Featured Photo called “Northern Exposure” by Mark Henspeter, under Creative Commons license
As a leader who mentors youth in their twenties, I have been feeling incredibly optimistic in recent years. For many young people in today’s church, the experience is changing from a decade ago. I have seen a number of waves of change over my years of ministry. I saw the rise and fall of bus ministry, the frenzy of building Christian schools, and the driving wind of the church growth movement. All of them had one thing in common – they started with the same premise: How can we get people into the church. Today, I am beginning to feel a cool breeze of freshness in ministry to people. I am hearing the right question more often: How can we meet the needs of our community? The emphasis is shifting. The problem isn’t getting them in, its getting us out. A couple of observations about the this new wind that I am excited about. They aren’t new and maybe aren’t profound, but they are important, so they bear repeating:
Observation #1: People go where there needs are met. If we minister to them to get them to join us, they can smell self interest. If we honestly give ourselves to real ministry – offering (along with truth from God’s Word) helpful tools and caring services that make a significant and sustainable change in our community, we will effect our town, our nation our world. Growth of our work will care for itself. Jesus said He’d build the church. Our focus is to be on reaching out and carefully sharing the Good News.
Observation #2: Not everything we have been doing is working. It is funny to me what we defend. I have heard people stand up for all kinds of things that when stripped away are nothing more than personal comfort issues of preference made to sound spiritual. We must not be afraid to change our programs, our approaches or anything else that will not compromise our message. There is a sustained onslaught against many of our Biblical values. Family life is disintegrating to the point that legislation is now being crafted to make all the abnormalities acceptable and normal. We live in a society that colors outside the lines and then moves the lines. Yet, we have a great future. We need to be open to change, since it is unavoidable anyway. We need to face the fact that our youth works have not yielded high retention, and try some other approaches. Believers must be attuned to the old saying: “If you want to change what you are reaping, change what you are sowing!” We must cling to the message – that is timeless and Word-bound. Yet the methods cannot be enshrined. If we keep acting like what we are doing is going to save families, we are in for a terrible surprise, coming soon to a community near you!
Observation #3: To reach people nobody else is reaching, we have to do things nobody else is doing. As a leader in my Christian community, I must take the responsibility to examine what my real contribution is to the life blood of my town. Am I building bridges to those who feel alone and torn apart by life? Is the message I bear coming to them in deeds or only in words? People will respond if I love and care about them because they are there, with no string to whether they will side with me on any issue whatsoever. To reach them, I don’t need a program as much as I need a heart transplant. If we are willing to love, we will be used to transform a community – because we are willing to do what many are not willing to do.
Observation #4: Many people die of boredom in church. I am not talking about the sermon, (though that may be true as well). The truth is, the church is the most under utilized army in the world. People want to make a difference. They really do want to serve, but they want it to matter. The old “serve us” world has left many people feeling empty. What is replacing it is a “service mindset”. Just last night, at a conference attended by teens they raised $92,600 for orphanages in Asia. The organizers were asking for $15,000. They saw first hand that when teens believe they can make a difference, they will give everything they can. That was today’s teen – the much maligned as a “self-absorbed” generation. I don’t believe it. I believe people are waiting for their leadership to help them figure out how to make a mark in this world before they exit for the next. It is our job to be ahead of them on how they can do it. What ministry opportunities are there in
Observation #5: Though there are truly some that have been pushing us in this culture, most people didn’t drop out of interest with God. In fact, the problem may not be them as much as it is us! Many of us have hidden our candle under a bushel basket to
keep the wind from affecting the flame. In the process, they lost the guiding of the light. What do I mean? Churches and believers that want to be effective must reverse the idea that “if we build the programs they should come”. We are here to reach lovingly into the needs of a community. When a church decides to turn its ministries into community benefiting projects, it places itself in the world in an unmistakable way. We need Bible education, so I am not burning down the Sunday School. Yet, if it is true that most people in our churches when surveyed say their interaction with the “ministry” is in a Sunday service listening, we lose our mission. We are ever equipping them for a job we never put in their path. We can change! We can take on the blood drive, have an adult Bible fellowship create a circle of hospital volunteers, we can create life skills classes and staff them with our own people. We can take our values, our service, and our love out to the
community. We can “serve Jesus by serving them!”
More observations later…feel free to post a comment below!