I've seen churches pass out flyers designed to bring people into their church. I've seen the food drives. I've seen people reaching out in numerous ways.
But why does our impact - if there is any - always seem so short-lived, and why doesn't it appear to cause any lasting changes within the community?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not being critical of these efforts. I think they're almost always put together by good-hearted people who genuinely want to do the right things. I'm simply making an observation, and wondering aloud why the end results are what they are.
You see, I read my bible, and I see an absolutely amazing God.
I see an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful God.
On the other hand, I see a church that claims to love this God, worship this God, obey this God, and follow this God.
And yet....most of the neighbors surrounding these churches are completely unaware of their existence.
Shouldn't a church that claims to be led by this mighty God, and filled by His Spirit, have an unmistakable influence upon not only the surrounding neighborhood, but also upon the entire community? I believe so, and if we don't, why not? What's missing?
I believe that it all begins with what's happening inside the walls of the church, long before any one of us takes one step outside.
In 2 Chronicles 6, we read about Solomon praying to the Lord, asking Him to bless the temple he had just finished building.
In doing so, Solomon cried out to the Lord, reminding Him of the promises He had made to the people of Israel. I won't post the entire prayer here, but here is a good sample of where Solomon's heart was:
“But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! Yet, Lord my God, give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence. May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there. May you hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. Hear the supplications of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place; and when you hear, forgive." - 2 Chronicles 6:18-21
Do you notice a difference in the tone of Solomon's prayer than we're used to hearing in many pulpits across this great nation of ours?
It's all about giving all of the glory to God, pouring the heart out to the only one worthy of our worship and praise. And it wasn't only Solomon who did so. It was the entire nation of Israel, who had gathered together as one to praise the Most High God for all that He was, and all that He had done.
And what was the Lord's response?
"When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying,
“He is good; his love endures forever.” 2 Chronicles 7:1-3
So, back to my question.
How do we, as a church, make a profound, lasting impact upon our neighborhoods, towns, and communities?
We don't attempt to do so under our own power. We come together as one, offering true, heartfelt praise and worship to the Lord our God. We gather for this reason, and for this reason alone. We ask His Spirit to fill our sanctuaries, fill our hearts, and fill our lives - each one of us individually, and all of us collectively.
And we then move out into our community, allowing His Spirit, that lives within us, to pour out into the streets, sidewalks, and alleys of these towns, finding it's resting place in the hearts of a people who are suddenly very aware of our presence.
If we reach out to our communities God's way - allowing Him to reach out to others through us - we will begin to see the unmistakable signs of His hand touching our neighborhoods in ways that simply cannot be ignored.