A couple nights ago, I shared with my Twitter friends about a strategy meeting where we are planning a mission trip to our city. Yes, the city where most of our church members live. Why, you might ask? Let me give you some reasons why I am compelled by this idea:
1. How many times have you heard of teams going to other cities to partake in service projects or community development where there is ministry to the poor and needy, urban revitalization, caring for children (especially orphans), and education to ethnic minorities? If we can send teams to do missionary work in other cities to lend credibility to the church’s witness there, then why don’t we bless our own city in a similar way?
2. Our church’s strengths lay primarily in our “word” ministry (preaching, teaching, Bible studies, etc.). While we minister in various ways in our “deed” ministry, it could use some strengthening.
3. 95% of our city is unchurched–over 150,000 people. While the de-churched may be reached by an attractional witness, the majority of the people–the unchurched/non-Christian–are best engaged through relational efforts and deed ministry. If we are going to connect the gospel message we are entrusted with, we are going to need to build some bridges to our community through a diversified deed ministry to provide greater access for the gospel to be proclaimed and demonstrated in authentic community.
4. Most of us live our lives with well-worn grooves in our city. We travel from home to work to church to home, sometimes taking a detour to the gas station, shopping mall, or grocery store. If we would be honest, we really don’t know our city. Okay, so we we know 8% of our city and about 1% of the people. But what about the roads, neighborhoods, and pockets of our city that few if any of our members have ever step foot upon? Pioneering does not always have to be horizontal; it can also be vertical. In other words, when we go into “all the world,” we are not just talking about breadth but also depth. Far too often, our “worldliness” (taken positively) is way too superficial.
We don’t know the people in our city, and if we would be honest with ourselves, we live like we don’t care–at least not enough to break the cycle of our city rhythms and cultural traditions. What would our church look like if we started ministering to and reaching people who are entirely not like us? Taking a mission trip to our city will hopefully serve as shock treatment to our everyday monotony by opening our eyes and going down paths which, although not too far away, have not been traveled by God’s sojourners.
5. A trip to our city, I pray, would serve as a catalyst for long-term deed ministry in blessing the community and seeking the welfare of our city. For those of you who have participated in short-term mission trips and enter back into the “real world,” have you not asked the question, “Why do I live and act like a missionary this past week and things go back to ‘normal’ when I come back home?” The thrill of being on mission quickly fades out and is eclipsed by a busy schedule and tyranny of the routine. One week we are mission-conscious; the next week mission is substituted with maintaining life as usual.
If you take a mission trip to your city, you learn to live as a missionary in your own context. As much as we would like to say we are missional, we are far less than what we profess. Nevertheless, the gap between missional-as-a-buzzword and missional-as-a-way-of-life can be overcome, beginning with an initiative to train our people to live think and live as though God had planted them there (because he has) for a full week of serving our community.
If we can take a hundred people on a mission trip to our city, how would that affect our city? How would that affect our church and the relationship our church has with our city? How would it affect the community groups scattered throughout SW Florida who each have their own neighborhoods who need to be penetrated by those passionate about the mission of God? Could it turn our members into missionaries overnight? Probably not, but at least it can begin the process. This is what I call the “so what?” factor and why I’m compelled to take a trip to my city.
I confess I do not know my city as I ought. Even worse, I don’t love the people with the compassion of Christ which should propel me to give myself to the least of these for kingdom advance in word and deed. But what little I know about my city is true, not that I am an expert cultural exegete, but that I take Jesus at His word when He says the harvest is plentiful. The problem is the same: the laborers are few–few who have His heart for the lost, few who have His gospel on their lips, few who have compassion to love their neighbors through ministries of mercy.
If anyone has taken a mission “trip” to your own city, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Lord willing, we’ll be putting together this “trip” and praying for laborers as we seek God’s heart for the city He has placed us.