Serving the Good of Our City ‘Til it Hurts—A Ministry Challenge from Tim Keller’s Center Church
How is your church serving the good of your city? How are you in your ministry—pastoral, youth, small group—activating people to serve ‘til it hurts?
This summer was a lesson in the responsibility to live as a community in radical service and commitment to the common good of our community.
I pastor in one of the most beautiful places on the planet: Muskegon, Michigan. During the winter it looks like Candy Land. The Fall reminds me of a beautiful Van Gogh landscape speckled with bright blotches of yellows, oranges, and reds. And the summer, oh the summer! Our lakeshore is ranked as one of the best in the country. We’re proud of our lakeshore with its crystal-clear water, dog-friendly clean beaches, and mile-high sand dunes. You could say it’s the centerpiece of our community, which is why we wanted to use it to serve our city.
When I started pastoring there in May, I thought it might be fun to serve the community with a family-friendly movie night. I have fond memories of enjoying such an outdoor experience on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. when I lived there, so I thought it could be fun to do something similar for Muskegon. Then I ran across Kerry.
She had an even more fabulous idea than mine: Let’s create a cinematic experience like none other right on the beaches of Muskegon. After winning a $500 mini-grant from a local foundation, Movies on the Beach Muskegon was born. And I just happened to run across her idea on Facebook, which set in motion a summer-long partnership that reached nearly 1,500 people!
We collaborated along with a local community college and arts foundation to create an experience in service of the good of our city that was free, family-friendly, and safe. In fact, we partnered with a local rescue mission to help collect non-perishable goods and personal hygiene products. They were thrilled to fill several barrels full to help restock their depleted shelves during these tough economic times. So for three nights throughout the summer, we watched Back to the Future, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and How to Train Your Dragon after a gorgeous sun-set, under a blanket of stars, and right next to the lapping waves of Lake Michigan. It doesn’t get much better than that!
The day after our first movie event, several of our people commented how much they ached after setting up, serving, and tearing down around midnight. I gotta admit: I liked the sound of that! I want to serve my city for the good ‘til it hurts, and I want my people serving ‘til they hurt.
While it was a lot of work, we learned a good lesson in how to sacrificially serve the good of the community. In his new book, Center Church, Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York city, says this type of posture should be normative for Christians and their churches. He writes, “It is not enough for Christians to form a culture that merely ‘counters’ the values of the city. We must also commit, with all the resources of our faith and life, to serve sacrificially the good of the whole city, and especially the poor.”
Another way of putting this is that it isn’t enough—and I’d argue it’s never been enough—to be known for what we’re against. We’ve got to cultivate a reputation for what we’re for in our community. I can’t tell you how many new people I’ve met who’ve said “Oh you’re the movies on the beach church!” That’s what I want Renovate Church to be known for: We’re a people on mission “to serve sacrificially the good of the whole city,” and in our case with free, family-friendly movies.
So what’s your church known for? What’s your small group or youth group known for? How are you deliberately, sacrificially serving the good of your city? To the point that you ache to the bone afterwards?
Keller ends this section with a whopper of a statement: “Christians live not to increase the prosperity of our own tribe and group through power plays and coercion but to serve the good of all the people of the city (regardless of what beliefs others hold)…If Christians seek power and influence, they will arouse fear and hostility. If instead they pursue love and seek to serve, they will be granted a great deal of influence by their neighbors, a free gift given to trusted and trustworthy people.”
May you and your ministry seek the common good of your whole city. May you be granted large influence, gospel-influence, by your neighbors precisely because you began in a posture of service and humility. And may you ache, to the bone, after dreaming, planning, and executing ways to serve your own city ‘til it hurts.
Jeremy Bouma has spent a decade ministering among our postmodern culture, first in Washington D.C. and most recently as a pastor in West Michigan. He is the founder of THEOKLESIA—a content curator dedicated to helping the 21st century church rediscover the historic Christian faith—holds the Master of Divinity and Master of Theology from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and writes at www.novuslumen.net.