How can Christians make a difference in a bleak time? We go to where people are, find ways to be good neighbors, and use our churches as spiritual hospitals.
As we look back over the course of the past year, even the past two years, I think that many of us can agree that the culture in which we live is largely in shambles. The leading cause of death between April 2020 to April 2021 was not COVID. It was fentanyl overdoses. According to reports, those two years saw nearly 79,000 deaths due to fentanyl in people aged 18-45. We have people from all walks of life poisoning themselves in an attempt to escape from this broken world. The highest jump in suicide rate belongs to teenage girls.
I could give more bleak facts and statistics, but my point is that we look around and see bleakness. As society has pushed Christianity to the margins, there has been an interesting drop in hope in our society, as well as rise in mental health issues and substance abuse. This is the first of a series of articles about how we can become difference makers in our culture. I believe it is time for the church to step back into a role of influence in our culture because the only true salvation comes through Jesus. The only hope that is grounded in ultimate reality and can be sustained until the end is when people have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
“I believe it is time for the church to step back into a role of influence in our culture because the only true salvation comes through Jesus.”
As bleak as their circumstances were, consider the following directions given to the ancient Israelites who were going into exile:
Find wives for yourselves, and have sons and daughters. Find wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there; do not decrease. Pursue the well-being of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive. (Jer. 29:6-7, CSB)
Due to the rampant idolatry and many other sins of the ancient Israelites, God used Babylon as his instrument of judgment against his chosen people. The majority of the nation (known as Judah) was taken into exile. That wasn’t how God left things, though. As you can see tucked away in Jeremiah is a letter from God to the exiles. This wasn’t simply a punishment for them to serve and then head back to Judah. While God may have sent them into Babylon as judgment, they were also supposed to be there as God’s ambassadors. Even in very bleak times, they were to be people of influence for good.
“Even in very bleak times, they were to be people of influence for good.”
When we look around at the cities in which God has planted us, we too need to take this same approach of being an ambassador for God. If we pursue the well-being of our cities, then our churches will thrive as well. If we pursue the city, more people will learn the love of Christ. The following are a few ideas of how we can see our cities thrive.
#1 – Go where the people are.
A first step that we as churches can take is to start holding events away from our church buildings. When we hold events only at our churches, we run the risk of not talking to that lost person that isn’t brave enough to walk through church doors yet. The people that will come to a church event are usually members of your church or people that are already interested.
“…Jesus taught about intentionally finding lost sinners…”
There are three separate parables in which Jesus taught about intentionally finding lost sinners. It is time that we put those parables into action. One area that I have seen that needs help is your local school system. The public school system desperately needs strong Christians to help our next generation. In my own son’s school, I am working on setting up a Bible club for the kids. Yes, it is a long road with the school system, and it takes prayer and persistence. But it’s time to identify the outgoing evangelists in your church and put them to work.
#2 – Be a good neighbor.
I know this sounds a little cliché, but being a neighbor can look very different depending on what area of the world you live in. Some places, it can take a lot of extra intentionality to be neighborly. I live just outside of DC; most people here commute and work a lot of hours. The sense of community where I live is much different from where I grew up. It is so important to be intentional to get to know your neighbors. This is especially the case if you live in an apartment building, where, many times, people just go about their lives and do not know who lives next to them. A personal invitation to do coffee or come to a small group or to a church service can go a very long way.
#3 – Use the church as a spiritual hospital.
Our churches need to be spiritual hospitals for all people. This is not a call for everyone to try to be a therapist. And I have learned that sometimes the best course of action is to recommend someone to a mental health professional. However, people need a place where they can find healing. People are dealing with their demons without spiritual help.
For example, the shame associated with pornography use can make it very difficult for these people to get help. While men struggle in this area, there are many women that struggle as well. What are we doing in the church to walk with these people through this issue? There are many parachurch organizations that help with this issue; however there are typically only a small number of churches that offer practical assistance in this area. And this is just one devastating issue among legions. Our churches have got to become spiritual hospitals for broken people to find healing.
“When we take a vested interest into where God planted us, we will see our cities thrive.”
When we take a vested interest into where God planted us, we will see our cities thrive. While it may be true that the culture is trying to marginalize Christianity, we are not helping the situation by retreating to our buildings. The people need to see the power of God working. It’s time to empower your people to come up with creative ideas to make a difference for your city.