecosystem and that we must be involved in it. Because of the message we steward and proclaim we have a crucial role in pumping healthy oxygen into every sector of our community. The church should not have a top down, “the other agencies need us” philosophy as we have had in our past nor an isolating separatist position of "we-can-do-this-on-our-own," but we should assume the posture of Christ who built his church - to serve. Our role in the ecosystem is to serve, to love, to resource, and to bring health.
As we start to see the entities of our city function within an ecosystem we start to understand our position and role in it - as servants who serve.
2) Understand the Power of Togetherness
Psalm 133 exalts the value of togetherness. King David proclaims that when people are together, God's presence and provision shows up. Presence and provision is another way of saying peace and prosperity! Jesus often talks about the importance of togetherness and Paul paints pictures of the power of it.
To impact our communities, we have to understand togetherness. The Latin word for Priest means “bridge builder” and as the "priesthood of all believers" we must be about the business of bringing people together. Our church is committed to bringing people together before Christ for the purposes of God, the coming of the kingdom and the well being of our city.
Bringing people together is something much deeper than networking and much richer than just connecting. It's about knowing, understanding and committing to go "with."
My capacity as a pastor and our ability as a church is limited if we just do our best. There is exponential value for everyone when everyone gets and works together. To connect with a community, one of the greatest gifts we can offer is to seek to bring people together. For example, our city’s Parks and Recreation Department was struggling to develop events that brought families together. Now, several churches partner together to host events that connect thousands of families around fun, memory making, family building activities. This only happens because we value the power of togetherness.
3) Break down silos in your city
Many organizations within a city function in silos. They care about their success and well being without realizing that they need other agencies to fully flourish. For many years the church has fallen into this trap believing that our success is independent of what is happening around us in the community.
One way that we have done this in our community is by bringing the leaders of the different organizations together. We call this our “Leadership Forum," a relational and regular gathering of community influencers. We bring together leaders from various spheres (school, government, civic groups, non-profits, churches, law enforcement, etc) in our community to get to know each other, share what they are doing, see how we can complement each other and look at how we can partner with each other to help our organizations succeed. As we talk, silos break down.
It’s possible, I suppose, to have some level of peace while we exist in our silos, but it’s impossible to experience our prosperity potential in isolation.
A recent example of this was our local public middle school looking to for a way to teach their students the value of servant leadership. We connected them with about 20 projects throughout our city, including washing all of the cars in our local Police Departments fleet. As this happened, the students not only learned to serve, but they became friends with the police officers. When this happens, the potential of crime decreasing increases and the potential for grades to climb goes up. If these two sectors had remained separated, their ability to fulfill their goals would be limited.
4) Find the overlap between the church and the city.
Overlap is the space where we can agree and where we have something of mutual benefit in common. As churches who want to connect with the community, we have to find overlap. If we expect people to meet us on our terms, we face irrelevancy. If we succumb to needs of other organizations we experience compromise. We believe that the church fulfills its mission when we find overlap, those areas of vision that are common to both the church and the community organization.
For example. I serve in the professional sports arena as a chaplain. The overlap between faith and sports is character. Character issues matter profoundly to God and also to every sports coach who wants to succeed. As I meet with the soccer team, we talk on the platform of character. In the education sector, the underlying key that helps our students flourish rests within their family system. The scriptures affirm that the church should be the biggest advocate for the family that there is. In government, one of the crying issues of our day is for leaders with integrity, and these are the types of leaders that the church, through discipling people in Christ, should be producing.
Once overlap is established trust becomes easier. Once trust has been established love can flow more freely. Once love is established Christ can be shared more organically and honestly. A church that is connected to the community must be on the lookout for areas of overlap, a shared space that we can meet where everyone benefits.
5) Add tangible value
Our credibility as a church and the dream of seeing God's kingdom come on earth rests on our ability to put love into action and to provide tangible value to the rest of society. If we are building churches the right way, our church leaders must have a selfless agenda for helping our city succeed. The result of a faithful church includes lovingly adding God given value to this world.
Recently our local public school wanted to strengthen and clean up its identity, and so it mandated all students to purchase and wear school uniforms. This was a very good idea, but hurt the small population of the school whose students couldn’t afford the uniform. Thus these children were isolated and teased by their peers because they stood out. Upon hearing of this, within 4 hours, we were able to give the school a check for enough money to make sure that every child had a uniform. Bullying subsided and the developing “pecking order” deteriorated. The Church must seek ways to add tangible value.
Another example. The top two kinds of phone calls that our local Police Department receives are about situations of domestic disputes and calls from lonely or scared seniors. Neither of these calls are ones that the police is particularly empowered or able to do much about, but the church is. Along with several other churches, we have formed a chaplaincy program with the police department that can help them respond to such calls and serve people in ways that the police aren’t equipped to do. The Church must add value to other organizations.
In our “What’s in it for me” culture, the church has, in Jesus, something and someone incredible to offer to the world. We must share Him in tangible ways.
One of my mentors told me that our role as ministers it to "Find a need and meet it and find a hurt and heal it." Our cities and communities are full of needs and hurt that only the power of Jesus, dispensed through the local church, can meet and heal.