Churches often seem to struggle understanding their host community as they should-- and that hinders the effectiveness of their ministry. No doubt these churches are sincere in their efforts to reach the lost. Many hours of prayer, sermons brought with passion and desire to see lives changed, and many other strategic initiatives are accomplished with the pure motive to see people come to know Jesus Christ. Some of the frustration experienced by churches for a lack of community response, might be diagnosed by asking questions like these:
1. Who is in your community?
2. Where do they gather?
3. What do they think as they do?
4. Do I even love them? Really?
What we see many times are valiant efforts for God's kingdom that might be effective in another community, but are not being effective for the church that is utilizing them. Are communities truly so hardened to the gospel? Maybe. Do people perceive Jesus to be so irrelevant they simply will not respond no matter how fervent the effort? Perhaps.
While this might be the case in some contexts, it is not the case in all of them. (I doubt it is the case in many of them) We must consider that some churches simply have not thought through WHERE they are in a missiologically discerning way. They have not thought in missional ways how they might engage their host community in a way that makes the gospel understandable and meaningful.
Now, this is not to say that "making the gospel clear" is enough. Only God can open a heart and redeem a person. Thankfully, more and more people see the necessity of clear gospel communication and strategic engagement. Yet, they are often asking, "How?"
With this post, I will start a series to explore the idea of understanding and effectively engaging your community--what I've called "breaking the missional code" in your community (yes, oh sharp-eyed ones, I did co-write, with David Putnam, a book by the same name, Breaking the Missional Code: When Churches Become Missionaries in Their Communities). Hopefully, the truths from it will help you and your church effectively reach into your community with the gospel.
Oddly enough, understanding a context often starts with understanding ourselves. We see the world through certain lenses and with certain passions. Knowing both helps us to see more clearly the context around us. So, we start there...
Understanding Self and Calling
In attempting to engage your context--or break their missional code-- we begin in the wrong place if we start trying to discern our community before we have discerned ourselves. Knowing who we are, as leaders and a church, helps us to consider how we might engage those around us. We are unprepared to understand our host community if we have not examined our motives, our gifts, or our calling.
Too many pastors lead churches that exist in their heads, not in their actual context. There is no "Fantasy Church League" allowing us to draft the perfect team from an unending talent pool. Wishing to have Chris Tomlin lead worship, a Matt Chandler-like teaching pastor, a Bob Roberts type to lead in mission and church planting, and so on does not prepare you to minister where you live. Ministry takes place where God has actually placed you, not where you wish He had placed you.
Knowing who YOU are helps you to think about WHEN and WHERE you are as a leader and a church. Knowing one's self helps you to know your context.
Furthermore, part of understanding your self is to understand your call-- and to engage a community you need to be called to the community. If you are going to engage, you must have a passion for that community, its people, and God's work there.
Engaging the community requires, before most other things, being called to that community. The calling requires a clear sense of biblical purpose for your life, a mission, and how that is lived out in a context. You can't pastor or lead a church to effectively reach a community if you are not certain that God has not sent you to that community. You must be able to echo the words of Jesus in Luke 4:43, "I was sent for this purpose." As John Knox once cried out, "Give me Scotland, or I die!"
So, engaging your community starts with knowing (both individually and congregationally) who YOU are and where God calls you to be on mission.
More next week...