What will it take to authentically reach our communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Shane Wildermoth offers some prayerful reflections.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV).
As Jesus’ followers, that’s our calling – it’s also my key encouragement.
I’m aware of many community-orientated ministries that have gone before us. Through ministries, schools, hospitals and universities they’ve given back to the community.
A challenging thought, to me, is that over time, many of these ‘ministries’ – though once community-orientated – seem to have become more business minded, even outright businesses.
When this happens, there’s a high likelihood they’ll lose the original intent of what it is to ‘be’ the Church in the community.
This shift affects those ministries for many years.
I’m also challenged that, for a time, many of the ‘ministries’ the Church ran centred around the church building.
It seemed many would only head into the streets – their community – to preach. Hear me, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that – it’s undoubtedly what we’re called to do.
In fact, that’s what I was involved in before God called me off shore into missions. May I simply encourage us that reaching our community is broader.
Being the ‘light’ we’re called to be involves serving practically. On returning to New Zealand, I noticed two things. The Church appeared to either be heading towards forgetting the communities around it, or it was becoming more involved in the community with a ‘social’ – not a gospel – intent.
As I got involved in our local community, I saw broken people struggling.
The Church, it seemed, was nowhere in sight.
Communities are our God-given ‘spheres of influence’ – people need to see the Church continually involved in them.
A key question is, “…how can we practically help in ways which ultimately point people to the gospel?”
Because, community-centred outreach has to lead people to the gospel. Through genuine relationships, this process may take years.
Many people may also tell you of times they’ve been hurt by the Church. With this in mind, there are two areas the Church can prayerfully consider.
Are some of your congregation volunteering through organisations like parent-teacher associations – PTAs – or your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB)?
Is the Church practically involved in your community?
Where my home congregation – Te Awamutu Bible Chapel – (TABC) is concerned, we run a community café every Wednesday.
We have a lot of congregational involvement, both in the kitchen and in sitting with, and talking to, people at the café.
It’s been running for about eight years, purposefully connecting with other TABC ministries.
With community work in mind, all ministries have to connect back to others, like Alpha courses or Christians Against Poverty (CAP).
Both longevity when – and commitment to – working with people is key to effective community outreach.
Some people in Te Awamutu have said, “…you’ve stuck with us. Others have – at times – come in for six months or so. Then, when they feel no one is coming to their church, they leave us high and dry.”
What a challenging thought.
One of the most important factors of ‘true’, or genuine, community work, I believe, is a joint passion. People with a passion for both the community they’re planted in, and for the gospel.
When someone heads up a community ministry without the passion for the gospel, we simply end up with a ‘social’ ministry, not a ‘gospel’ ministry.
I’m not meaning we need to ‘preach’ to people every time we see them.
But, we must be committed to walking alongside them in their struggles – and joys – while taking opportunities God presents to share the gospel.
As I said, community ministry must also be tied into all other ministries of the Church. It’s not separate. Maybe you’re wondering what TABC’s community ministries in our area are?
For example, there’s the community café, CAP Budgeting and the CAP Debt Centre, a food bank – we make a point of someone sitting and talking with people every time they collect a parcel – counselling with professional counsellors, Alpha courses, a firewood ministry and allowing our building to be used for specific community gatherings – including weddings, funerals, birthdays and even floral art shows.
Some might be surprised by things we allow to happen in our church building.
But, a building should be more than just a facility sitting idle all week, apart from a group of Christians gathering on Sundays to use it.
When the community is welcome, they become part of your outreach, and – again – opportunities open up to share the gospel.
Jesus recognised people were going to hell because of sin. We need to catch Jesus’ vision. The good news He’s given us is the answer.
When was the last time you walked around your community? Does your community know you’re part of a church in town?
People are struggling, and, while there are many organisations helping physically, only the Body of Christ – His hands and feet – can, through Him, bring both physical and spiritual healing.
Our communities must see us as ‘real’ people who love them. Let’s not get tied up in ‘numbers’.
Rather, let’s be motivated by a desire to see each person we come across in our communities encountered by the gospel.
That passion should be central to all community work. Jesus told us to shine our light before others. So, just like Jesus walked among the people, so should we.
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About the author
Shane Wildermoth is associate pastor at Te Awamutu Bible Chapel. His main role is to bring the gospel to the community, providing opportunities for the church family to get involved in evangelism – including Bible studies, preaching, and teaching. Shane and his wife Rene have been back in New Zealand since 2009, having previously served as missionaries in the Philippines.
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