We live in a broken world. A result of that broken world is that every community has unmet needs. Whether you live in an urban, rural, affluent, poverty-stricken, college or resort town, the needs are so significant it’s impossible for one ministry or church to meet them all. But we can, and are responsible for, doing whatever's within our ability to strengthen and serve the neighborhood or community where God has us. I'm not talking about starting a new program; you don’t want to scratch where there isn’t an itch. What I'm talking about is a change of heart. To truly love and care for our communities, most of us need a heart transplant that enables us to be more aware of the needs around us. We are members of the community, not outsiders serving "them."
- Don’t do it alone. Invite your students to discover and discern the needs they can identify and help with. It’s hard for us as leaders to allow students the freedom to have a conviction from God about what can be done. It’s worth the risk to try. When doing this, it’s important to remember the axiom, More is caught than taught. Have the students you serve observed your convictions and passions? You also need to involve other church leaders. By including others in this process, you also empower them to own the actions that everyone agrees on.
- Form a partnership. I hold to the truth that Henry Blackaby shared in Experiencing God: Go where God is at work. Whether it’s a food pantry, a tutoring program, a clothes closet, a para-church ministry in the schools, or something else, get acquainted with what is already happening where you live. Whether our work is from within our denominational ties, community initiatives or non-profit organizations, I’d encourage you to think about and embody the truth that, “God is more glorified when we are more unified.”
- Pray. Make sure you are genuinely praying about what you should start doing. I began praying a few months ago that our church would intentionally reflect the Kingdom of God better to the people we reach. It can be a terrifying prayer but I think it’s a God-honoring prayer, so I’m still praying it for our church and encourage you to do the same.
- Keep pressing on. Finding inspiration to care for your community is a slow process and takes time. Begin the journey and get stronger at caring for and loving the people, culture, and uniqueness of where God has you. If you don’t have a deep affection for where you are, why are you there?
- Talk with someone you respect who can walk with you. This is a topic we cannot cover in one short article. You need at least one person who is in your corner to encourage and counsel you on the ways you can better love and care for your community and practically demonstrate compassion and grace. A fresh set of eyes will help you see the opportunities and dangers your view might be blind to while also serving to encourage you along the way.
My church started a partnership with a local elementary school this past year. They know we can’t do everything, but they also know that whatever we can do to help their staff or their students, we will do it. This month one thing we are doing is offering free babysitting for the teachers so they can have a date night with their spouse for free. We are also offering this to our police department. We’re not a big church, so we have to limit the kids that night to 20. But, we will do what we can to show them in a practical way that we care for them and want to serve them. Final thoughts (short & sweet):
- Start somewhere.
- Do what you can.
- Give God the glory.