For the last number of months, I have been enjoying completing the Bainbridge Island Police Academy. During each of the weekly sessions, we got to know the people who make up the various components of our criminal enforcement system on Bainbridge Island and our county. This included our city’s judge, our detectives, the coroner’s office, and the 9-1-1 call center. Besides providing a fascinating look into the inner workings of one of our communities, this course gave me a chance to get to know many key players in our community that I have not already met.
One thing that is central to what it means for me to be a pastor is to be deeply embedded in the community. Rather than being cloistered, just taking care of our little group, God summons Christians (including pastors!) to work within their communities. The early Methodists really understood this principle. Our founder John Wesley famously did not describe his “parish” (his local church) as one building. Rather, he said, “The world is my parish.” He knew the value of working deeply within his society.
Think about a church like a circle of people. This circle can have two postures. One is facing inward. We care about ourselves, our needs, making sure the music and worship services and programs are exactly what I/we want. The other posture is facing outward. While we’re still in a circle—that is, we’re still connected, we’re still a group being church—our focus is external. We engage with our communities and work to make others’ lives better.
Over the coming months, we’re going to continue having discussions about what the future of the (capital-C) Church looks like. Because it’s going to be very different if it is to survive long-term. This is one aspect that is very clear: the future of the Church, if it will survive, will be externally focused. It will deeply engage its community. Christians (and their pastors) will become deeply embedded in their communities. We will partner with others to transform lives, individually and corporately—which after all, is the business of the Church in the first place.