Pastor’s Column: Love Where You Live
North Minneapolis is the community where the church I am privileged to pastor is located (Faith Baptist). We share often that we #LOVENoMi!
This statement is not new. This love for the community has been a part of our church throughout its 100+ years. In my 15 months serving as the pastor, I’ve learned more about the depth of this love lived out for this community. Now, as I look to the future, I am challenged to lead our church to love our community in an even deeper and stronger way. This is what I am learning about loving our community:
Loved people love the community
Our best efforts to love our community falls flat when we just try to create that love on our own. For us to love, we must know love. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). It seems simple, yet individually and corporately we continue to miss this essential truth. Pastors and ministry leaders are especially tempted to try strong-armed techniques, new programs, and even guilt because we want people out serving in the community. Instead we should emphasize the gathering of the church for it is essential to hear the gospel to know love. “In this is love…that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
My 9-year-old daughter has started critiquing my sermons. She tells me which words I use often, how well my stories go over, and how thankful she is that I didn’t use her in a story I shared. My hope is that she would come and tell me, “Dad you speak about love so often!”
Our aspiration on Sundays when we gather, through the week when we meet with our life groups, and every day in the relationships we have with one another is that love would be shared. If it is, pastors and leaders will experience the difference between trying to dig a cistern and direct a flowing spring. We’ve found that people who know love will naturally pour out love in their words and deeds to others in our community (2 Corinthians 5:14).
Love demonstrates hospitality
The gospel has been summarized as the movement from hostility with God to hospitality. Love is shown through open doors and warm welcomes (Hebrews 13:1-2). At my church, we have an ongoing conversation with staff and leadership as to how to show hospitality to the community.
This discussion was already ongoing when I started here. Faith Baptist started as a basement church. They then built over this bunker, creating a strong and impressive traditional building (fortress-like). But the last major renovation was done with hospitality in mind. Windows, clear glass doors and an open area to gather were added to let the community know they are welcome here.
This hospitality is more than just a “build it and people will come” philosophy. Our church is in a neighborhood location. So, we regularly invite our neighbors to “come on over.” We have $1 Taco Tuesdays during the summer with the goal of getting to know our neighbors. At Halloween, we turn on the lights and fill the parking lot with cars that have trunks full of candy. When the community celebrates winter with a festival (Holiday on 44th) we buy the best cookies we can find and invite people to stop in to decorate a cookie and enjoy some hot chocolate. We are always wanting to show hospitality through events and in our homes. These ways of serving the community are key to who we are and an essential part of the Christian faith (Hospitality is one of the biblical qualifications for leaders found in 1 Timothy 3:2!).
Being able to know the names of our neighbors is a good step of love. It means we’ve at least crossed the road and extended a hand. But biblical love should motivate us to learn even more about our neighbor. In any relationship, you need to ask questions and then listen to truly know the other person. What are your dreams? Why are you hurting? What are your needs? How can I pray for you?
It takes humility to ask these questions. God calls us to seek the welfare of the community. Do we know what’s best? Yes and no. Yes, in that the gospel is the deep need of every person. But no, we do not know the experiences of our neighbors. We cannot assume that our story is their story. “Help me understand?” are three words of love that I try to make part of my church’s everyday language. Real questions and listening ears show love as we learn who our neighbor is.
Love is long lasting; it remains (1 Corinthians 13:13). Faith Baptist has been part of the community for over 100 years, and until Christ returns, it will continue be a part of this community. This long-term perspective shapes our conversations. When we connect with the local schools it’s not that we are new and want to help this week but instead that we know many who have attended this school throughout the years and we desire to continue our service to the community for the next generation. We have prayed for this community for decades. We’ve seen children grow, move, and return to the community to raise their families. This lasting commitment enables us to be trusted to serve.
At the start of advent, a woman from the community was baptized. Her testimony included language we like to hear, “…3 years ago at your Trunk-or-Treat…” Love focuses on more than the next big outreach the church is having, it takes a long-range perspective for the good of the community. We ask, “How can I love today so that love is also known years and decades from now?”
Love is consistent
We encourage people to show love by serving in the Wednesday night Awana program, helping at the local elementary school, serving with Habitat for Humanity, volunteering at VBS and doing their job well. We are to love God and love our neighbor. There should be a seamless integration and connection in our daily life of love. Loving our community entails showing this love everywhere we are (not just at church).
We held a basketball camp this year for kids in the neighborhood. One of the goals of this was to teach the kids who attended how playing basketball at the park can bring God glory. Why do you pass the ball? Out of a desire to serve the team. Why do you work hard? Because you are to do everything for God’s glory. Why do you always extend a hand even when the person on the ground is on the other team? Because God’s Word shapes everything we do.
This fall I attended a local conference called “Twin Cities Convene” focused on unemployment (especially among minority communities), coupled with the job vacancy crisis. There I was challenged to think even deeper about how love should impact our neighbor. To fully love our neighbor should even translate to helping our local economy. As Martin Luther said, “God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does.” Serving our community entails thinking about how can we help bring jobs, justice, and employment. The church plays a vital role in the local community for the gospel is not shallow! How we tip, play at the park, and hire employees serves and loves the community as does holding a Bible study.
Love is not satisfied
Because God loves us, he is not satisfied until He has completed the good work he began in us (Philippians 1:6). Likewise, we are not to be satisfied until this community experiences the true peace of God. We pray for “God’s will to be done here.” We are not content with the racial tension, the violence, the corruption of power, or any oppressive darkness here. We are not content until everyone has heard the good news. We worship, pray, serve, and proclaim because we desire to fully love God and love our neighbors.
If we are to do good and serve our communities, I’m learning we must be a people who love deeply.
In His Love,