This continuing conversation will make more sense if you read my previous blog at: http://www.pastorjohnsthoughts.blogspot.com/2012/01/plan-to-meet-some-of-our-neighborhoods.html
Can a church add value to it’s community beyond care of poor and Biblical/moral teaching?
If you read the neighborhood plan put forward in the last blog, you’ll see that we want to do at Zion is more than feed the hungry and house the homeless, we want to be a positive and innovative witness within our community that helps the neighborhood become the best place to live this side of heaven. We want to see the kingdom of God manifest in our neighborhood. We not only want to address the issues of people not having enough, we want to better the lives of those who have plenty. What we desire is nothing less then the redemption of our community as a whole. We want to help people not only get established, but enhance the quality of life for those already here. We don’t want just the refugee or underprivileged children to get career counseling, we want every child to have assistance discovering what they are good at and getting help developing a plan to “become” what they are good at in life.
The idea that the local congregation exists as an outpost of heaven for the benefit of all within the community is an old one. I think it’s most common manifestation was in what was called “the Parish Model.” My favorite example of this model comes from 17th and 18th century England where geographic areas were divided into “parishes.” Each parish had a church which was responsible to call people to the worship of God and prayer on Sundays and other holy days and when necessary for special prayers on behalf of the king and nation. It was responsible for baptisms, weddings, funerals, and all the rest, and also for the care of the poor. The parish church might be a large edifice which was used for many kinds of community activities, including concerts and meetings. It was a very public sort of “community room.” Frequently, the “parish council,” the local government met at the church. The council frequently included the “parish pastor” who was responsible for the spiritual needs of the community. In such a way, the government, the church and others worked hand in hand for the benefit of the entire community.
What w’ere talking about at Zion is to effectively put this model of ministry into use in our relationship with our community. We imagine being able to convene various groups and organizations together to solve various problems in the neighborhood but to also work together to form a plan for the future. Every group we’ve spoken to thus far has been very open to such meetings. We believe that our local community has the opportunity to be one of the most vibrant, diverse and exciting neighborhoods in the city and that the church should be a part of that vitality, diversity and excitement. We believe that by modeling the kingdom of God and showing how things could be, that we can help the entire community bring “could be” into reality.
Another hallmark of the old parish model is that every resident of the geographic area of the parish was a de facto member of the church. Now of course in England, where there is a state church and so you are a member of this state church simply by being born, this makes sense. But what would it be like for our church to simply acknowledge that every person within our geographic area was also a de facto member of church, able to use the building and receive various services from the church? In other words, what if we erased the lines between church and neighborhood and earnestly sought to integrate the church and the neighborhood, the neighborhood and the church? No doubt such a church would be a place that would provide more to the community than help with the poor and Biblical/moral teaching. No doubt such a church would be the center of activity within the community, the place to go to for everything, not just help.
Here’s an example of how this thinking might play out: A certain world famous artist lives in our area, he is a refugee from a certain country. What if Zion provided our space for a showing of his art? His entire ethnic community would attend the opening and it would give us a chance to show hospitality to this group. The whole community would be invited and for many, it would be the first time that they had ever been to our church, or even in a church. Later, with the art still in view, we could invite the entire community to a round table discussion about the refugee experience in our own city. In such a way we provide public space for art, for the education of the community, and for fellowship between the various ethnic groups, generations and economic groups within our neighborhood. And it all happens in God’s house, under the cross. Redemption, reconciliation and peace result within our community and our Lord Jesus is glorified. And people who were far from the church come near to experience our common life together.
Barna Group has done some research on this approach. You can read about it at
I think there is no doubt that the church can add value to the community beyond it's traditional role. I think that some might ask, "But should it?" I would answer with another question: "Will so doing make our Master smile?" I think it would. I think he intended for his church to be the way forward for the world.
Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ