Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Are we making a difference?
As the pastor of a small church plant that is still struggling to get off the ground it can be easy to feel like we're not really making a difference in the world or in our community. And a lot of folks might say that we shouldn't expect to. Our goal should just be to get the church established and then worry about our mission in the world later. However, that's not how we look at the church. For us the church doesn't just have a mission (that we can get around to eventually), the church is a mission, we are God's redemptive agents in the world to act as catalysts for love and justice. If we are not out there making a difference from day one, then we might as well not exist.

So have we made any difference? As I started to reflect on the things we have been involved with just this past year I was surprised to realize how much we've done even as a brand new baby church. (Of course, this list is based on the premise that our church is wherever our people are, and serves through them, not always through formal church programs.) I don't offer this in a prideful "look at how great we are" way, but simply as an encouragement to our own folks to not get discouraged, as well as to others who think that you have to have big budgets and big congregations to make a difference.

This past year our church has:
  1. Fed the poor in our community.
  2. Begun a project to build schools, hospitals, and businesses in Haiti
  3. Helped with the recovery in New Orleans.
  4. Supported local anti-war vigils.
  5. Sponsored a conversation about the intersection of faith and immigration issues.
  6. Helped educate people about how to care for our environment (and why this is important from a faith perspective).
  7. Stood in the way of people wanting to pollute the rivers, land, and air in our county with a landfill and promoted positive alternatives. (Not to mention actually going out and picking up trash along the rivers ourselves.)
  8. Started to build bridges with the local Hispanic community.
  9. Worked for inter-denominational cooperation among local churches.
  10. Spoken out against homophobia on college campuses (and been arrested for it).
  11. Worked with disadvantaged kids in after-school programs.
  12. Served families and kids at a local camp/retreat center.
  13. Given financial assistance to individuals with serious immediate needs.
  14. Thrown parties for the poor and the mentally handicapped.
  15. Encouraged female empowerment within the church.
  16. Raised awareness about issues of Fair Trade, Third-World debt relief, modern slavery, extreme poverty, the global AIDS pandemic, and domestic abuse.

With many of these we didn't do it all ourselves (but who says we have to?), but instead partnered with other organizations and like-minded individuals in our area. Our contributions to some of these may have just been one small part, but that's okay. We don't have to have a Messiah complex and think that the solutions have to all come down to us. We don't need to be glory hounds or even get recognition for our part in any of this. We just need to do our part. I'm proud of my community thus far, because I think we are doing our part.

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posted by Mike Clawson at 10:50 AM | Permalink |


At 4/24/2007 12:28:00 PM, Anonymous Arni

Spoken out against homophobia on college campuses (and been arrested for it).

Impressive :) How did that come about? Did you help Soulforce out or something?


At 4/24/2007 06:28:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

One of our members left to go on the Soulforce bus.


At 4/24/2007 09:59:00 PM, Blogger Amy

I really enjoy reading about your church...especially all the community projects you are involved in. This has always been a passion of mine.

Do you find that most people in your church agree when it comes to world issues and politics. You mentioned your church supporting anti-war demonstrations. Does your church take a stance against the war policies and encourage this? In our church (and previous churches we've been the last few years) church members including the pastors have been all over the map when it comes to issues like the war, homosexual marriage, and sometimes environmental issues. At Fruitport my pastor was a strong democrat. He chose not to preach this from the pulpit (though there were times he wanted to), but participated in anti-war demonstrations on his own personal time (as did some other church members not as a church event). How do mix politics in with your churches ministry? What would you do if a conservative person who loves Bush and supports the war came to your church and was offended?

We encourage people to vote, take care of the environment, pray for the troops etc. in our church. We don't tend to support political events (with maybe the exception of a Right to Life rally or supporting pregnancy resource centers) as a church. We've had healthy discussions with people about these type of issues outside of our worship services so I wouldn't say we're just silent and ignore them.

Just curious to what your thoughts are.


At 4/24/2007 11:54:00 PM, Blogger Connie+

As someone who is at the veryest beginning of a church plant I can say that I really admire this.

Of course you are right on about mission: it is after all a verb!

It's OK to not have a messiah complex after all, we already have a messiah


At 4/25/2007 10:16:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Hey Amy,

I was invited by some friends outside of the church to pray at the anti-war vigil and I let a few other people in church know about it. We didn't announce it from the pulpit, but I wouldn't have hesitated to.

We talk about political issues, but usually just in the context of the gospel message. I am preaching my way through Luke and it's impossible to teach what Jesus taught (about peace, about forgiving debts, about championing the oppressed, about loving enemies, about gender equality, about including the outsider, etc.) without getting a little bit political. We rarely say "support this issue in this way", we just talk about what Jesus talked about and let people figure it out for themselves. We also give church members time in our gatherings to highlight missional issues and projects they are concerned about or involved with, so that is when issues of Fair Trade, debt relief, slavery, etc. have come up.

The other thing is that our church values diversity highly. We are constantly repeating that you don't have to agree with the pastor to be a part of Via Christus, and if someone says something during our discussions that you disagree with, you should feel free to speak up and express your point of view - and people do. We have a broad mix of opinions in our church. We have 6-Day Creationists and Theistic Evolutionists. We have hardcore libertarian/conservatives and we have progressive "liberals" like myself. We have people who absolutely think homosexuality is a sin, and those who think it is not. We are trying this experiment to see if it's possible to have a church where those differences are acknowledged and can coexist and no one feels pressured to conform. Our "essentials", the points that we agree on and unite us, are more basic and more important to us than these controversial issues.

And we talk about all of them in the context of love. So for instance when Brandy left on the Soulforce ride, we sent her off with prayers and blessings, acknowledging that while individuals in our congregation might disagree about whether homosexuality was a sin or not, we could all agree that the church needs to do a better job of loving homosexuals and that was what Brandy's ride was all about.

Anyhow, does that start to answer your question? :)


At 4/26/2007 03:19:00 AM, Blogger Richard Wade

Mike, this is an impressive list of actions and activities. You know how focused on real world differences I am, and I'm quite blown away. You and your church community are a positive force and I wish you all the continuing good fortune you need to keep growing.


At 5/06/2007 09:13:00 AM, Anonymous tatiana

This is a beautiful list! I am encouraged to know of all you and your church-mates are doing. May the Lord continue to stir your hears toward Love and grace.
-tatiana : )


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