When you think of missions, do you think of a mission trip thousands of miles away or a service project in your own community, or do you think about daily life among your family, neighbors and coworkers?
Dr. John Perkins, a community developer and cofounder of the Christian Community Development Association, writes in his book Restoring At-Risk Communities, “How can we claim to be loyal to Christ’s mission when we flee the mission field at our doorstep? When we forsake the inner city so that our lives will not be inconvenienced by the sufferings of the neediest among us, we flee the very mission field we should be invading.”
Not everyone is called to be an evangelist like Billy Graham, a great communicator like Dr. Tony Evans, a Christian apologist like Tim Keller or even a community developer like John Perkins. But all of us are called to be witnesses of Jesus Christ.
As churches on mission, our goal is not to get people in the seats and money in the offering buckets, but to build and cultivate trusting, meaningful relationships with the families and individuals at our doorstep. Being missional is more than a buzzword for a church’s mission statement; it’s an attitude and mindset to be embraced.
A church on mission has a fully embodied commitment to demonstrate and authenticate Christ, so that the light of Jesus will cause others within our neighborhoods to join in.
Genesis Church, Antioch, California, where I serve, is located in the middle of the Sycamore Corridor. It is an under-resourced community where poor, working poor and marginalized citizens of our city live. With an unemployment rate of 24 percent, the Sycamore community is the most crime-ridden area in the city.
Members of our church, like most living in under-resourced communities, move in and out of the neighborhood on a regular basis. One missed paycheck, one lousy landlord or one family member’s moral failure will have you packing your bags quickly.
God has called the church to more than drive-by evangelism with minimal risk, minimal involvement, no relationship-building and no vulnerability on our part.
Community engagement by the local church in a neighborhood like ours is crucial. Instead of fleeing the mission field and ignoring the problems at our doorstep, Genesis Church has been called by God to show mercy and do justice by having compassion and empathy for victims of drug trafficking, sex trafficking, domestic abuse and gun violence.
Partnering with organizations like Operation Ceasefire has enabled us to build alliances with community stakeholders, law enforcement and criminal justice agencies. Through active intervention, our goal is to reduce shootings in the city and decrease recidivism and incarceration rates while strengthening police-community relations.
Weekly prayer walks take place throughout the city where the highest incidents of violence, shootings and homicides are likely to occur. Genesis Church hosts prayer walks and actively participates in these efforts to let the citizens of our city know we care.
How your church can be missional
How can your church lead its congregation in being missional at its doorstep?
Follow the advice of the prophet Jeremiah and pray for your city. Make it a priority in your church to engage in regular prayer activity, seeking the peace and prosperity of your local community.
Unite with other churches to serve together for the betterment of the city. Jesus prayed, “May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me” (Jn. 17:23). Imagine the impact we will have when local churches operate in unity. We are indeed better together.
Call them out of hiding. People may have preconceived notions of what it means to evangelize or be a disciple of Jesus on mission. Many people picture speaking to large groups of people, standing on street corners with a microphone or knocking on doors.
I’ve discovered if people decide they don’t fit these stereotypes, they begin to believe they aren’t gifted for the work, even if they have a burden to share the gospel with the lost. We must identify these people in our congregations, call them out of hiding and change the narrative of what it truly means to be on mission for Jesus.
Partner with other churches financially. Churches in under-resourced communities have a hard time being self-sustaining. Adopting a local church is a great way to ensure that the work continues.
What if the suburban church came back to the city by partnering with, learning from and investing in existing urban and rural churches? What a difference we would make together.
God has called the church to more than drive-by evangelism with minimal risk, minimal involvement, no relationship-building and no vulnerability on our part. Short, random encounters once or twice a year will not restore the broken walls in our communities.
When Philip encountered the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8), he spent enough time to share Christ and see the eunuch won to the Lord. But as soon as the man was baptized, Philip was “caught away.” The Bible says the eunuch saw Philip no more and went on his way rejoicing.
Every time our congregation hits the streets to share the gospel, I pray that once people hear the good news of Jesus, someone will walk away rejoicing.
We may not have annual budgets to reach people thousands of miles away in other countries, but we can cross the street and extend our hands to our neighbors. As the church, we must see ourselves as urban, suburban and rural missionaries ordained and commissioned by God to demonstrate and authenticate the gospel in our communities, jobs, homes and schools.
Imagine if we saw our cities through the lens of a missionary apostolically sent by God. We would see there is so much work to be done in our cities and neighboring communities.
Are we willing to be inconvenienced by the sufferings of the neediest among us and spend time engaging and loving lost people? Or will we continue to pretend not to notice the pain, suffering and trauma taking place in our city?
As the Lord leads, consider how we can connect, embrace and engage the mission field at our doorstep.
Damon Owens, Lead pastor of Genesis Church
Damon Owens is lead pastor of Genesis Church, Antioch, California.