Dear Friend, it is time to be honest with ourselves and our congregations. We are living in a culture of hurt that no American generation has ever experienced. I’m not saying there have never been times of greater hurt, but rather that our culture is surrounded by hurt and pain in ways that I never imagined just a few years ago. We hear of another community tragedy almost every week.
Time.com published an article in October of 2017 that helps us visualize the grief many Americans are feeling. If you could map grief, “there would be reigns of anguish radiating from Texas to Florida to Puerto Rico and Las Vegas.” From small towns to entire states, the events that transpired in 2017 alone have created regions of pain and suffering that have affected millions of people in our church’s communities.
Race riots and unrest in Charlottesville, VA
Las Vegas Shooting
Sutherland Springs, TX church shooting
Parkland, FL school shooting
Why Don’t We Act?
Imagine if God’s people were prepared and ready to help communities as the hurt was happening! I have found in my years of ministry that too often churches are ‘reactionary’ in their approach to helping the community. We tend to sit idly by and watch as others meet the needs of hurting people and then jump in late in the game…only to become frustrated that our efforts are ineffective! We have been led to believe that the only two options are ‘partnering’ with organizations/churches which we are in doctrinal conflict or sitting by and watching others bear the load.
There is a third option….
That option requires a little preparation on your part, but not preparation in the normal sense. Let’s be honest. When a community tragedy strikes, it is likely that it will not be something you would have prepared for ahead of time. Do you think the churches in Houston were prepared for record flooding? Do you really believe that churches in Las Vegas were prepared ahead of time to deal with a tragic shooting? Though they weren’t prepared for that exact disaster, there were churches that were ready to reach out and help their community!
I recently spoke with Dr. Johnny Pope, pastor of Christchurch Baptist Fellowship of Houston, TX. In that interview (which you can listen to here) It was such a joy to hear of a local church that reached out to both Hurricane Katrina evacuees as well as families displaced by the recent flooding. Christchurch also received financial aid from hundreds of local churches all around the country that was used to directly help those who lost their homes.
What If We Were Prepared!
How was their church and others like it prepared to meet the challenges of a hurting community? The answer is simple…churches that will minister effectively to hurting communities need to prepare in these seven areas.
1. Enlist the strengths of your congregation
When tragedy strikes the tendency of some leadership styles is to step up, take charge, and get it done. Be willing to take a step back and enlist the members of your church that God has equipped for this very important time! Let them take their talents and abilities and take some ownership in the work of the ministry. Be willing to hand off leadership to people that are equipped to handle it. That will free you up to minister to hurting families and searching hearts.
This doesn’t happen by accident, though. Pastors, we need to step out of the way and let God’s people do ministry every week. If no decision is ever made without your stamp of approval, then you are developing an atmosphere of dependence…dependence on you! Imagine how crippling it would be to a ministry if the pastor made all the ministry decisions and was suddenly caught up in the community disaster himself. *Be willing to get out of the way and let people lead.
2. Build internal communications
Nothing reveals a lack of communication like a disaster. In fact, history tells us that there have been many disasters that could have been avoided altogether if communication channels had been open. As a church, make sure your people know how to communicate with you and each other in a time of disaster. Is there a way to send an “all call” message? Do you have a private church Facebook group? Is there an active email list that can be used to communicate? Along the same lines, it is important that you…
3. Have an existing social media presence (in the community)
If you want to minister to people where they are, then you better get to social media on some level. I know of three pastor friends that went on Facebook live while a disaster was unfolding to assure the membership and reach out to the community. Those videos were viewed thousands of times!!! Think of the community reach you can accomplish by already having a social media presence before tragedy strikes. People listen to people they trust. People trust people they know. Does your community know you?
4. Have an existing community presence
As important as a social media presence is, having a physical presence in the community is equally as impactful. I was talking to a pastor today and he made this incredible observation. “Your community needs to know you care! If you are always trying to get something from them, then they don’t see you as a minister but as a salesman.” You will have a hard time being salt and light (outward) to your community if your only interaction with them is asking them (inward) to come to church.
5. Develop a “see the need, meet the need” mentality with your people
Do you know what happens if you wait till your kids are grown to teach them to obey? They will never learn to obey. Do you know what happens if you wait till a tragedy happens to develop a heart to serve the community? Your church will sit on the sidelines and watch other churches meet the needs! Look for ways that your church can reach out and help people before tragedy strikes. …and can I add, don’t just serve when it benefits your church! Teach your congregation to meet needs even if there is no benefit in return. That is being a servant!
6. Develop the ability to act quickly as a church
How long does it take for your church to act on a need? I’m guessing that someone reading this might describe a process where the need is brought before a committee, then reported to the deacons, discussed at length, brought before the church, discussed at length, revised at the church leadership level, back to the church, approved, a committee is appointed to see who is willing to serve……. Oh my. If that is how your church deals with meeting needs then the need is long gone before action ever gets approved! If there is a need, your congregation should be able to see the need and choose to act quickly. I’m not saying that large purchases or major ministry decisions need to be pushed through, but when a need arises it is important that your congregation sees the urgency in ministering to people.
7. Don’t be afraid to lead
Fear cripples. Having taught all of my children to dive into the swimming pool, I can attest that the fear of entering the water head first is a real thing! Fear forces you to avoid the things that you know you should do. Fear keeps you from acting quickly. Fear keeps you from taking the lead. Fear keeps holds you back and keeps you from leading the charge!
Here is a dose of reality. Leading from the front always comes with a healthy level of fear. That is what keeps you alert and ready to respond. Leadership without fear results in kamikaze attacks. Leadership with fear results in strategic troop movements and precise strikes. Your greatest fear should be….missing an opportunity to minister to your hurting community!
Pastor DJ Harry