holistic community engagement

The following is a post I wrote for The Greenhouse Effect, a church-planting blog run by Churches of Christ in NSW. It’s fairly general compared to my regular posts, but hopefully you get something meaningful out of it.

The Church is meant to engage with the community that it finds itself in – most would not doubt such a statement. But how are we meant to go about such engagement?

Many church planters begin with a desire to ‘grow’ a church. Such church’s community engagement becomes necessarily characterised by a need to convince people to attend a program. Not only do people in a community tend to see through such shallow motives and relationships, but also this is not how God calls the Church to engage culture.

In the biblical narrative God always called people ‘out’ in order for them to represent an alternative reality which will eventually bring redemption to the dominant reality – this was Israel’s role, this was Jesus’ model, and this is the Church’s function.

So what kind of ‘redemption’ do our communities need? It is not enough to simply say they need to be evangelised (as true as that might be). Redemption is about freedom from slavery, and no doubt our communities often need this in all spheres of existence.

Our communities need redemption from depression and loneliness – meaningful relationships and a sense of belonging for all people.

Our communities need redemption from unjust class and wealth disparity – social justice for the poor and marginalised in the face of unjust systems keeping them in bondage.

Our communities need redemption from ecological issues – the degradation of the natural world not only leads inevitably to economic problems, but also to the demoralisation of culture as beauty is tainted.

Our communities need redemption from lifeless culture – particularly in poor communities a vibrant cultural life can be almost non-existent leading to mass demoralisation and anti-social and harmful behaviour. Humans need creativity (music, art, architecture etc.) to not only find beauty and meaning in life, but also to emulate God’s creativity as his image.

Of course the list could go on. The point here is that communities have wide needs and churches must engage their community in a holistic way that meets the fullness of these needs.

This is not simply a good idea, or worse, a good evangelistic strategy. Rather, this is the level of redemptive activity that God has called us to as modelled in the words and deeds of Jesus who addressed not merely religious concerns, but also concerns related to relationships, politics, economics, culture and justice.

How deep are we willing to go with our communities?


Posted on January 31, 2011, in Culture & Art, Mission, Theology and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Matt: I like your points. Especially that of meaningful relationships.

    I recently made a blog post about what is the church to do with fallen pastors.http://craigbenno1.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/the-quandary-of-church-and-fallen-pastors/ Drawing on the story of the prodigal son.

    I think that to be a “True” community, we need to be willing to not only share in the success’s; but to also share in failure. I think for the most part our churches are geared toward shallow fellowship; because we fear to be imperfect.

    We often talk about reaching out to our community, but what do we do when we hear of a Christian who is an addict of some kind, or is working through same sex attraction; or God forbid someone in our cell / leadership group brings up such a personal issue…

  2. Mate I totally agree. It’s very difficult to express your failings in a church. And what happens when you do? You get stepped down from something, or gossiped about. I’ve seen this happen countless times, and it’s bullshit. It doesn’t surprise me that people leave churches never to go back to one again. The church can be such a beautiful family, but it can also be so ugly.

    Of course if you ever say anything like that someone will usually drop the line, “The problem is that the church is made up of humans.” But of course this is just circular reasoning – the church is human, so that gives it the license to treat people as if they should be more than human. There is something wrong with that.

    • I have to say I love the church; for it is Christ’s bride. Hmmm you have given the topic for a future post in reflecting just how much the church should receive the grace and mercy of Christ within so that it can reflect it back out…

      On another note; some years ago a friend told me about a small eastern suburbs ministry around Bondi that had spent much time in school ministry / scripture teaching… though they tried to get other churches to help.. they were fairly isolated and for the most part did it themselves. Some years later they found the same people they taught in school started to gravitate towards there church and it seemed the church grew over night…

      Bringing redemption into our communities has to be a long term goal and not the practice of changing tact if it doesn’t produce quick and easy fix’s…. though of course there has to be wisdom in regards to measuring the ongoing engagement with people.

  3. Matt this is my heart,
    what I dream about, this is where my imagination begins, it is my prayer that it will become a reality,
    I have experienced much of the negative side of church life and know this was not Christs plan for his Church or the community it’s to reach out to,
    thank you for being realistic and honest about things really are or can be..

  4. sorry should have said
    ” thank you for being realistic and honest about how* things really are or can be ..”

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