For generations, we have written checks from the comfort of our tidy desks in pleasant homes far from disaster sites and refugee camps. We have “done mission” on work trips to interesting locations and while the accommodations were not as as comfortable as home, we went, we helped, and we returned to the familiar with a fresh perspective on our own privilege and wealth. Maybe we even made some lifelong friends – more likely from our mission team rather than among the people we traveled to serve. This kind of mission is certainly valuable. But God might be calling us to do more.
Sadly, some of the least-likely-to-be-confused-with-Jesus actions I’ve witnessed have been in church settings – especially those moments when congregations had the opportunity to make a lasting impact for good on their own church property but they refused:
- Congregations who could have turned their fellowship hall into a hot breakfast site but said no “because the neighbors wouldn’t want homeless people coming around.” Fun fact: the homeless people might be the neighbors. And they are hungry.
- Congregations with lots of land and perfect zoning to park disaster relief vehicles or stand alone food pantries on their premises, but they turn down the opportunity “because those trucks distract from our nice landscaping” and “the people who come for food might be criminals.” True story: some believe that the poor are either dangerous or deserve their financial situation. And we don’t want to be reminded that people in Louisiana are still dealing with Hurricane Katrina.
- Congregations with adjacent property that would be perfect for affordable housing but they say no because they might need that lot one day and – besides – are there really people in our community who can’t afford an apartment?
Imagine that your church decides to erect a warehouse for disaster relief medical supplies or open a preschool for refugee children or set up a free clinic for pregnant moms. And maybe it’s not pretty.
But on a huge (and – of course – tasteful) sign for everyone to see as they drive by you share Good News with the world: This is What Ministry Looks Like.
- “This Warehouse Supplied Health Kits for 25,000 Earthquake Victims Last Year”
- “This Preschool Provides Hot Meals and Loving Care to 42 Children from Syria Five Days a Week!”
- “Our Clinic Provided Free Maternal Health Care to 38 Moms in 2018”
If we hope to catch the attention of millennials, tell the world about the authentic impact your congregation is having in the world.
Authentic mission involves partnering with people whom some deem to be undesirable partners. Authentic mission involves getting our hands dirty sometimes – even when we didn’t plan for it today. Authentic mission involves getting into the ugly parts of life – side by side with those whose lives are not very pretty.
But we in the Church tend to prefer pretty mission. We like to think that we can help faraway people without getting too close to them and their trauma.
But the traumatized are among us. They are right next door or down the street. I for one am impressed with congregations that emulate God who was rich beyond all measure, but for love’s sake, became human and served the poor and powerless.
Pretty mission might just be killing the Church, slowly but surely. But God has presented us with so many people to love and serve in these early days of 2019. And congregations that sacrificially love God’s people are the future. And it’s a beautiful future.
Lower image from Shenandoah Presbytery in Virginia. This is a shower trailer for mission teams to use in disaster areas of the United States. It’s parked in a United Methodist church parking lot, thanks be to God. Source.