Church leaders must understand the “why” of community engagement. These leaders must understand what drives them beyond the walls of the church and into the mission field – the neighborhoods, businesses, and schools where their community works, plays, and studies. God told Israel in Jeremiah 29:7 to, “seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.” In Acts 1:8, the disciples would very shorty be empowered to be bold witness for Jesus Christ wherever they found themselves. Together these verses reveal an important truth: the church has a responsibility to engage, pray for, and minister to those who are outside its walls. Without a doubt life-changing ministry in difficult. Life-changing ministry can be messy. Life-changing ministry can be time-consuming. Life-changing ministry has a financial component to it as well. Funding is required for materials and services. From time to time those inside the church will wonder, if only to themselves, “What are we getting out of all this work and involvement in the community?” This question, at the very basement level, is one of reimbursement.
There is a danger associated with the church expecting reimbursement from the community for ministry on its behalf. To reimburse means to “make repayment for expenses or loss incurred.” If the church sees community ministry as a loss from the very beginning, certainly there will be cries for reimbursement. If the church sees community ministry as a mean profit materially from the people, certainly there will be demands for repayment and compensation. What would this look like? How might a church unintentionally seek reimbursement from their community?
Filling a seat in the sanctuary.Churches may take a stance such as “we went to them now they need to come to us.” A common question asked by congregants is “Where are the people we have been ministering to?” The easiest measurement of ministry success is an occupied seat in the sanctuary. Although the easiest measurement, it is not always the correct one. Ministry is an investment. It may require multiple engagements before the gospel is understood and embraced. Churches must be comfortable with the fact that beneficiaries of their ministry may never connect to their church body. Churches must understand they are involved in a kingdom work that is slow coming. This is not easy for many.
Filling the offering plate. Churches may also take a stance such as “we gave to them financially now they need to give back to us”. Our world has conditioned us to expect something in return for services rendered. The old saying goes, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” This would be true if you viewed your community exclusively from the business standpoint, viewing them as merely consumers. Is it true that your community may take a consumer approach to the church? Absolutely. The church must resist the temptation to “even the books” and fully embrace the teachings of Jesus Christ where we are reminded that to whom much is given, much is required.
Ministry in which the gospel is communicated and delivered, regardless of the acceptance of it, can never be viewed as a “loss incurred.” If there is no loss incurred, there is no need of reimbursement. Church leaders, the economic laws of supply and demand and return on investment are measured much differently in the church. Be generous. Give what you have.