An External Focus?
Where do I start?
This isn’t where you get a group together around a table at your church and begin to talk about it. Can’t you just imagine the conversation? “No we don’t need to do that, let’s do this.” “That will never work.” “Well nobody will want to do that!” “We don’ have money for that!” And after everyone is worn out then you will all go home even further away from doing anything proactive.
Start externally. Go. Be on the lookout for where God might already be at work. Put on your curious hat and be open to new possibilities without a critical spirit. Consider these five practical ideas.
- Take a walk. If you were new to the community and trying to plant a church what would you do? You’d start walking around and meet people. How many churches have no relationship with the guy at the 7-11 on the corner or the diner at the end of the block? How many churches are a few blocks off the city center or the local police or fire department and yet you don’t know any names? Is that a problem? Well yes it is! The old saying fits here embarrassingly well: How can you be salt and light if you don’t ever get out of the saltshaker? Take a walk; get curious and meet people along the way. Ask about the community and ask about their life and their family. Exchange names and contact information. Do it again tomorrow and the next day.
- Identify the “man (or person) of peace” and get to know them. In Luke 10 it talks about this person of peace. They would be the one who welcomes you and is also a bridge to other people in the community. Get to know them. Talk to them. Learn from them. Join them in the activities, events, and gatherings where they can introduce you to others in the community. When you go, be nice. Listen. Care. Love unconditionally. You do not need to preach or even invite them to church. You are building relationships. God will nurture and bless the relationship if you are open to risking your authentic Christian self in the presence of strangers.
- Throw a party – away from the church. People are starving for relationships and are dying from loneliness. Host a gathering at a member’s home that is in the neighborhood. Invite a few church members and a lot of the neighborhood. When you talk to people the goal is not to invite people to church but to simply love them. Ask about their lives. Be genuinely interested. If prompted, offer to do what you can. Most likely you will not be able to promise money if a problem comes up but you can pray with them (yes, right then and there), you can help them with transportation, you can keep in touch with them (exchange contact information). Keep your promises. A variation of this is to throw a party for the first responders or teachers in the community who are often underappreciated. No hidden agenda, not about showing how good your church is as everyone wears a church t-shirt. No, just a meal, a gift, some cookies and a genuine thank you and a prayer. Huge deal simply showing love for the community. Salt and light will spread far and wide with this.
- Partner with another non-profit or existing helping agency. As you begin to learn about the community and get to know people you will no doubt run into other worthwhile groups doing good. Perhaps there is a partnership that is possible. It might be a food pantry, a homeless ministry that partners with local churches, a victim’s advocacy group, a substance abuse agency, an after school program for less advantaged kids, a tutoring group, or a sports ministry. How can you learn from them, support them, and work with them? It might not be as much that you or your church is making a huge impact on the community through this but it might just be the first step for your people to begin to try serving (externally focused) activities on for size. It gets their feet wet. They discover it’s not so hard and in fact it feels pretty good. God can work through them! What an awesome discovery!
- It often begins with the humility of prayer, asking God how you can be His hands and feet for the people in the community. The key however is to not sit and talk about it but do something. Get busy. Talk to people. Get off your property (and your behind) and get to know people by name. You can’t get anywhere in a parked car, but watch what God will do once you get moving!
Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, firstname.lastname@example.org or scottgress.com
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