To Reach Your Community, You Must Fall in Love with Your Community

“Give me Scotland or I die!”

That’s what John Knox said of Scotland. I would say: To fall in love with your community, you have to die–to yourself, to the mission and to your own preferences.

If you are going to reach a community, you need to be deeply in love with it. Jesus, looking down on Jerusalem, cried, “They are like sheep without a shepherd.” We have to say the same, about Plainview, Philadelphia and Pasadena. I am convinced you will not reach a community for Christ unless you are deeply in love with the community and its people.

Think Like a Missionary

I have often called for Christians in our world to think like missionaries in the Two-Thirds World. If you have ever been around a missionary, you know that the good ones all love the people they are sent to–they can’t stop talking about the culture and context.

When missionaries take up residence cross-culturally, they truly love the culture where they live, sometimes even more than the culture back home. In the same way, a person looking to minister in a specific community cannot be disinterested in it. If it is a fishing community, you had better love fishing or learn to love it. If the community has a high school football team, you had better keep up with it. If you are a church leader, the community and its people must have an important part in your heart.

I think you and I need the same passion in our contexts–our own personal “Scotlands”–for the Gospel.

Jesus demonstrated this very concept in His earthly ministry as He: walked with the people in His culture, lived with them, listened to them, told stories to them, welcomed their children, and recognized and met people’s needs.

The Church in Your Head

Too many church leaders read a book or go to a conference and get a great vision of a church in their heads. The problem is, they don’t have a great vision for their community. The catch here is that part of you often has to die. Your own preferences have to be laid down to receive Christ’s call and mission to the community. I don’t care what you like; I care that you love the Gospel and the people God has called you to reach. You may have to die to your desires–to pastoring a cool church in Manhattan or a laid back church in Southern California.

Leading the Church to Love

As a church leader, you must be willing to die to your preferences so your community can be reached with the Gospel, and so must your church. In established churches, this can be even more challenging than personally dying to self. This is because the pastor often already has the vision and burden to reach the community, but the church is comfortable residing in the Christian ghetto insulated from the community. (While maybe not as common, church myopia can also be a problem for planters if the new church is growing primarily by people coming from other churches, most, if not all, of whom already have their own ideas about how church ought to be.)

Reaching a community for Christ is not about you and your preferences. It is more about Jesus and his mission to send you to people. Your goal is what Count Zinzendorf said: “Preach the Gospel, die and be forgotten.”

Until the church dies to its comfort, preferences, wants and desires, it will not be able to reach the community. But like a grain of wheat, it must die so that it may bring new life.

Perhaps we should combine the phrases of Knox and Zinzendorf and say, “Give me Scotland or I die … then let me die and be forgotten.” When that matters most, you’ll die to self, live for His mission and reach your community in ways that are unimaginable.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> Are there any reliable statistics about the percentage of church plants that fail after 3 years in the US?
 
— Jon Moore
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 

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