At CSBC, we’re rethinking mission. Inspired by GIA’s ‘moved’ campaign, we’re spending five weeks wrestling with what it means to be a missionary community. It’s tall order in a church like ours. We’re a diverse bunch, some of us understandably jaded by approaches to Christian mission we can no longer embrace. Still, we hear the bidding of Jesus to be salt and light in the world and to ‘make disciples of all nations’ and we know mission sits at heart of our identity and calling. So rethinking is a must.
Thankfully, for every cringe-worthy story of mission, there are multiple others that inspire. One I read a few years back comes from the ministry of a Baptist church in a poverty stricken neighbourhood on Chicago’s southside, a community historically beset by struggle and social dysfunction. The pastor James Meeks tells the story of the church’s early life and the role it played in the transformation of its neighbourhood.
Among other things, every summer the congregation took to the streets to pray on every street corner; they provided educational support and job placement services for local gang members wanting a new start; they actively lobbied to see the number of neighbourhood liquor stores reduced; they provided support services to local prostitutes, offering alternative means of income to those who wanted change. Most notably they targeted the specific block where violence, shootings and prostitution were rife–church members systematically cleaned up the block, painting every front porch, putting in new sod and replanting gardens, and installing lights in front of every home.
Today, nearly 30 years later, Meeks’ church is one of those burgeoning mega churches that has, to a significant degree, lost its local identity. Still, all credit to Meeks and his congregation for an approach to mission that sees salvation as more than preparing souls for heaven.
Two quotes from Meeks worth repeating, one on the nature of the church and the other on the nature of faith.
” … you can’t build a healthy church if it isn’t working to improve an unhealthy community. Many people have built ‘healthy churches’ while the community around them is destitute. How then am I my brother’s keeper? No, in that case, I’m just my own keeper. How can a church see a community week after week and be oblivious to what’s happening in that community? That’s not a healthy church! Our mission is always to build a healthy people, and that automatically means that you are concerned about what else happens on your Jericho road.”
“Faith is like air. You can’t keep air. I tell people, ‘Hold your breath …’ And everybody inhales and holds it. Then I say, ‘For a week.’ They all exhale immediately because they know they can’t keep air for a week. In order to get more you have to release what you have. Likewise when you tie a string around a finger to keep the blood there. You eventually destroy the finger. You can’t keep blood in a certain spot; it has to circulate. Faith is the same. If people just come to church and ‘keep the faith’ but never put it to work in some way, we’d lose it. Faith dies. For our church to flourish, we have to keep finding ways to put our faith to work! Otherwise church would be like training and training for an Olympic meet, but the Olympics never come. I’m the coach, getting people ready for the swimming event, but if I never schedule a meet, the training is futile.”