Subtitle: How do you change the heart of a city/town?
I’ve made the move from big city to small town. I joined up in my current position almost two years ago now. There has been a lot of pastoral turnover in those couple of years, and as we all settle in and get the lay of the land, we’re noticing that the heart of our town is basically dead.
What does it mean to have a town that is dead? There is no heart, no desire to be more than it is, no spirit, no pride. The people in our town are like zombies, having any spark of life sucked out of them at every turn.
As pastors, having made this diagnosis, we now find ourselves trying to find out the best way to bring life back to this “valley of dry bones.”
The first instinct of pastors is that if we can bring life to our church, through dynamic preaching, intimate worship, and fervent prayer, our people will take that into the community and make an impact. While I believe that with the Spirit of God all things are possible and that God gave the Holy Spirit to us to be witnesses in the Earth, I also believe that this is really the cop-out, safe answer to the problem.
It’s safe because, for the pastor, it is containable and controllable. The task falls on his/her shoulders to form it, disperse it, and maintain it. Can anyone else hear the burnout warning bells? That’s one of the main reasons I feel that this isn’t the solution.
Another reason is that the people in our area have lost faith in the Church to provide the hope and purpose they are looking for. Why? Because our churches have failed them. Using my own church as an example, we are on our third senior pastor in six or seven years. With turnover like that, trust and faith in the church is nonexistent because people have come to the conclusion that the pastor will eventually, and the church will start from square one again.
As a result, our people have decided to put their hearts and energies into those places, causes and things that they believe will outlast the church. Some have taken to coaching in the local high school. Others focus on their jobs. More spend time with their families on vacations or just around town.
Those areas of their lives that forecast the least amount of change become their focus. They’ve lost sight that what gives their lives meaning and joy and hope is Christ. Right and true relationship with Him and as part of His Body will bring what they are looking for to their lives.
Of course, preaching it on Sunday morning alone won’t get the message across. Neither will it have an impact on the community at large. It will take an infusion of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers, but I don’t think it will flesh out the way we often think it should.
The impact of God’s Spirit on the community through His people is not automatic, it takes purposeful execution.
My wife likes “The Unit” television series, telling the stories of a special operations unit from the United States Army. They are specialists, trained and informed, with a heart for their country and its safety. They are a unit, bonded into brotherhood through mission and experience together. Their missions are often covert, focused, with a pre-determined target and objective.
The way to impact in our communities is to send out Holy Spirit filled believers, whether under cover or boldly, to a target with an objective in mind. We must have a heart for God’s Kingdom, bound in unity with other believers with the same heart, seeking to impact lives with the love and light of Christ. I believe this is the how of changing the heart of our town.
But what about our target? Where do we have the greatest opportunity to have an impact on our community? And what about how we plan to do it? What actions will we take to make it happen? These thoughts and more to follow.