Connecting with Your Community — Part 1 (Theological Framework)

In October, I had the opportunity to do a break out session at The Sticks Conference. The topic of my talk was “How to Connect with Your Community’s Gatekeepers.” Here is Part 1 of my notes.

I hope I did not disappoint my audience. I hope they didn’t come to my talk expecting to hear “Seven Steps to Make You Community Love You” or “Have a Major Impact in Your City in 30 Days or Less.”

After all, I explained, there are too many variables in what this “magic formula” would include, such as:

  • Size and demographics of your community
  • Size and strengths of your church
  • Official and unofficial roles of your community’s leaders

Because of these (and other) variables, the best we can do is develop a theological framework. Then, we can be led by the Holy Spirit in the context of community.

Biblical Framework

There is no passage in the Bible that talks about “How to connect with your community’s gatekeepers.” Trust me — it was the first thing I looked for as I prepared for this talk.

But I looked for an example from which I could pull guidelines and principles. In Acts 17, we can see how Paul worked to engaged the cities that he visited. From this passage, we see that Paul had 4 things that drove his mission. (I didn’t intend to have them all begin with the letter “P”; if you hate such alliteration — as I do — please forgive me, and use a thesaurus to come up with different words.)

  1. Plan.  Paul intentionally visited the synagogues (vv. 2-3, 10) to begin his ministry in a city. His plans would often change, but he also knew the importance of a structure. Our plans shouldn’t be a fixed idea of what we want to do (more on this later), but we should have a plan which outlines, “This is how I’m going to make myself available to serve others.”
  2. Perseverance. Throughout his ministry, Paul endured more hardship than most of us could ever imagine. He was imprisoned and beaten. At worst, I have been met with everything from apathy to opposition. And while our lives are not threatened, we still have to endure. Have you ever faced rejection and slander in your ministry? You try to rationalize the pain and think, “It’s God’s message they are rejecting, not mine.” But it still stings, doesn’t it?
  3. Passion.  In verse 16, we see that Paul was “deeply troubled by what he saw.” Some translations say that “his spirit was provoked” by the idolatry, and it spurred him to do something about it. As you look to engage your community, what do you see that bothers you, that is something only God can fix? People will know you, be moved, and captivated by your passion.
  4. Perspective.  To the Jews in the synagogues, Paul preached the Messiah (v. 3). As far as the philosophers, he knew their thinking and was winsome towards them (vv. 22-25). Ask yourself, “What does my community want? What are their hopes and fears?” Of course, I could live in Allendale another 20 years, and I’ll never fully understand others’ culture and background. But I have to try to engage people where they are, with an open-mind.

A Note on Perspective

For most of us in ministry, the first three points are the easiest: Plan, Perseverance, and Passion. After all, they all point to the myself and what God has given me.

But Perspective is about how we engage and love others. Growing in perspective causes us to stretch, moving beyond the safety of what we know and find comfort it. But if we want to serve God’s kingdom (as opposed to building our own), we must humbly and willingly seek to understand and accept others, at all levels of who they are.

Because this last point is so crucial and so difficult, I will save it for Part 2.

Related Links:

**image courtesy of celesteh via flickr

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