Congregational presence: Love in action
Today’s culture is asking the church: Can you practice what you preach?
One of the main messages of the gospel is the love of Christ! In Scripture we hear Jesus say, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” John 13:35 (NIV).
The church cannot go far in its preaching, teaching and practice without considering that we are a people loved by God and sent to love our community.
Many churches throughout North America are seeking ways to recontextualize the gospel and bring vitality to their local ministries. While a great deal of exchange occurs about the missional church effort, biblical concepts such as Christ’s love, hope and healing need to be contextually practiced to become effective and impact our neighborhoods.
I have heard many pastors ask how they can spark excitement in their congregations when many of the members are really spectators. They are not excited about getting involved. It seems that the wonderful work of mission and ministry does not inspire people as it should. Maybe rephrasing the question might help.
Compelled by the love of Christ, how well do we know the needs in our community? “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give” Matthew 10:7-8 (NIV).
We cannot love our neighborhoods without getting in the chaos of people’s lives. When Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” the word “neighbor” is very far-reaching. If you are active in pursuing your own happiness, be as active and involved in pursuing the happiness of your neighbor. Jesus is reframing our practices as God’s people, requiring us to seek our neighbor’s well-being with the same zeal and vigor as our own. This posture is an opportunity for congregations in rural or urban areas to be intentional in connecting and relating to the people in the neighborhood.
I would have never visited a church if it were not for a basketball game in a local church gym in Chicago. It was there that for the first time that I sat and heard the story of Jesus during an intermission in the game. I listened to the words that Jesus loved me. I wondered why? I was not lovable. However, those moments were gospel seed moments that later found root in my life. As the church we do not need to apologize for opportunities to share the love of Christ. We are more than a social club or a Sunday morning gathering of people. Jesus told the apostles: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to so that you might go and bear fruit” (John 15:16 NIV).
I believe it is essential for congregations to lean into becoming more imaginative, innovative, and Holy Spirit-inspired in recontextualizing the gospel of Jesus Christ. The missiologist Alan Roxburgh in “Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood” poses important interrogations that serve as a starting point for addressing the question of mission practices, including, “What is God up to in our neighborhoods and communities? What is the nature of an engagement between the biblical imagination and this place where we find ourselves, at this time, among these people? What then will the local church look like when it responds to such questions?” (2)
Ultimately, a congregation cannot express God’s love without being involved and present. The very act of love compels us to connect with people and walk the journey together. We see this powerfully commanded in the Great Criteria found in Matthew 25:31-48, and the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.
(1) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Drum Major Instinct,” Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, February 4, 1968.
(2) Alan Roxburgh, Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood, Baker Books, 2011, p. 44
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