By guest author, Pastor Todd Lamphere, Venue Church
Where would Jesus hang out if He were here on earth today?
When asked this very question, U2 rock star Bono shocked the Christian establishment saying, "If Jesus were on earth, you'd find him in a gay bar in San Francisco." Neil Cole, in a less shock-jockish manner, said, "If you want to win this world to Christ, you are going to have to sit in the smoking section." When you dive into the Gospels you find the sinner, the outcast, and the needy consistently seek the Savior. Yet the Gospels also show Jesus spending a lot of time in the synagogue. There are a number of theological reasons why Jesus hung out at the synagogue, but there are strong practical reasons as well. The synagogue was the center of community life where people gathered and life happened. It was the community’s building. So for Jesus to be at the synagogue was to place Himself smack dab in the middle of community life.
For almost 200 years, the center of community life in America revolved around the church house. It was the place where influencers gathered, the moral climate was set, and a sense of community developed. Sadly, in the vast majority of America, those days are over, and the center of community life has become the public school. Yes, the school house has replaced the church house as the community’s building. It is the place where next generation leaders develop, morality is challenged and set, and people rally together for a common cause. Bemoan this as we may, this reality necessitates that we spend massive amounts of time, energy, and resources in partnering with public schools. If you are looking to maximize missional money, the public school campus is where you will yield the highest return on your investment. Here’s why…
Public schools are no longer solely educational. They are so much more. The public school system has become the frontline identifier of social needs in our community. It is the school that is generally the first to know if a family has become homeless or if a child is without food. It is now the school that deals with helping families get lights turned back on or transportation secured. Our teachers are now tasked to be full-time educators, part-time social workers, and part-time psychologists all rolled up in one. It is overwhelming, and the church has, in large part, done very little to ease the burden our public schools bear. Howard Hendricks said, "You can impress people at a distance, but you can only impact them up close and personal." It's time for God's church to become an impact player on the community’s field. Allow me to graciously share with you a simple, three-fold strategy for public school involvement:
INVEST. INTERACT. IMPACT
When a church's mission employs these three power words for intentional touch within our schools, the community is tangibly affected by the love of God. But there is a potential flaw in this strategy. You cannot rearrange the three words. They must be done in sequence.
All churches want impact. It is why we exist. The way to impact is through interaction, and the way we earn the right to interact is through investment. Invest. Interact. Impact. Churches often want to switch the first two words. "Let me see if they want me on the campus, and then I'll invest in them." Investing in your public school consistently will allow you the privilege to interact with them. Here is the key: you must invest without expectation. Let me explain by way of an illustration.
There was a church in the area I live that wanted to give backpacks to all the children in their neighborhood elementary school. It was a touching gesture welcomed by our school district. However, the church had a stipulation, wanting to stitch a Bible verse on the backpacks. When the school system said no, the church rescinded its offer. Hidden agenda revealed. Interaction and impact lost all because there were strings attached to the investment. Here is the point: when it comes to investing in our public schools, it is not our way or the highway. It is the school’s way or the highway! We partner with schools to meet their needs, not to promote our agenda. Our mandate to share the Good News is validated and distributed through our actions. We must earn the right to be heard...on their terms.
Investing in our schools isn't as difficult as it may seem. It really is as easy as finding a need and filling a need. Here are some ideas for meeting needs in your local schools.
· Start a food bank in your school or help fill one already in existence.
· Give gift cards to your principal to distribute to teachers as a "thank you" for a job well done.
· Introduce yourself to the Safe Coordinator or school counselor, ask if they know of any students or families needing assistance, and give it. (Note: You don't need to know the family’s name. Confidentiality prohibits the counselor from giving out student information, but it should not preclude us from assisting.)
· Feed a sports team.
· Do a cleanup day at the school.
· Get your members background checked and cleared through the school district to be a volunteer or mentor.
· Support the music and arts programs.
· The needs are endless...just ask.
School officials can be skeptical, and unfortunately churches have given them good reason to be. They can smell hidden agendas and insincere motives a mile away. Most are not anti-God, but they are against overt proselytizing. To be sure, the most fertile, yet toughest soil is the public school campus. We soften its ground with love in action. Realizing people aren't nearly as excited to hear about God until they see His people serving unconditionally, we must deliberately partner with schools for the purpose of being used by them. This is where church planters have an amazing opportunity. Many church planters view the school as a great place to start a ministry. I believe it is the best place to keep a ministry. Planting where you can feel the pulse of the community is strategically smart. It is no longer about using the school for cheap rent. It is about the school using you.
In the end it all comes down to a movement shift. Perhaps it is time for the church to stop asking the community to come to our building and move to serve the community at theirs. Perhaps it's time to join Jesus where He would be...on the public school campus.
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