I remember back to my high school civics class. The assignment was to discuss why voting was so important. One of my good friends, who was probably too smart for his own good, had sat down, playing with the numbers and came to the conclusion that statistically voting was not important, and how an individual voted made no difference what so ever, so why vote.
I am sure that most of you reading this have heard this argument, or derivation of it, before. The teacher did something interesting to counter his argument in the same way he asked a question. “How can you change society if you don’t take part in even the most basic way?” He then proceeded to give us a lecture about how many people complain about this, that or the other thing, but when they have a chance to make a change, they do not act. He expanded from just voting to everything and ended with another question, one that resonates with the church and our community today. “Every time you complain that you don’t like this or that within society, you have to first look back at yourself and ask, What have I done to make it better.”
As part of my Doctor of Ministry Program we explored the issues of Gospel and Culture. In this we explored the relationship that the church has with the communities that we are in and it also showed how and why churches are often closing or marginalized. The biggest reason churches fail is that they have literally become disconnected from the communities they are in. Often they are quick to judge, but unwilling to act waiting often for someone else, be that clergy or another member, to act. The fundamental problem is that if something bothers you so much, but you are unwilling to do everything in your power to change it, even if it seems futile, how do you expect it could ever possibly change?
One of the things that drew me to Westminster three years ago was that as a church there was the desire to engage the community. We are unique for a church in the Bay Area because we are seen to many as a home, even if that is not a church home. We are the gathering point and thus, we do not have a traditional ministry. When I walk the streets around the church, not a week goes by that I am not approached by various people to talk about issues from the homeless situation to some individual’s spiritual crisis. Within the confines of our buildings we have created a safe space for people dealing with a multitude of things to gather. And we have become a catalyst helping the neighborhood associations and businesses to thrive.
Some would ask, “that is all nice, but how is that evangelizing for Christ.” My answer is “in the most important way possible, by showing God’s love.” You see, while many might stand on the side and condemn this or that. And others name this problem or that one, we have taking the unique stance of standing beside our community and sharing love. Moreover, we do not push any agenda other then to think what is best, and often we are willing to get our hands dirty and work just to make things better.
This summer we have seen this many times, a lot at the fourth of July where our crazy Hot Dog give away made that day extra special, to our participation in this past weekend’s Stroll The Alameda. All highlight the way in which our actions show Christ’s love, and you never know how far that will go to imbedding faith within people.
In the church there is always the debate on how to evangelize. I do not say this to disparage any other tradition, but I think the most important way to evangelize is to share Christ’s love and be an example to the community by showing that you are willing to get to work with them, not orchestrate from afar. Mostly we can be active in even the most basic of ways which may just be buying tickets to local event, or giving space for them to meet. We are doing this and through that we are a model for a new kind of mission to our community and the church, a church that does not stand on the sidelines or calculating our effectiveness, but active in every way showing love along the way.
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Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen