The rural Southern community where I grew up had a country church on nearly every corner. When I was a teenager, I passed by several of them each afternoon on my way to my part-time job. I can still remember one church clearly. It was small and painted white with beautiful stained glass windows and a cross at the top of the steeple. It looked like a picture on a postcard with its manicured green lawn and gravel driveway. Someone obviously took great care each week to take care of the grounds, including trimming the hedges around the small parking lot and sweeping the porch steps that led up to the whitewashed double doors.
I remember the church vividly, now more than twenty years later, not so much because it stood out from the other country churches in my town, but because of what was right beside the church. Not fifty yards away, in the lot next door, stood an old shack. It was made of weathered, dark brown wood and had a rust-stained tin roof. The weathered wood exterior made it look uninhabitable, but it was lived in. The front yard had no grass—just dirt where chickens roamed free. The family who lived there would sometimes sit on the crooked porch in the evenings, and they always waved to me when I drove by after work.
What made this such a strange sight was the fence that had been erected between the church and the old shack. It was a wooden privacy fence about twelve feet tall. It ran down only one side of the church property—the side where the shack was. On one side of the fence was the nice, whitewashed church. On the other side of the fence was a shack suggesting extreme poverty. What a contrast. I couldn’t help but suspect that the church had put up the fence to block out the view of the poor people living right next door.
I cringe to think that the fence the country church erected is indicative of what churches sometimes do within many communities. No, we may not erect twelve-foot-high fences around our churches, but the reality is that we, as God’s hands and feet, can get so busy with our “holy huddles” that we forget there are suffering and needy people right outside our doors in our very own communities.
When churches reach out to their communities as representatives of Christ, they send a message that Christians care about the needs of the people around them. Christians can be good at merely talking about Christ. But when we get out of the pews and really begin to show love to our communities, our “talk” turns into our “walk.” When unsaved people see that Christians care by our actions outside the church, they are far more likely to want to be a part of what’s going on inside the church.
It’s time to tear down the “wooden fences” that separate our churches from our communities. We should never forget that as Christians, we are ambassadors. Second Corinthians 5:20 reminds us that we are to be about the Father’s business wherever we go: “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us.” The communities where we live, work, play, and attend school are fertile mission fields where we can and should be attentive ambassadors for our Savior- even it’s to give a simple cup of cold water in His name.
Finding ways to intentionally show love to our communities is imperative for the health of a church. One such way is to create periodic work days where church members are encouraged to do acts of kindness for their communities. No matter the size of your church, set aside time to care for those who work and live in your community. Your efforts will speak volumes to your neighbors about the love of Christ.
My church family sets aside two days a year for what we call “Love Loud” days—one day in early fall and one day in the spring. If you decide to initiate a work day for your church, talk with your pastor and explain your ideas of branching out into the community to serve. Your pastor knows of specific needs that can be addressed, such as visiting shut-ins or doing yard work for widows. After speaking with your pastor, enlist a team to help you coordinate each area of need. Church members can then begin signing up for teams or they can work with their Sunday school classes or Bible study groups. For your church’s first work day, it may be necessary to give each team a list of community projects from which to choose. Eventually, groups can create their own projects and implement them on their own.
To create a list of projects your teams could do, contact local school principals, police officers, fire departments, mission organizations, hospitals, food banks, clinics, and social workers to ask what specific needs they may have or know about. Before my pastor, Bruce Frank, initiated the Love Loud day at my church, he contacted our city’s mayor to see how our church could be involved with the community. He pledged our church’s prayer support for our mayor and our local government officials. This established a relationship with local officials and let them know that our church was serious about being the hands and feet of Jesus in our city.
Some local project suggestions are:
• Painting rooms in elementary schools.
• Taking dinner to fire or police departments.
• Taking care baskets to nurses’ stations at hospitals.
• Doing yard work for nursing homes.
• Cleaning or painting at the Department of Children’s Services.
• Providing breakfast for social workers.
• Picking up trash along city streets.
Of course, projects will vary greatly in different communities. That’s why it is important to check with your local contacts to ask what needs they may have. Whatever projects you do for the community, remember to do them with a smile and a servant’s heart, expecting nothing in return. Working in the community and showing love to those outside our church doors is what being the church is truly about.
Adapted from A Cup Of Cold Water In His Name, © 2012 by Lorie Newman. Used by permission of Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.