THE TAKE AWAY
In the World, But Not of the World
By Kersley Fitzgerald
We've heard this theme a hundred times — in the context of individual believers. But what does this look like for a specific congregation?
There are 8,345,654,231 churches in Colorado Springs. Well, El Paso County. And half that many para-church organizations. For some, outreach is a necessity to keep the tithes flowing and the doors open. To others, outreach is just part of the culture of the church. The church I went to as a kid wasn't known so much for its ministry as for the bells that chimed at noon every day. Those days are over, and I'm really impressed with how some churches manage to be an integral part of their community.
The pastor at the church we went to in Alabama is a big believer in this. The church is situated in one of the most integrated neighborhoods in Montgomery. One day someone at the church had a simple idea: set up a basketball hoop and invite the kids to play. They now sponsor several city-league teams and have grown into a surprisingly integrated congregation. And it began by seeing that the resource of their church building could fill a need in the community.
The church we go to here meets in a YMCA — not because we necessarily want to. But it's forced us to live simply and interact with others. We have to be out by noon. We need to make sure the coffee spills are taken care of so no one slips on the basketball court. And we have a ready-made venue for showing love to the community, whether it's joining in the Halloween Trunk-r-Treat, passing out water at the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot, or having semi-regular burger burns for the kids at the skateboard park. In this case, it's not the building that's the resource, but the people — people who are a little freer with time and money because we don't have a building to pay for and maintain.
For my aunt and uncle's church, the decision as to where to serve was easy — they share a back fence with a homeless shelter. It's simple, then, to collect clothing and make up hamburgers. And I think it's inspiring that instead of fearing or ignoring the homeless next door, they welcome and serve them.
When Dev retired last year he was at a loss as to what he should do next. But then we heard about a new Christian school that was starting up in a church outside of town — a church not directly affiliated with the school. It's been a very long, very hard year, but the school couldn't have survived without the gracious support of the church. And not just because the pastor is the math teacher and his wife teaches kindergarten.
The ministry I volunteer with is also benefitting from a generous church. If all the children in sex trafficking were to suddenly be freed, there would be fewer than 1% who could find an adequate residential treatment facility. That number is going to go up by three beds thanks to a church that is donating the use of its parsonage for girls recovering from the life.
There are myriad other examples here. Several of the bigger churches host concerts and satellite-fed conferences. One hosts a charter school. Several have food programs. And one is giving year-long, intensive training in Christian counseling. Next year, they'll release dozens of lay-counselors who can reach the community one-on-one.
The days when the church could sit in its beautiful building, waiting for the community to knock on the door are over, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. If we can get out as a church family, share our resources and facilities, and show Christ's love in practical ways, it's not only the local church that will benefit. People will be served and saved. Kids will be fed and clothed. And maybe Christianity will be known for its love more than its politics.
Image Credit: Jon Coyne; "Team Solomon Feb. 28th"; Creative Commons
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