I envision the day when our church will be known for our Compassion and Love for humanity, rather than for the things we oppose. The day when this happens, we will be in great historic company, we’ll be in the company of Jesus!
As Jesus walked on this earth, He was known for loving people of all walks of life and backgrounds. Once, while talking to His disciples Jesus said: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”(John 13:35). This is not just a call for church unity among believers, this pronouncement extends His love way beyond our communities of faith and walls and explains why people felt drawn to Him. People gravitated towards Jesus because they felt safe and loved in His presence.
As we gear up for our celebration of the Day of Hope and Compassion, I have a deep conviction that a conspiracy of compassion - which brings present hope to people in our cities, neighborhoods, and communities - is perhaps one of the biggest needs of the Adventist Church in North America.For this conspiracy to become a reality, it takes all of us, consistently collaborating in our churches, institutions, and organizations, as if we had planned to do it together, all at the same time.
Can you imagine what would happen if Adventism in North America became a synonym of Compassion? What if, as people walked and drove by our churches, they would see open doors and our beautiful visible signs outlining our services to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the community? What if people could see us, Adventists, outside of our church buildings on a regular basis doing good, like Jesus did? Don’t you think that would bring a lot of hope?
There are a few concepts to keep in mind as your church becomes the eyes, heart, hands, and feet of Jesus in your community. Take a look:
Relevance: After reading one of my earlier blogs, someone asked, “What is your definition of relevance?” My answer is simple. Relevance is being there when you are needed. A church that is there for its members and its community when they are in need is a relevant church. But I would even dare to say, don’t try to be relevant. Just be present when people need you! Forget about being relevant. Just be present in your community, and in your church’s neighborhood!
• How can your church be present when there is a storm in your area?
• How can your church be present when a house burns down in your street?
• How can your church be present when there is a death in a community family? (check the Obituary Section in the newspaper)
• How can your church be present when there is hunger in your community?
• How can your church be present when civil unrest is taking place in your town?
• How can your church be present when there is obesity all around your church?
• How can your church be present when there is a marathon, a street market, or a parade happening in your city?
• How can your church be present when there are thousands playing basketball, soccer, and softball across city parks and playgrounds?
• How can your church be present when there is a need for new leadership in your city or state? Could a church member run for office and help make a change?
• How can your church be present when thousands of people walk right pass your church building on a regular basis?
If our church is there for our community when they need us, whether we are pursuing relevance or not, our church will become relevant in our community. You can take this as in to the bank
Consistency:Blessing the community with acts of love and compassion occasionally is not enough. I still remember my conversation with John, a homeless man, in downtown Troy, New York. He told me, “People don’t trust some churches because they come out and help us and then disappear and we never hear from the them again.” Does this sound familiar? A onetime Compassion event, although it may help, is not enough. The Day of Hope and Compassion has been set apart as a celebration of what we do every week in our communities, not as the only day for our churches to go out and bless our communities. If we only serve our communities one day a year, we may be doing ourselves more harm than good, and perhaps creating lots of distrust and animosity with those in need around us.
People will not trust someone they only see occasionally. Churches that care, keep coming back, they stick with it, they just don’t come once a year right before the public evangelistic meetings begin. People see right through that. It is time that our Adventist Churches become a permanent and active fixture in the public spaces of our communities, where they are needed.Compassion was not an event in the life of Jesus, it was His lifestyle, the same should apply to His church.
Identity:It is vital that people know who we are, as we minister to them in our communities. If they don’t know who we are, how will they ever call on us when they have a need? How will they contact us when they need a prayer or feel the Holy Spirit leading them to worship, or to inquire more about spiritual things?When ministering, keep in mind to have a card, which includes your Church name, address, telephone number, and e-mail, this way people know whom to contact when they have a physical or spiritual need in the future.
Objective:People will ask the reason you are doing this. Many will be suspicious that you are doing it because there is an ulterior motive. It must be clear that our ultimate desire is salvation of every individual that we meet and discipleship, so they can join us sharing God’s love in this dying world. However, we must learn from Jesus who on a regular basis showed His love in practical ways with no strings attached. Jesus did not enlist everyone He fed, healed, and blessed, as a disciple or a member of his early church plant, but He fed, healed, and blessed them anyway. When people ask why are you doing this? We must be able to tell them:“We are showing God’s love in practical ways,”and be willing to continue to be Jesus to them. Just like Jesus, we will not baptize all, but at least we will take their hunger away and give them hope.
Partnership:As a church, we must remember that we are not an island. There are governmental, private and faith base organizations and institutions which are already making a difference in the community. They have access to plenty of resources and at times are lacking the most important resource, which is not funding, but people. Partnering with other entities can be a blessing for the community, for the organization, and for our church. Do not be afraid to partner. You do not have to reinvent the wheel, our Church loses nothing when we partner with others to help.There are also wealthy individuals and families who are looking for people to partner with. They may not want to come to your church, but they want to invest some of their money benefitting people and communities. The “poverty" of the wealthy is the need to use their expertise and finances in the improving of lives and communities. They may be willing to partner with your church in an after school mentoring program, food distribution, health clinics, counseling clinics, single mothers outreach, community fitness programs, home makeovers, and others. And this may be the only way for them to ever get to know Jesus and our church.
I invite you to join in the Conspiracy of Compassion, which produces Hope across North America!
Pastor Jose Cortes Jr., is an Associate Director of the Ministerial Association and leads Evangelism, Church Planting, and Adventist/Global Mission for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists.