Currently I am part of a one-year leadership cohort through the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology for an on-going discussion on ways to embrace a parishmindset in ministering to communities like the South Side. A parishis a geographically defined place, big enough to live life, yet, small enough to be known. For all intensive purposes, the South Side is my parish. It is where I live, work, am known, and ‘do’ life. As part of an assignment, I was asked to consider the ways my neighborhood experiences the Church (i.e., Body of Christ) in everyday life, to which I have written the following:
Though I live in the West, a region of the United States that is largely unchurched, in many ways living in Billings reminds me of being in the Bible Belt of Memphis, TN. Statistically, only 10% of our population (approximately 11,000 people) attend church on any given Sunday, yet, in my day to day encounters with people, I find myself interacting with ‘Christians’ nearly 85% of the time. Now, perhaps this is partly due to the fact that my role as a pastor and an Executive Director of a faith-based non-profit involves me with churches and followers of Jesus that are interested in our work of ministering to the marginalized. But even then, within my parish there are at least ten churches right here in my own community! So how do people experience the Body of Christ? Sadly, and unfortunately, I believe that many of them experience the Church according to America and not the Church according to the Word of God. People are saturated with enough Christian-ese to fool themselves into believing that they are ‘saved’, but blind enough to not allow the grace of the gospel to truly change their hearts, minds, and lives.
Perhaps I am a bit jaded, but I don’t think so. I have great hope in the Kingdom of God… both His Kingdom that has come, as well as the kingdom that will come. I am fully convinced that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and that He will lose none of those sheep the Father has given Him. My response to this question is simple, but mind you, in the past few weeks I have endured theft, manipulation, disappointment, and discouragement. As bearers of the message of Good News, we are a “sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2 Corinthians 2:14). We are the fragrance of Christ to all those we encounter. To some, the aroma of death, and to another, the aroma of life. I can’t dictate whether my aroma will be life or death to those in my community. My call is to abide in Him, love God, and love others. The result of this way of life is His work, not mine.
My heart is burdened for my community to encounter the real Church, not the American Christian Church. I long for us to see face to face the life of one who has been called, adopted, filled by the Spirit, and transformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ. My neighbors don’t need to be invited to ‘attend’ church as much as they need to: 1) interact with this aroma of Christ through a Spirit-filled follower of Jesus; and 2) to be invited to taste and see for themselves the goodness of the King. O, how I long for the Lord to vindicate His name in my neighborhood. May He awaken hearts to shatter this false perception of Christ, Church, and His Kingdom and reveal to them His true Kingdom, the one that is among us (through Him) and is yet to come. My awakened passion is to simply and unashamedly abandon myself to Christ and His call in my life, and in doing so, be a beacon of Light to those souls I interface with daily. O Lord, how I do pray that You enlighten us all and so purify Your Church!
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)