By Lori Wiersma and Connie Kuiper VanDyke
A mission-focused church is one that has an eye to reaching out, to gathering in, to fulfilling God’s kingdom purposes in everything that it does. Special mission emphasis weeks are great for highlighting specific ministries, but a mission-focused church is always looking for ways to reach beyond its own needs and spread the Good News wherever God gives the opportunity.
Mission-focused ministry flourishes in a church culture that says, “We are here to serve.” That sounds simple, but it becomes more complex in situations where the needs of the church conflict with the needs of those outside your church.
Ephesians 4:12 affirms that congregational leaders are to “equip [God’s] people for works of service.” Deacons serve as key catalysts for motivating the congregation to be involved in the community ministry of their church. But building a culture of loving your neighbor as yourself requires more than deacons alone can accomplish. So what can you do?
- Encourage your pastor to remind the congregation of God’s love for the poor.
- Work with the elders to cover the topic of stewardship, reminding them to talk about sharing all gifts (money, time, and talent) within the church and in the wider community.
- Show your own enthusiasm for neighborhood initiatives and the work being done by other ministries.
- Report frequently on that work, and highlight stories of lives being changed by your church members showing their love in concrete, specific ways.
Many churches have a “ministry moment”—a time in the morning service for updates and stories. If your church doesn’t already do this, ask your pastor for time to share. Invite people with projection technology skills to help you prepare a motivating presentation.
Becoming a mission-focused church requires deliberate action on the part of your local diaconate. Choose one of the deacons or someone from the congregation to be the point person who regularly reports to the diaconate about needs outside your church. Make this a regular item on the agenda for your deacon meetings. This will help keep you and the congregation aware of opportunities within God’s kingdom.
Your point person should be proactive in seeking opportunities to extend God’s love in your local community. Do you know what your neighbors think of your church? Do they realize that your church is willing to minister to them?
Invite your diaconate to work with people in the community to develop a vision for how the church can best serve the community. This can be accomplished by having church leaders
- walk the neighborhood to listen to people’s needs and find out their dreams.
- call a meeting and invite neighbors to give input.
- engage institutional leaders such as police, public school officials, or the people who run the local homeless shelter.
As you develop this vision for neighborhood ministry, you may discover opportunities to serve like these:
- mentors for KidsHopeUSA (www.kidshopeusa.org), a program that partners local churches with elementary schools to reach at-risk children.
- mentors for Big Brothers/Big Sisters (www.bbbs.org) programs.
- volunteers at local food pantries, homeless shelters, or soup kitchens.
- job coaches for people released from prison.
- tutors for literacy programs or summer school remedial programs.
- mechanics to fix cars for single parents.
- coaches at sheltered work sites for people with cognitive impairments.
- companions for elderly shut-ins.
The list you come up with will be as unique as your neighborhood—there are countless ways for members of your congregation to use their gifts to bring mercy and justice to hurting people. It’s up to your diaconate to make sure they are aware of the opportunities. Make sure you provide those who are already volunteering with words of encouragement. And to encourage more people to participate, offer opportunities for volunteers to share their stories with the congregation.
Reaching Beyond the Neighborhood
Extending your influence beyond your neighborhood can help you meet needs farther from home. Encourage members who have the time and skills to volunteer for work projects in locations affected by disasters. Ask the missionaries your church supports if they can use volunteers to help with projects such as building churches or schools or working in orphanages, hospitals, or food and clothing distribution centers. Such experiences give church members firsthand experiences of life in other cultures and countries. Often volunteers come back transformed and motivated to address the injustices in their own community and in the world.
It is easy to become engrossed with the needs of your congregation, but God’s kingdom extends to the whole world. That’s why you’ll want to be proactive in making your congregation aware of opportunities to serve beyond your church walls. As Jesus taught in Matthew 25:34-40, together you’ll reap eternal rewards!