A question that every Christian (and every church) should ask all the time is
Do we exist IN our city or do we exist FOR our city?
Are you just in your city, or do the people around you know that the reason you are there, the reason your church exists, and everything you do, is motivated by your understanding that God has put you there FOR your city? We cannot ignore this.
Churches all over the place expect to open their doors, sit back, and watch the masses assemble. Like our own personal Field of Dreams, too many of us think that “if we build it they will come.” But that definitely wasn’t Jesus’ plan or method. In Acts 1, He’s giving final instructions to His followers. He tells them,
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.
And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem,
throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
Jesus mentions four regions, or “reach zones,” that are all important for different reasons.
- Jerusalem – this is their city, their community, their home. They were to start where they were, to exist not just IN their city but FOR their city, spreading the word and helping people and not just setting up a building and hanging out, but literally BEING the church in their city. What are you doing FOR your city, to show people within your reach that you’re not just NEAR them but that you’re there FOR them?
- Judea – their country. This is a broader reach. To accomplish this part of the mission, they’d have to have a plan. What is your plan for your “broader reach” within your country specifically? We’re not talking international missions here, I’m talking the colors on your flag. How are you making a positive impact in your country?
- Samaria – this is where it gets awkward. Most of Jesus’ followers were Jewish, with a few exceptions. Jews and Samaritans were like cats and dogs, but add racism, hatred, murder, and more of that sort of thing. When Jesus said this, they did a double take. “You want us to hang out with THEM?” Jesus was stretching them WAY outside of their comfort zone by telling them to take the message to, literally, the enemy. How are you reaching out to people that make you uncomfortable? It’s not that you hate them necessarily, but what about people who might hate you because of your faith? What are you doing to make a difference in their lives? How are you being stretched? Are you even open and available for God to use you this way?
- The World – this is hard to wrap our minds around because we instinctively think we can’t have this kind of global impact. “I’m just one person.” You think if you had more money, more power or influence, a different job, etc., that you’d be able to do more. But you can make a difference in the world in many different ways. What are you doing to help the message of Jesus Christ spread across the globe?
When we think about the idea of “Church on Mission” from this perspective it can seem more like Mission: Impossible. But the key lies in the very first part of this verse, when Jesus tells us the Holy Spirit will be with us. That makes it entirely possible.
So to make this practical, here are some suggestions for how you can make a difference TODAY in each of those four “Reach Zones.”
- Get involved in a local initiative, such as a homeless shelter, a community thrift store to benefit people with financial needs, an after-school program to hang out with latchkey kids, a litter pickup crew, etc. These all give you an opportunity to build friendships with others. If you’re in the northeast Ohio area, check out Rescue Mission of Mahoning Valley, The Way Station, the Big Reach Center of Hope, or FCC Columbiana’s own Oasis Food Ministry.
- Hand out free water bottles at a park, playground, bike trail, community event (check for permission first), etc. Put a sticker over the label with your church’s logo and website info so people can look you up. Or better yet, don’t. They’ll ask who you are anyway.
- Be on the lookout for “no strings attached” ways to serve others. I heard recently about a church that helped a family get a new roof on their house. The church not only paid for it, but did all the work themselves. And this family wasn’t even a part of their church. There were no strings attached. When you find ways to serve like this, people take notice. When there’s nothing in it for you, they know you care.
- Domestic mission trips are the obvious thing. Get a group together and go somewhere away from your area and help people. A group of us did this in 2011 by going to Huntsville, AL to help the recovery efforts after some devastating tornados tore apart several communities. We partnered with Teen Mission and a local church in Alabama to make this happen. This changed our lives.
- Child sex trafficking is HUGE in America, and most people don’t even realize it. We’re just now finding out how widespread this disgusting and terrible web reaches. You can find out how to make a difference through organizations like Saving Innocence. A friend of mine, Yvonne Goll, is their program coordinator. They do amazing work to stop the exploitation of children.
- On basically any street corner in any city, you’ll find someone who has no home, no job, no food. A couple friends of mine, Scott and Barb, regularly reach out to the homeless in Pittsburgh and other cities in our area. If you want to make a difference, let me know and I’ll get you hooked up with them to find out how you can get in on the great work they’re doing.
- Sponsor a child. Organizations like World Vision or Compassion International are doing great work to change third world countries by providing food, clothing, medicine, education, and other resources to communities that are struggling. For less then $40 a month, you can change a kid’s life. Quit going to Starbucks three times a day and do something good with that money!
- Help stop hunger. Organizations like Stop Hunger Now and Lifeline Christian Mission are working to feed the hungry around the world. Check out their websites to find out how to get involved in making a difference in this way.
- Adopt. I know this is no small commitment, but have you ever considered it? Pray about it. It’s scary, it’s big, it’s life-changing in many ways, but if you’re a believer of Jesus Christ, then God adopted you. Give it some thought and check out organizations like Bethany Christian Services, Show Hope, etc. There are kids all over the world (and that includes tens of thousands of kids right here in America) who need a loving home. Think about it.
- Provide clean water. This is so badly needed all over the world. Check out Charity: Water to get involved.
Now as for those darn Samaritans, the best thing you can do is pray for God to open (or soften, or shred up and start over) your heart to see how you can reach them where they are. And when you realize what that open door looks like, run through it before you change your mind.
These are just a few ideas. What other ideas or organizations do you know of that you would share with others to help them find ways to make a difference? Post them below so we can spread the word!