I have a theory of pastoring successfully today. To be a kingdom building pastor you MUST be a community pastor.
Must is a strong word – and there are few things I’m emphatic about unless they are Biblical, but I do believe in order for us to reach people today we have to get outside the walls of our church buildings. This means we MUST do something intentional to make it happen. The community has to know – and believe – we really do care for them.
For me, being a community builder makes sense and seems effective in pastoring a church today.
Jeremiah 29:7 greatly impacting my philosophy of ministry years ago. The people were in captivity and the government was not favorable to God. Yet, how did God command His people to respond?
“And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:7
The community’s success is tied to ours. We have the hope for the world as our central teaching. The Gospel is not to be a hidden truth, but the light in the city on the highest hill. This means we must take our light into the world. And the best way to do this is to be actively trying to make our communities a better place to life.
So a fair question is how? How can a pastor – or ministry leader – be a community builder?
I don’t have all the ideas, but I have some suggestions.
7 ways to be a community pastor:
Know key leaders
I think you should know who the leaders in the community are and know as many of them personally as possible. You may not be able to know the mayor of your city, depending on the city’s size, but could you know your local council representative? Could you know a school board member? You’ll be surprised how receptive many politicians are when constituents contact them – especially a leader who has an audience with a significant number of people. (And if your church has a dozen people or more you have more influence than you think.)
Let me be clear, I never endorse candidates in my official capacity, but I do vote and it’s amazing when you’re active in the community how many people in your church want to know who you support.
Listen to concerns
Wherever you are, wherever you go, whatever you do in the community – whether at city hall, a school meeting or the grocery store or barbershop – listen to hear the things people are talking about around you. If you hear repeated themes you can almost guess that’s an issue on people’s minds. If you aren’t hearing anything simply ask. Actually, ask anyway. And don’t hear for what you want to do or where your church is already serving. Listen with an open mind to the real concerns of people. You may have different answers than they’ve thought of before. Pastors know how to organize people. You represent people you can organize. That’s a powerful combination when addressing community needs.
Love what they love
I’ve seen pastors bash their community online. That’s foolish in my opinion. You can talk against community concerns in a way to rally support for a cause without bashing the community.
People often feel about where they live – especially if they grew up there – the way they feel about their family. They can say bad things about them, but you better not.
Here’s where I’ll get the most disagreement. To me, this also includes loving the traditions they love – including their local sports teams. I was visiting a church recently and the pastor joked about the local college team. He referred to the fans as “sinners”. The crowd gave a rousing disapproval – and they laughed. It was funny. I couldn’t help but wonder, however, how much more effective he could have been endearing people to his leadership if he was “on their side” rather than always blatantly rooting for an opponent. It must be genuine of course, and I’m not suggesting you drop loyalties to other teams, but ask what cause are you more loyal to supporting and how supporting it will be most effective.
In Lexington I was in the heart of the University of Kentucky Big Blue tradition. Our church was walking distance to the campus. I was criticized repeatedly by my Tennessee fans as a “traitor”, but I’m telling you people liked me better – and listened more – when I was wearing Kentucky blue. God called me to reach people in the community and I discovered they loved when I learned and embraced their unique culture and explored and enjoyed the uniqueness which is Kentucky.
When I was in a military town, the more knowledge and support I could demonstrate about military service the more our soldiers and their families seemed to endear themselves to my leadership. And, don’t misunderstand, it is absolutely genuine for me. I am intentionally trying to love the people to whom God has placed me to minister – and part of this – as I would do for any family member – is learning to love the things they love.
Learn the community
One of the best things I did when I moved to Lexington two years ago is go through the Leadership Lexington program. The following year I went through Leadership Central Kentucky. I quickly learned things I might never have known about the community. It’s amazing now how I can answer questions about things we offer in the community that people can’t answer who have lived here for years. Most communities have something like this. Often they are found connected somehow to the local Chamber of Commerce or equivalent.
You can also sign up for any local tours that the community offers. If the town is too small for anything like this, make appointments with people who are known in the community for their years of service to the community. Go prepared with questions and pick their brains about the community.
Cheryl and I volunteered at the city’s visitor center. We did it to give back, but also to get even more familiar with the city and what it has to offer.
Build your community network
You never know when you’re going to need it. Plus, there will always be people you may not know but people in your network will know them. When I’m new in the community I consistently ask people to connect me with other people I should know.
This is in all sectors of the community. Don’t limit your network to those society considers influential. I once had a homeless person tell me of another homeless person I needed to know, because he is an influence in that segment of the community.
I was continually asked to participate in events in the community, because I gained the connections and the credibility to be invited.
Serve somewhere in the community, besides your church
I think this is critical in community building, but also simply the right thing to do. As pastors, we expect people from the community to serve in the church. It’s only fair for us to give back to the community that is giving to us.
Plus, we need to lead the way so that others in the church will serve in the community also. It’s the best way to meet people who need the hope that we have to share.
I served on several local boards – both secular and in other Christian organizations. Obviously, we all have only so much time, but I have discovered these commitments are gold when it comes to gaining influence in the community.
Lead your church to be community builders
This begins with a general desire to see the people of the church investing in the community. But it won’t happen by accident. It takes the intentionality of teaching and serving by example. And most of all it takes consistency.
This isn’t something to do in a campaign once a year. This must be a lifestyle – getting the church into the community – being community builders – so we can eventually be Kingdom builders.
As our community prospers, so will we, and, eventually, so will the Gospel.