I briefly looked at a blog this past week where a pastor argued that you can’t make your church missional by getting people to volunteer for service events. I agree. This, of course, doesn’t mean that you don’t provide opportunities and training for church members to volunteer to serve in the community, it just means that being about God’s mission is about so much more than simply serving the physical needs in the community.
At Immanuel, we like to talk about how you can really break down people’s needs into one of three categories: physical, emotional, and spiritual. Service to the community ideally forms one part of a holistic ministry to both the individual and the neighborhood that touches on all three types of human need. Take, as just one example, the work we are doing in Baton Rouge. Those periodic and on-going trips (not to mention the supply drives) not only address the physical needs of families in the wake of a natural disaster, but the time our volunteers spend with those affected in both conversation and prayer helps the good folks in Louisiana to feel they are not alone. That feeling of solidarity addresses a deep emotional need in a context where they feel ignored and abandoned by both the government and the national news media. Furthermore, the fact that we have been working with a local church on the ground means that worship, prayer, and deepening connections within our own denomination provide ample opportunity for the Holy Spirit to continue ministering to spiritual needs through word and sacrament.
But, and this is so important, the folks in Baton Rouge are not the only ones who are being ministered to! Our members who participate in these trips find a blessing as they see God working. It is they who are also encouraged in their faith life when they pray and worship with Christians who are enduring in the midst of crisis. And it is they who find new friendships with folks from another part of the country. In other words, in a missional church, members and community residents will be in mission together as God provides for the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs that we all have.
The opportunities you have to serve the Lord here at Immanuel are not thought through lightly by either Ed Mell (our Volunteer Coordinator), or by me. Whether in Baton Rouge or right here in Memphis, we are constantly praying and thinking through the ways in which we can provide opportunities and equipping so that you have the chance to impact your world for Christ. I invite you to be a part of what God is doing in and through the folks at Immanuel Lutheran Church and School!