Walking Your City's Streets with Nehemiah

November 15th, 2013

What would it take for you to think of your community as your congregation? Most church leaders—lay and clergy—don’t think like this. In fact, when I ask this question, it can take a minute or two for them to even understand it, let alone answer it. So much of our attention in congregational development is spent dealing with internal issues and opportunities that we turn more and more inward. Even our “outward” work smacks of our “inward” bias, as we invite people to our events and ponder how to make our events more compelling for those who aren’t yet in our congregations. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, is known for saying that “the world is our parish.” Simply stated, the streets are our sanctuary. Our communities are our congregations. Yet, too often, congregations ignore their neighborhoods. They don’t consider the vast resource of people around them, and they seem to forget that Pentecost, the very event that gave birth to the church, happened in the streets. It’s time for churches to engage with the people around them—most of whom have not yet made a faith decision and are hungering for the grace that only God can provide.

Follow the path of Nehemiah and experience how God can give you answers for engaging your community transformatively:

Step 1: Feel your heart break.

It isn’t until you know for whom or what your heart breaks that God can reveal where in the community and with whom your ministry needs to be done. This broken-heartedness isn’t just the stu of love songs; it is what lifelong missions are made of.

Step 2: Pray as if life depended on it.

If you sincerely pray, God will create a way for you to help the very people and situations that break your heart. Nehemiah shows us how to sincerely pray: by recognizing God as the Lord of our lives, by understanding that God keeps his covenant with us, by confessing our sins and the sins of others, and by declaring to God that we are joyfully “all in.”

Step 3: Use your position for good.

If you position yourself for his purposes and use your position for his purposes, God will give you all you need to change lives and communities for the better. You don’t have to be in a position of privilege to have your position count. Sometimes we don’t think our position is signi cant. Yet when we surrender our agenda to God, God can use our position to turn things around for the better.

Step 4: Walk with others in your neighborhood.

Too often we end up doing ministry for people instead of with people. This happens because of two things: we see an “us” and “them” divide; and we identify a need based on statistics or what we think needs to be done, instead of building relationships with those in the community and letting them tell us what they will partner with us to accomplish. If, like Nehemiah, you walk before you talk, then when you talk, people will walk with you.

Step 5: Do something.

When our action is rooted in who our hearts break for, in prayer, in our role, and in a thorough inspection of our community, the opportunities are endless. When we don’t do anything about it, opportunities are lost. Before Nehemiah surveyed the situation, he saw himself as one of the community. This enabled him to speak the truth and summon the people to rise up!

Step 6: Organize the work.

Any community engagement e ort requires strong organization. People need to know what their assignments are and what is expected of them. Additionally, folks need to learn how to stay in their lane while supporting the common good.

Step 7: Ignore the haters.

Whenever a group of people commits itself to the common good—fully engaged in bringing hope to the vulnerable and defenseless—you can expect some people to ridicule and others not to participate. It is critical to keep your attention on those who are engaged and not be distracted by others.

Journey with Nehemiah and discover who God is asking you to encourage, what walls God is calling you to repair, what ministry God might be calling you to lead, and where.

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