Is God Working in Spite of the Church?
Let’s face it. The church’s reputation is a little tainted. The only stories we here any more in the media about the church are about scandal and narrow mindedness. Many churches have ceased being about mission and become Christian islands in a sea of lost people. As I work with church planters an interesting theme is emerging. More and more church planters are getting back to the tough work of being a missionary. In the early stages, this takes the form of missional listening. Rather than entering a city with a pre-determined strategy, church planters take time to learn their community and discover where God is already at work in the community.
I remember being taught in my missions class that we should not acti as if we are taking God into a community in our suitcase. Rather, God is already present and active in the community and we should look to see how we can get on board with what God is already doing to bring people back to God. I’m excited to see church planters do this. As they missionally listen, the theme I’m noticing is that church planters are finding God at work not only through existing churches, but through non-profit organizations, government employees and services, and passionate volunteers.
Before this turns into a church-bashing post (I despise those), let me say unequivocally that church planters are seeing other churches impact their community and bring people back to God. What may or may not be surprising, is that God isn’t working just through the church. I think this says that God is passionately pursuing the lost through every avenue possible. I think it also says that the church is dropping the ball in some cases.
So what does this mean for church planters? PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, don’t assume you know what a community needs. Do the hard work of being a missionary and listen to where God is already at work and then join God. Your efforts won’t amount to much (remember you are human). But align your efforts with God’s movement in a community and you’ll see the miraculous unfold around you.
Let me give one example so you see what this looks like. Scott Pugh of Velocity Christian Church outside of Cleveland, OH moved into the community. His first task on the ground was to begin raking the leaves of his neighbors. No kidding. Next he bought a snow blower and took it upon himself to blow snow for everyone around him. He then began meeting with city leaders and asked what the church could do to help serve the city. After organizing 100 volunteers to help rebuilt a park, the city fell in love with Velocity. What Scott saw was a city that no one but God cared about (apparently not even Lebron James). So after listening, Scott discerned that God was working through city leaders to help with the many hurts of people in the city. So rather than compete, Scott jumped in to help. This has had a snowballing effect. It resulted in a couple of very cool opportunities. The chief of police has asked Scott to become the chaplain for the city fire and police departments. This has put Scott in touch with those on the front lines dealing with the ugliness of the city. The mayor also asked Scott to run a youth program for the city for about 20,000 kids. Oh, and by the way, the city funded it. You see God will work in spite of the church, but the best scenario is when the church gets in line with God is doing and we work with Him. When that happens, God breaks down barriers and the miraculous happens as people come back to God.