When I was a pastor, one of the greatest challenges was to try to figure out how to bring Jesus into our communities. We would talk about that a lot—in our staff meetings, in our elder meetings, in our deacons meetings. I would talk about it from the pulpit. I would write e-mails about it. And sometimes I would beat my head against a wall because I couldn’t seem to get the formula right!
Then it occurred to me. What if we aren’t called to bring Jesus into our communities—as though he isn’t already there? What if our calling as churches and individuals is simply to join God in what God is already doing?
That sounds great, but let’s be honest—this involves a significant paradigm shift! It’s a major change both for church members and especially for church leaders.
But it’s a paradigm shift that makes sense, doesn’t it? It makes perfect sense that God is already at work out in our neighborhood, in our workplace, at our school. “The previousness of God” was evident throughout the scriptures (you can read more about that in this post and this post), and it must be true also today.
But what if we don’t know what God is doing “out there”? How can we discover what God is up to out there beyond the walls of the church?
When I served a local congregation, I spent most of my time with church folks. That’s not a bad thing. That was my calling. I worked with our staff, with our elders, with our deacons. I met with other pastors in our presbytery for regional leadership. I visited church members in the hospital and prayed with them in my office.
But only a small percentage of my time was spent with people who weren’t involved in the church. I suspect that may be the case for some of you, as well. And even if I had had a lot of contact with non-church folks, I was still only one person. How can one person discover all the many ways God is at work in one’s community?
If you’re anything like me—focused on the ministry to which God called you within the church—you simply don’t have the capacity to discover all that God is doing outside the church. Again, this is not a bad thing. Pastors are only human, after all. The beauty of the church is that God has his people out there—all over the place!
God’s People Are Out There
While pastors tend to work mostly with people in their congregation, church members tend to work mostly with people outside their congregation. They go to the gym. They take their kids to birthday parties. They are involved in community organizations.
And here’s the big one…
They go to work. They have jobs in which they work with people who, for the most part, are not a part of the church.
Why is this so important? Because it is those congregants with their “ordinary” and “secular” jobs who have a first-hand view of what God is doing “out there.” (I put “ordinary” and “secular” in quotes because, as we know, all work is sacred!) When God’s people listen, observe, and interact with co-workers, clients, supervisors, and employees, they get a unique glimpse into what God is up to in the lives of those outside the church.
If only ministry leaders had a structure for learning from their people who are “out there.” I’ve got a few thoughts on that and I’ll share them in future posts.