There was a time when the church was the epicenter of creativity, culture and technology. . . . [T]oday we're actually surprised when we see churches innovating or influencing segments of our culture. . . . We're outsourcing the future. . . storytelling to Hollywood, innovation to Apple, care of the poor to the government, relationships to Facebook. I believe the church has the talent and resources to once again become influencers of culture and agents of change. Instead of waiting for the future, we can create the future. (“Three Mindset Shifts for Change Agents,” by Bobby Gruenewald, Outreach Magazine, Jan.-Feb. 2013)
What is the unique contribution of the church to our current cultural context? What future are we seeking to create and do we believe it is possible to influence our culture and world? Have we bought into the current thinking that the mainline denomination is sidelined and therefore the church is irrelevant to society?
What do we do better than anyone when we are at our best? I recently spoke with Rev. Ric Jacobsen, pastor at Oakwood United Methodist Church in New Ulm, about his church’s funeral ministry. Ric told the funeral home in town that if any of their clients do not have a church home and need a place and a pastor for a funeral, they can call Oakwood.
The church views this as an outreach ministry. They provide a funeral lunch for the mourners, and Ric gives Bibles to those who seem to be grieving and struggling the most. What impressed me was how intentional the church is about offering a ministry of hope, compassion, and acceptance to those who are at a point of need in their life, and that the church seeks to invite them to Jesus Christ.
Mosaic, a new church start in Brooklyn Center, has an outreach ministry to homeless youth. They noticed a need in their community: of youth who are caught in the gap of social services, and they decided to do something about it. They created a food shelf for youth and are developing partnerships with other organizations to provide safe places for these youth to sleep and spend time. They are changing the future of a community.
One of the things the church does best is to come alongside people in times of need and crisis. We know how to pray for people, to encourage people, to bring food, to arrange transportation, to visit the sick, to fix houses.
I would say some of the best moments in every church I have served at were when congregants helped people through when they did not know where to turn. The people had good professional support to address the challenges they were facing, but what they needed was moral support to give them hope when hope was flagging and someone to share the load of the journey when it got tiring.
We met people in the gap between the professional expertise and family support they had, and it made a difference. However, while we do that well, we usually do it for those who are already connected to our church.
Many people are living in tragic gaps. Family may be far away. Life delivers many bumps and bruises. And there are gaps in our social-services network. Can we be known as the people who reach out to people outside our doors who need healing, help, and hope? By taking action as the hands and feet of Christ, can we help the worn and weary see and discover a future with hope? Meeting people in their real need is very relevant. And it shapes lives and our world.
Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church