by Patty Marsh
SPOKANE, Wash., January 28, 2016 - You might assume because I’m the Adventist Community Services Director for the Upper Columbia Conference I’m talking about a natural disaster. Our region did suffer enormous losses during the forest fires this past summer, but I’m not talking about rebuilding from the ashes. No, it’s more serious.
Could it be Christians are facing a crisis because people don’t believe we really mean what we say? Our credibility is on the line.
Just look at the numbers. According to the Pew Research Center, in the last eight years an additional 7.8 percent of our population no longer identifies themselves as Christian. Additionally, more and more Americans are walking out the doors of organized religion.
The staggering good news of the gospel doesn’t seem to be enough to bring people to our churches or even keep some of those already inside the doors. The Bible truth is so powerful, shouldn’t that be enough? If it was, would people still be leaving? Apparently something is missing.
In my experience, the beautiful truth of the Bible needs to be backed up with loving action to make a lasting difference. It’s what Christ did.
“The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow me’” Ministry of Healing, p. 143.
Watch the evening news and it’s easy to see our society needs that love-in-action now more than ever before. We need to get out into our communities; not stay cloistered inside our churches.
If we want be a credible witness for Christ and impact lives for eternity, we must invest in the community. We need to show the world a church that is humble and truly seeking the good of those around us.
So how do we do that? How do we build enough credibility for people to listen to what we have to say? I’ve found in my line of work, one of the best places to begin is by becoming part of a conversation or by starting a conversation where none might have existed before.
A good place to begin is by attending your city council, or visiting your local police or fire department or your local school. Discover real needs and then look for ways to build connections with others who also have an interest in supporting the community. For example, visit with civic groups, other churches and non-profit groups who have experience and can help.
It’s important to approach community involvement with a humble spirit. As much as we might like to think so, we don’t have all the answers to social problems. We can learn from others.
This point is underscored by a recent email the Spokane Central Adventist Church received in connection with an after school activities ministry they are seeking to start for their community.
“You guys are awesome for taking the time to build relationships and learn what resources are out there. A lot of groups don’t take the time to talk to the people in the area they’re trying to serve. You would think that would be a natural step when trying to start a program like this. But, you would be surprised that only about 30 percent of groups, if that, actually go and take the time to talk to multiple community organizations to learn what resources are available, what to do or not to do, basically learn from others mistakes. They have a program in mind and tell others that ‘this is what we’re going to do’. You should be commended for taking this time and meeting all these people. This is what you SHOULD be doing.”
As we take time to meet people in our community to discover needs and work for the good of our towns and cities, we effectively redraw the face of Christianity. Instead of images of Christians angrily picketing an abortion clinic or funerals, people begin to see the Savior’s face, truly seeking the good of others.
Part of my job includes directing the Adventist disaster response efforts in our region when emergencies arise. We cannot expect to go into a community during a crisis and make a significant difference unless we first have been a part of the conversation and disaster relief planning before a crisis happens.
Most counties have emergency management meetings, generally every other month. I dream of the day when these counties in our conference will have at least one or two Adventists who attend these disaster planning meetings.
Our participation at the local level, listening and sharing before an emergency happens, gives us enormous credibility when a disaster occurs. We will have earned the confidence of our community and built name recognition. If a disaster happens, we will be more likely asked to help because people know how we are equipped to help.
If this is something you might be interested in, contact me and I can help equip you to serve as an Adventist liaison, an ambassador for Christ in your community.
Backing our beautiful Bible truths with loving action reflects the counsel given over 2,600 years ago to another group of God’s people living as exiles in a society of crumbling morals and disappearing values. God’s Word through His prophet Jeremiah to the Israelites in Babylon echoes with resounding power to God’s people today:
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” Jeremiah 29:7.
Reprinted from Upper Columbia Conferrence Update, December 2015.