Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Significance of Community Engagement

My last post highlighed that East Taieri Church sponsors an occasional Business Breakfast at Aurora CafĂ© in downtown Mosgiel.  This week we had 32 people attend plus a few walk in off the street for coffee.  There was a real buzz in the air.  Breakfast was delicious.  A range of ages attended, including a young person from Youth East Taieri, who helped with sound, and two YET staff.  I think the prize for inviting the most people would go to Joy Davis our community facilitator.

At the breakfast, I gave some background as I welcomed people by saying: You might be wondering why East Taieri Church is sponsoring this business breakfast.  Our vision is to make a holistic contribution to our community.  In addition to helping people discover more about Jesus and grow spiritually, we are a church who works alongside others to develop thriving communities, which includes thriving businesses.  We hope this breakfast will make a positive contribution to your business or career.

Our speakers from Capable NZ gave interesting input for career and business development.
At the end I prayed thanking God for the food and the people there, and asking God’s blessing on them all.  The formal part finished by 7.50am.  Did anyone come to know Jesus as a result?  Not yet!  But there were good conversations and we were definitely working alongside others to develop thriving communities.  If you are local, join us Feb 25th for our next Business Breakfast with Dunedin City Counsellor Mike Lord who will speak about issues facing our region and his personal reflections on being a Christian in the community today.

If some of those words I used above sound familiar to East Taieri people, they come from our recently renewed vision statement which says:
We will be a thriving church, responding to God’s grace and passionately living out our faith, wherever we live, work and play.
Together we will work alongside others to develop thriving communities where people feel connected known, loved and valued.

I think the move of churches to have serious engagement with their communities is significant.  As I think back over the way God has moved in New Zealand, I remember some insights from a conversation with Murray Robertson about three significant periods where the number of baptisms in NZ rose dramatically for a time.  One was the evangelistic crusades by Billy Graham and others in the late 50s and 60s.  Another was the charismatic renewal of the 70s and 80s.  A third was during the 90s with the the rise of church programmes such as Alpha, Network, 40 Days of Purpose, etc.  Interestingly churches who were blessed in one period weren’t necessarily open to what God was doing in the next.  For example, people who came to Christ through Billy Graham, weren’t necessarily open to the work of the Holy Spirit in renewal, saying “All we need to do is preach the gospel in big crusades”.  Those blessed in renewal were sometimes suspicious of programmes.  “All we need is for the Spirit of God to move…” And of course, those who benefitted from programmes can become locked into that mindset, looking for the next programme which will be the solution to our problems.

Could it be that the next move of the Spirit that will bring significant growth in the kingdom of God is through Christians working alongside others to develop thriving communities?  Engaging people in the community in biblically faithful ways.  God is already at work there.  We just need to join in.  These are the settings where our fresh expresssions of church are being born.

When God’s people were in exile in Babylon they often though about God taking them back to Jerusalem so life would be like the good old days.  It’s like us thinking, take us back to the days of the renewal, or the days of the big crusades.  Now, in my experience and understanding, preaching the gospel is still crucial.  The work of the Holy Spirit remains indispensable.  Programmes like Alpha continue to bear fruit.  But I believe Christians today need to confidently engage people in their workplaces, schools, neighbourhoods and community groups.  God’s word came to the exiles through the prophet Jeremiah (29:7) “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.  Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  In lots of ways we are in an exile situation today, but the Lord is still with us and can make a difference in our cities and towns.

May God bless all the community engagement that occurs whether one to one spontaneous conversations or organised events and programmes.