Seeing Outreach through the Lens of Hope

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NOTE: The Building Blocks of Faith describe four spiritual needs everyone has that are met in Christ. Addressing these needs helps faith to flourish in people of all ages. For more in this series, see How the Building Blocks of Faith Can Shape Your Outreach Ministry and Neighborhood Engagement.

The following observations by Lesli van Milligen, Faith Formation Ministries’ regional catalyzer for Eastern Canada, are adapted from a recent blog post:

 

At various times during 2020/21, hope seemed in short supply. Between a raging pandemic, confusion about masks and vaccines, racial unrest, war in the Middle East, cyber attacks, and the many personal traumas people around the world have been facing from disasters, hope can seem elusive.

Honestly, I am not sure that many folks entered this turbulent time with a strong sense of what hope actually is. Hope and wishful thinking can often seem interchangeable. We say that we “hope the Blue Jays win” in the same way that we hope we arrive at our destination soon or hope we get a job offer. In our culture, “hope” can sound like a slightly more adult version of “wish.” 

So how is Christian hope, the hope we are created to live into and share with others, different? We learn in the Bible and through following Jesus that hope is having confidence, through Christ, in all of God’s promises. God is making all things new and is using us to accomplish that. Christian hope lives into the promise that God has a plan for me, for us, and for our world. Faith and hope are intimately connected. As Hebrews 11:1 says, “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve see Facebook posts where folks shout out their wishes, dreams, or hopes and cross their fingers that the universe will listen. Christian hope is different. Christian hope has an object and a strong foundation: a sovereign, powerful, merciful, loving, covenant-keeping God who sees us and hears our prayers. 

Why is hope so important in our outreach and neighborhood engagement? Because it is the one thing this world cannot offer, and Christ-followers have plenty to share. In many ways Christian hope is countercultural to what most secular social agencies or programs offer, because this hope is connected with the Savior who loves our neighbors deeply. 

Here are some things to think about when assessing whether or not your neighborhood engagement extends hope:

Hope invites others into places of thriving

In her book The Brave Way, Ellen Duffield uses a “thriving model” in her work with women and young girls who don’t yet know Jesus. Duffield is a devoted Christ-follower with a passion for empowering young girls around the world. Her “thriving model” is based on the biblical idea of shalom, and it aligns quite well with the Building Blocks of Faith. For Duffield, shalom is the place where folks live in hope while experiencing beloved community. It is the place where people are able to contribute out of their calling, and in doing so to bless others. It is also the place where people are able to be their authentic selves in light of God’s revelation of how they were created and where everyone experiences true belonging.

When these things happen, people thrive. The task of the church is to invite people into this type of thriving by calling them out of despair created by alienation, relentless labor, and the false self. How does your engagement with your neighbors create places of thriving and invite those around you to a place of hope?

Hope is restorative

I often hear ministry leaders wonder aloud why folks who attend a summer barbecue or receive food from their pantry don’t ever come to worship or join the church’s existing programs. I wonder if it might be because what is being offered feels temporary or is limited to one-off events? 

What would happen if the hope extended through a community gathering led to the possibility of smaller dinner-church type gatherings, or if a food pantry led to a community kitchen cooking experience? Wouldn’t it be hopeful if neighbors were invited to partner in planning these engagements rather than just receiving from the church? How might partnering with other community pillars like the local school or community center communicate a shared restorative approach to community engagement? How does your engagement with your neighborhood lead to the restoration of the community and its members?

Hope is more about relational connection than about stuff or services

Whether your church is located in a wealthy suburb or in a neighborhood stretched by disadvantages, people are struggling with loneliness, isolation, and relational poverty. And many people don’t have a relational safety net when they find themselves in a risky situation and are anxious and overwhelmed. It’s important to create spaces where people can meet each other and members of the congregation as a way of gaining a web of relational support. 

If your congregation has great success with children’s programming, for example, find ways for parents to network with each other and to access resources like the Alpha marriage course. Perhaps your church is being called to facilitate restorative practices in your community. How does your neighborhood engagement lead to the building of relational networks in your community?

Hope allows us to lead with our need

This is my husband’s strategy as a pastor, and it has helped us become part of the fabric when we move to a new community, which as a pastoral couple we have done often over our 30+ years of marriage. People are usually not quite sure what to do when they hear that pastors are moving into the neighborhood. My husband repeatedly reminds our family that we need our neighbors more than they need us in those first few weeks in our new house, and he models that by recognizing that the neighbors are the experts on how to live in that environment. Where can we find a good mechanic? What are the best restaurants in the area? What’s the safest route for the kids to bike to school? Our neighbors have always had the answers to those questions.

Congregations should approach their neighbors with humble curiosity about what assets exist in the neighborhood, and then find ways to support those assets. This communicates a congregational desire to belong to the community and help it thrive. How does your community engagement communicate a healthy need to learn from your neighbors?

Resources that support hope and restoration

  • Families and Schools Together is an organization that works with local agencies like churches, police departments, health departments, etc. to help schools empower families to better support the educational needs of their children. My husband and I worked with this community program in Canada for three years as part of our congregation’s community-building efforts. For more information, contact me at [email protected].

  • Christians against Poverty is a Canadian ministry that helps congregations support their neighbors who are struggling with debt.

  • Diaconal Ministries Canada provides Community Opportunity Scans and coaching for deacons who want to grow in their community development and engagement. Jodi Koemen at World Renew ([email protected]) is a great resource for deacons in the United States.

  • The Shalem Network has a variety of services meant to restore hope to communities, especially in the area of mental health.

  • City Kidz is a replicable approach to offering hope to children in marginalized communities. 

 

Want to learn more? We’ve gathered a wealth of resources in our free Building Blocks of Faith toolkit.

 

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Thanks Leslie for your thoughts. Love to see how our work is so interconnected!!