(Next gathering, Good Friday, Mickler Beach, 30 minutes before sunrise.)
Who is God leading you to reach? And why?
We’re currently laying the groundwork for what may become a missional community downtown. What do I mean by that? Well, in this case, Heather and I have started a Sunday morning huddle with another couple, Becca and Daniel, whom we’ve known for years. We meet in a classroom at First Presbyterian Church, Jacksonville and have begun incorporating rhythms of Up-In-and-Out. We’ve been meeting since the beginning of the year, and we’ve taken a couple of prayer walks and have sensed God’s leading both times. By the way, their eight year old son comes along. He is with us for “Up” in worship, “In” when we do social things together (eating!) and “Out”, which, so far, has been the two prayer walks. He sees and notices things we miss ALL THE TIME! Love that kid. If you can incorporate parents and their kids into your missional activity, I encourage you to do so.
So, we have felt God pulling us in the direction of ministering to the homeless and in the direction of Hemming Plaza. What I’m learning is that we need to keep going there patiently and intentionally. And we need to begin to look for people of peace (click to learn more about that discipleship tool) and we need to be asking a very important question:
WHAT IS GOOD NEWS TO THESE PEOPLE?
You see, there’s a common problem when we begin missional activity. We assume we know what the need is, and we assume that in meeting the need we will bear good news to the people with whom we are trying to engage. I heard Mike Breen give a talk on that one time and he nailed me. I made assumptions all the time! When I assume I know what another person neesds, that’s, well, kind of arrogant. I used to work with a guy named Eric who would rail against the “do-gooders” who wasted resources meeting imagined needs. Eric’s comments were mainly political, but offer a lesson worth remembering. We can easily miss the mark.
But lets acknowledge it. We may think we know what people need and we may even be right. But we need to humbly ask this question which will help direct our action. Part of that humility is recognizing we may be completely off the mark when it comes to another person’s needs.
James 2:14-16 talks about faith and works. v.15 poses this a case: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and well fed, but does nothing about it, what good is it?” James makes the case. We can offer a good thing (encouragement) when the real need is something else (clothes and food). In the case of homeless ministry, the opposite can be true. We can offer to meet physical needs – but those needs may be offered better by someone else. Good news may be offering encouragement. But we won’t know unless we ask.
So we need to ask.
- Ask ourselves. We do need to articulate what we assume the need to be. We need to think about it, talk it through, and spell it out, but do so humbly knowing we may be wrong.
- We need to ask the people we feel called to serve. We need to engage the people with whom we are trying to connect sincerely and openly. Why? Well, first, because missional activity is highly relational. (If you aren’t building relationships, you have to wonder if you’re working in God’s kingdom!) And in the case of ministering to the poor, failing to do so diminishes people’s dignity. They are human beings created in the image of God as are we. Their needs may seem obvious, but the deeper needs often are not. The person of peace lesson is really important in this stage. We need to seek and pray for God to lead us to that person or group of people, because the needs that we find there are the needs God is leading you to address.
- We need to ask God. Human beings have a way of getting it wrong. We often misidentify the need. God never does. As we join in the Kingdom work God has in mind for us, He will address what needs addressing in our lives an in the world around us.
Finally, there’s another helpful perspective on the “good news” question. When we pray the Lord’s prayer, we say, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” So ask the Lord, “What would Your kingdom coming and Your will being done look like in the lives of these people we are meeting?” Ask and pay attention. And then go! For “what good is it” if we go and completely miss the point of why we were sent?
Okay – wait – time for a spot of grace. If we go and get it wrong, it’s okay. Actually, it’s really good if we go and miss the point – especially if we go with teachable hearts. Why? Because with a teachable heart, God will use our missteps and lead us in a better way. And… there’s that line by GK Chesterton that I love: “If anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly!”
So go, and may the Lord go with you. And remember, “you go no where by accident, but wherever you go, God is sending you. Wherever you are, God has a purpose for your being there. Christ who lives in you by the power of the Holy Spirit has something He wants to do in you and through you wherever you find yourself. I encourage you to believe this and go in His grace, His love, and His power!”* And may the Lord bless you there!
*A benediction by Dick Halverson.