To be a kingdom-building pastor you MUST be a community-building pastor.
I admit that “must” is a strong word—and there are few things that I’m emphatic about unless they are biblical, but I do believe that in order for us to reach people today we have to get outside the walls of our church buildings. And, that means we MUST do something intentional to make that happen. The community has to know—and believe—that we really do care for them. For me, being a community builder makes sense—and seems most effective.
And we do love our community already, don’t we?
I certainly hope so. We believe we have the hope for the world as our central teaching. The Gospel is not to be a hidden truth but the light in the city on the highest hill. That means we must take our light into the world.
So the fair question to follow a post like that is how do you do it? How can a pastor—or ministry leader—be a community builder?
I don’t have all the ideas, but I have some suggestions.
Here are seven ways to be a community-minded pastor:
1. Know key leaders
I think you should know who the leaders in the community are and know as many of them personally as possible. You may not be able to know the mayor of your city, depending on the city’s size, but could you know your local council representative? Could you know a school board member? You’ll be surprised how receptive many politicians are when constituents contact them—especially a leader who has an audience with a significant number of people. (And anything over an average household can be considered significant.) Let me be clear that I never endorse candidates in my official capacity, but I do vote, and it’s amazing when you’re active in the community how many people in your church want to know who you support.
2. Listen to concerns
Wherever you are, wherever you go, whatever you do in the community—whether at city hall, a school meeting or the grocery store or barbershop, listen to hear the things people are talking about around you. If you hear repeated themes, you can almost guess that’s an issue on people’s minds. And if you aren’t hearing anything—ask. Actually, ask anyway. And don’t hear for what you want to do or where your church is already serving. Listen with an open mind to the real concerns of people. You may have different answers than they’ve thought of before. You know how to organize people. You represent people you can organize. That’s a powerful combination when addressing community needs.
3. Love what they love
I’ll get disagreement to this one, but I think it’s one of the more effective ways to be a community builder. I’m specifically talking about loving the culture of the city. I’ve seen pastors bash their community online. That’s foolish in my opinion. You can talk against community concerns in a way to rally support for a cause without bashing the community. People often feel about where they live—especially if they grew up there—the way they feel about their family. They can say bad things about them, but you better not. But here’s where I’ll get the most disagreement—to me, this also includes loving the traditions they love—including their local sports teams. I was visiting a church recently and the pastor joked about the local college team. He referred to the fans as “sinners.” The crowd gave a rousing disapproval—and they laughed. It was funny.
I couldn’t help but wonder, however, how much more effective he could have been endearing people to his leadership if he was “on their side” rather than always blatantly rooting for an opponent. It must be genuine, of course, and I’m not suggesting you drop loyalties to other teams, but ask what cause are you more loyal to supporting and how supporting it will be most effective. I’m in the heart of the University of Kentucky Big Blue tradition. I get criticized repeatedly by my Tennessee fans as a “traitor,” but I’m telling you, people like me better—and listen more—when I’m wearing Kentucky blue. God has called me to reach people in this community, and I’ve discovered they love that I’m learning their unique culture and exploring and enjoying the uniqueness that is Kentucky. When I was in a military town, the more knowledge and support I could demonstrate about military service, the more our soldiers and their families seemed to endear themselves to my leadership. And don’t misunderstand, it is absolutely genuine for me. I am intentionally trying to love the people to whom God has placed me to minister—and part of that—as I would do for any family member—is learning to love the things they love.