Five simple ways to show Jesus to the local community

As Christians, we talk about showing Jesus to the local community. It is a crucially important part of what we do to live generously in the world. And if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well. Here are five tips on showing Jesus to the local community.

1. Show up spiritually prepared

Dallas Willard taught that whatever we do in a particular moment is shaped by how we have been living prior to that moment. If you have been cultivating a responsive life with Jesus in your day-to-day life, you will be best prepared for him to shine through you when important moments come. And interfacing with the local community is always an important moment. Willard lamented that many Christians seem to conduct their spiritual lives "sloppily," so when they need to demonstrate Jesus, they aren't ready. To help Christians show up prepared, Willard taught extensively about spiritual habits like praying, worshiping, giving, serving, reading Scripture, fasting, and so on. Willard is absolutely correct -- we do best to show up spiritually prepared.

2. Show up!

Even if you don't consider yourself spiritually prepared, show up anyway. It's pretty simple. If Christians don't show up, we will not show Jesus to the community. I will go a step further. Christians talk a lot about love and service. When things happen or issues surface that the local community considers important, they notice who shows up and who doesn't. Plain and simple -- Jesus' followers have to show up.

3. Show interest

One of the things I have noticed is that churches are quick to call a community to be interested in what the church is interested in. Sometimes those are worthy causes, like human trafficking or homelessness. Often what churches overlook is the simple things a community values. If we are going to show Jesus to the local community, finding out what's important to the local community is usually the best place to start.

What if you don't consider the community's interests to be very interesting? I think you have to find a way to get interested (usually by getting to know people and hearing their stories). It's like one of the simple rules of friendship -- friends are interested in each other's lives. A friend who's not interested in your life is probably not much of a friend.

Here's an example. Last July a suspected arsonist burned down a portion of the playground in
McKinley Park -- one of Sacramento's iconic parks and now the home of Sanctuary Covenant Church. When the playground burned, the community first mourned the loss and then rallied to rebuild. They raised a massive amount of funds and recruited a small army of volunteers. This week the playground is being rebuilt. This playground rebuild is important to the community. And they are noticing when we show interest. One of the surprising discoveries I have made is that as I have talked to local leaders and residents, I have found that the playground is much more than just a playground. It is a symbol of community spirit and a repository of important memories for people who have played there as kids or gone there as parents.

Showing interest is simple stuff. Yesterday I worked on one of the Rebuild McKinley teams. When we broke for dinner, I sat with one of the lead organizers. I asked him how he felt about the Rebuild and how things were going. That kicked off a conversation about what's going on in his world and what it means to him. It doesn't take a super-Christian to do something like this. But it shows Jesus in a profound way.

4. Show willingness

A few of us built stairs yesterday at the McKinley playground. None of us had ever built a stair in our lives. What we had to offer was not experience or expertise but willingness. It looked like this:
"We are going to take time out of our busy lives to work on the playground because we believe Jesus wants us to." (We showed up [more or less] spiritually prepared.) 
"We are here to help." (We showed up.)
"If this playground is important to the community, then it's important to us." (We showed interest.)
"We have limited skills, but what can we do help?" (We showed willingness.) 
I should add that when we ask, "What can we do to help," we have to be ready to (a) listen and (b) do what needs to be done (c) with a great attitude. The way it usually works is that when we listen and start serving someone, our hearts become filled with a profound joy. That's how it went down yesterday on the playground. We served and loved it! And along the way, in the process of simply being willing, we did things we didn't know we could do. And we made new friends in the local community!

5. Show an unexpected absence of strings

You know what the community expects? It expects Christians to show up with an agenda something like: "We'll help with this project, and while we're helping, we're going to spam everyone on the site with literature from our church do you will join us. Because we are really here for our own interests."

What the community doesn't expect is for Christians to serve with absolutely no strings attached. These are key words at Sanctuary. We are on the lookout for strings, because they like to sneak in quietly and well disguised. But one of the miracles of the Christian life is that we get to live without strings. Because of God's grace, we are completely liberated from needing to manipulate anyone. It is by far the most profound and joyful way to live!

If we want to show Jesus to the local community, we need to:

  1. Show up spiritually prepared
  2. Show up!
  3. Show interest
  4. Show willingness
  5. Show an unexpected lack of strings
None of this is rocket science. It is all doable. That's part of the beauty of it. Another part of the beauty is that when we do these things, we will find that Jesus meets us as we serve. 


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