As the Executive Director of Love INC of Tinley Park, which coordinates community service programs between all the churches in our local area, I had the privilege of visiting many congregations. In my travels, one of my favorite missional reminders is a sign posted at the exit of a church parking lot stating, “You are now entering the mission field.” It’s true. Jesus called us to share the Gospel to the ends of the earth, but He also listed Jerusalem, the home of many of the disciples. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The spread of the gospel begins at home!
Serving the community is an excellent way to share the love of Christ. It can also make your family’s faith tangible. Here are a few tips on how to have your family serve your community together.
The key to sharing the love of God in your community is to listen and look for opportunities.
- Does someone in your neighborhood have a stork sign in the yard announcing the birth of a baby?
- Do you have a new neighbor?
- Have you heard of a person in your community who is having or recovering from surgery?
- Has there been a death in the family of a neighbor or public servant?
- Is there a community workday set for local schools or park districts?
- Is there a new widow or widower or an elderly person in your neighborhood who could use a little extra attention?
Okay, so you’ve heard of an opportunity, what are some ways your family can reach out to fill these needs?
- For the family welcoming a new arrival, a home-cooked meal is always a welcome surprise. Adjusting to the care of an additional human being can be grueling! The blessing of a meal allows for one less burden on the family. Have your children help bake cookies or go shopping for a small baby gift to sweeten the deal. If you know several neighbors, you might even consider setting up meals for a week or two. A new website called Meal Train can be especially helpful in planning meals for a family. You are able to list allergies or special eating lifestyles and you can be sure that the family doesn’t receive the same meal for a week!
- I recently moved to a new neighborhood and was so impressed with my new neighbors. A representative from the block came and visited the week I moved in. She introduced herself and then planned a luncheon for me so that I could meet everyone! How gracious! This can be extended to the entire family especially when there are children involved. We all know how difficult a move can be on children so inviting a new neighbor for a barbeque meet and greet can make their transition a lot less tragic! A nice touch might be to create a “Welcome Wagon” basket full of contacts on the block, favorite take-out menus, and other pertinent neighborhood information. You might also include a home baked treat.
- The mayor of the town I work in is well-loved and respected. Recently, he announced his resignation due to a serious illness. I was so moved by the community’s response toward this public servant. It is human nature to respond to the news of a tragedy, but often we forget about the situation once its “newsworthiness” dies down. Make a note on a calendar to send a homemade “thinking of you” card from your family three or four months after this type of announcement. Your thoughtfulness will brighten the day of a patient. You are also living out the scriptures in regard to honoring your leaders. Romans 13:1-7 states, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. ..” Doing good to those in authority creates a relationship with them outside of being pulled over for going a little too fast! It focuses on the good that they do in our community, creating a healthy attitude in our children about their relationship with authority and viewing them as public servants rather than someone to be afraid of.
- Learning to live in the face of death is one of life’s most defining and difficult moments. Just getting through the day can seem almost impossible. Again, this situation is greatly helped with planning meals, a handmade card, or flowers. There may also be an opportunity to house/pet sit if the neighbor must go out of town for a funeral.
- A village or school will often host a community workday at a local park or school. Signing your family up for this type of event teaches your children to think outside of their family, church members, and block to how they can affect a community, state, and later the world! Cleaning a school yard can also have the side benefit of showing them the merit of being responsible over the planet by not littering!
- Peter 5:5 states, “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Years ago, I attended a homeschool event at which a young 16 year old boy got up and gave a testimony about a ministry he had recently started. The verse this ministry had been founded on was found in James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” This young man began a ministry of doing yard work for free for widows. What an inspiration this young man was to me! This can be a lovely gesture to a neighborhood widow. You can also be hospitable to the widow by inviting them to family dinners or barbeques. The adjustment to living a life without someone to share it with can be difficult.
The key to living missionally in your community is to listen with ready ears and be willing to step out in love. When you do this, an opportunity will appear and your family will learn the beauty of what they can do for Jesus right in their back yard. After all, when we do this we are really serving Christ Himself. Matthew 25:35 says, “’For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,’” May we be that kind of people!