Jesus told his followers: “You are like light for the whole world. A city built on top of a hill cannot be hidden,and no one would light a lamp and put it under a clay pot. A lamp is placed on a lampstand, where it can give light to everyone in the house.Make your light shine, so that others will see the good that you do and will praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5.14-16, CEV). With these words there is a fact: We are called to serve for the welfare of our city. Serving the city is not only a point of connection with people outside the church. It is a way to penetrate the culture, creating culture, and achieve transformation from the culture epicenter.
The problem is that there has been a historical tendency to evade service to others outside the four walls of the church building. As the late John Stott said: “There has always been a strong tendency of Christians to withdraw to a kind of closed, evangelical, monastic community.” This is totally contrary to what Jesus did in the days of the New Testament.
- Of the 132 appearances of Jesus in the New Testament, 122 were in public places.
- Of the 52 parables Jesus shared, 45 had public places of the city as a backdrop.
- It was in the context of the city where Jesus conducted most of his ministry – which fed the hungry, healed the sick, defended the oppressed, freed the captives, taught how to live in the real world, and developed relationships with people of all kinds.
Our call is to move from our “four walls comfort zone” to go to the people in the city with “word and deed”. If we want to be influential, we have to serve in the transformation of the community. As Rick Warren said, “The body of Christ has had its hands and feet amputated until all that’s left is a big mouth. The world has heard us preach for so long—it’s been word without deed. The missional church says it’s Word and deed.”
Recently, we launched in our local church a series entitled “Making a Difference in the City,” to promote intentional service in our community. Here are some chronicles of what has been happening (some names have been altered to protect the privacy of the subjects):
- Omar is a businessman who recently traveled to India. While he was dining with a Hindu businessman, Omar led him to Christ.
- Mercedes is an aesthetician who works in an office of a plastic surgeon. She is a new believer. As part of her consideration to serve the city, she began to ask God to use her work for the good of the people. Many women who began visiting the office where she works have finished discovering that their value don’t depends on how they look, thanks to Mercedes’ wise counsel.
- Carlos is a sales manager of a very prestigious company. One Sunday took notes of the message “Stop Following and Start Leading,” and sent those notes to his team under training. A trainee sent it to its 2,000 followers in the social network, and one of his followers in turn put them in the hands of the candidates for governor in the Commonwealth. The message notes ended in the website of two political parties as a suggested reading for community change. Incredible!
- Roberto is a young man with a great interest in children. Knowing about the orphanage related to the church, he decided to teach their children how to make a home garden. He facilitates the creation of a home garden that won an award and got extra help for the orphanage with that!
- Joshua is an industrialist who attends church. He knew of the interest of the church to help women victims of HIV / AIDS. When he heard of the church commitment to support these women in the city, he identified an opportunity to redesign its industrial laundry system. (Another man of the church, not knowing that he was buying industrial equipment in his company, was inspired to sell it at cost!).
- Veronica is a woman who knew of 185 children in a public school that was not affords to buy notebooks and pencils. Through her initiative, the church got pencils and notebooks for them.
- Nivea is a retired professor of the Medicine School. She learned that the 185 children in the public school nearest the church needed a tutorship program. Immediately, she mobilized a team of tutors to help students to improve their profiency.
- Amanda is an attorney at law. She recently said to me: “If someone is in need of legal advice, let me know.” Two days later she was helping Kimberly, and defended her pro bono because she was not afforded to pay for legal services.
- Teresa is a medicine doctor. She not only diagnosed and treated people with cancer, but advocate for those who need expensive medicines for treatment, as part of its belief in the dignity of their patients.
- Jose is a businessman whose passion is to help hungry people. He took the initiative to contact several organizations, including the church, and had managed to feed 125 families for a month.
We are learning that people want to serve, but they need opportunities to serve. If we provide the opportunities, they will deploy their God-given design for service. Also we are learning that one size-doesn’t-fit-all, so we have to provide three kind of environments: personally (to serve wherever we go), communally (through missional action teams) and corporately (through the church big initiatives in the community.) But there is a fact: When we serve the community, transformation take place not only in people but also in their environments and structures.
So, why not to serve the city? “You are like light for the whole world.”
Irving Figueroa is the Academic Coordinator of Wesley Seminary at IWU’s Spanish Master of Divinity degree.