A Model for Community Ministry

The proposal begins with a model that moves us from simple benevolence to partnership with God’s transforming work.

In fact, we have already been practicing this model for ministry as a church: acts of compassion and benevolence leading to meaningful relationships that have provided a context for testimony about God’s goodness so that God’s transforming work is fostered the lives of others (and ourselves!). We’ve seen a cup of water become friendship. We’ve watched friendship lead to witness. And we’ve all rejoice when testimony results in faith and transformation.

The model does not suggest something different from what we are doing presently. It simply proposes that we interact with our community in more intentional and deliberate ways. It asks us to “begin with the end in mind.”

Christians are compassionate people because Christ was compassionate. He healed and fed and comforted without condition or “strings attached.” When we take care of people and their needs, we are doing the work of Christ. Food …clothes … shelter … help in all its varied forms. We become “Christ Into” when we notice hurting people and move to their aid and assistance.

While we offer assistance without condition or requirement, we hope and watch for opportunities to build relationship. Not everyone we feed and clothe wants a relationship with us. But some do. Some are hungry for something more substantial than a handout. And we want to be ready, willing, and eager to open our lives to them … to invite them into our hearts and homes. This “sharing of ourselves” will require more of us than an open wallet or the surplus of our pantries and closets. It will require us to share our time, our affections, and our privacy. It calls us to love people more deeply by offering ourselves, not just our things. But this “extra mile,” we believe, is the call of God on those who are his people.

It is loving relationship that sets the context for our testimony to God’s goodness. Effective witness happens in the context of authentic relationship. Billboards on the side of the road, pamphlets and postcards, gospel meetings are forms of evangelistic witness. But they are impersonal and rarely productive without a backdrop of loving interaction. Sadly, the church has grown so timid about testimony that friendship hardly ever flowers into testimony. We don’t want to impose. We fear discomfort or (horrors!) rejection. As your shepherds, we intend to move in a different direction: encouraging bold witness to those we love. Not everyone will appreciate that testimony … fewer will accept it and embrace it. But how tragic if the people around us never hear a testimony from us, never have the chance to reject or believe.

Compassion leads to relationship. Relationship sets the stage for testimony. Where this occurs, we are convinced God can act to transform people.

As God’s people, if not very careful, we can grow cynical about the possibility of change. Temptations never really lose their power. Addictions continue to enslave. Old wounds don’t truly heal. Personalities won’t mellow. Priorities, once set, remain fixed and immovable.

But such cynicism is an effective denial of the God we serve. Christianity is about the possibility of change. Transformation can—and will—happen in willing hearts. The most traumatized and deeply scarred, the most failed and flawed, can experience life-altering transformation. We’ve experienced as much in our own lives. And we should expect it in the lives of others. When faith meets God’s Spirit, change is always the result. As God’s people, we must believe in that possibility and offer the hope of transformation to others.

This “model for community ministry” prescribes a course for our interactions with the world. Where there is need, we offer compassionate service. Where there is willingness, we offer more—ourselves. Where relationship develops, we find the courage to testify. And when testimony is spoken, we step back and anticipate the power of God to transform. At each stage of this model, we will be tempted to stop: to allow compassion to be enough (for instance) … to fail to move from friendship to witness. But we must resist this temptation—in our lives and in the ministries of this church. If we are to make an effective difference in our world, we must be committed to see things through to God’s “end”—broken people transformed into his image by the power of his Spirit.

That’s his goal for each of us. And it is his goal for those around us. Let’s share that goal with him.

© 2012 by Tim Woodroof. Reproduction of this material requires permission from the author.