In the 1950s, both pastors and churches had a sort of automatic "voice" in the community. People listened to pastors simply because of who they were. Being a church and a minister gave one a certain level of "prominence" in whatever community they were in. More and more we live in a culture where this is no longer the case.
In many ways, we live in a "post-Christian" culture; gone are the days when one can assume everyone was either a Christian or had a respect for Christians. In Jeremiah 29, the children of Israel find themselves in a similar situation. While in the Promised Land, they settled into a life of comfort; they were home. In this passage, Jeremiah describes the exile. The children of Israel had sinned and now they were being exiled.
Jeremiah wrote about the type of lives the children of Israel were to live while they lived in this foreign land. One of the main points Scripture makes is to seek the welfare of the city because if the city prospers, you too will prosper (vs. 27).
For churches today, this is one way we can re-establish the awareness and connection of our churches within their communities. When the community sees the church serving, they will in turn have a greater respect for Christians, and will be more open to conversations about the Good News.
Here are a few actions both churches and Christians can take to begin serving the community:
- Set up meetings with your city councilperson, mayor, police chief, housing authority director or other city officials to ask about specific needs in the community. Ask, "How can the church help?" Together, with the city officials, your church can figure out a few specific actions you can take to better the community. Not only will this be a blessing to the city officials, it will also give your church a good testimony amongst those you are ministering to and those who observe this.
- Learn your neighbors' names and find out their needs. If you do not know your neighbors, get to know them, ask how you can be of help, and ask for ways you can pray for them. This will begin opening doors in new ways you probably never thought possible. You can also pray for your neighbors by name, by visiting: pray4everyhome.com.
- Invite the community to serve with you. One thing we are learning about those under the age of 40 is that they want to make a difference in their community and they are going to do it with or without the church. When you plan to paint an older person's home, or deliver food to needy families, invite the community to come along with you. They will get to know your church members by serving side-by-side with you. This will give them a new appreciation for the church and will give you the opportunity to share Christ's love with them.
- Recognize the unique balance between the Great Commission found in Matthew 28, and the Great Commandment found in Matthew 22. As a Church, understand that both are important, and that the Great Commandment of loving your neighbor will allow strong relationships to emerge that will open a gateway to easily fulfill the Great Commission. In a "post-Christian" world, these relationships are crucial in order for your voice to be accepted.