Have you ever been in a conversation and the other person was not really listening to you? I know that I have been on both sides of those of conversations, I have been the person who was not heard and I confess that I have also been the person who was not listening. How would this feel if you were not being heard? This can be incredibly frustrating as the person who is not being heard, and cause many problems in the relationships between people in the conversation. Communicating is a two way street, it requires listening and responding appropriately. What if I told you that many churches are terrible at communicating, particularly about missions. What is the issue in our lack of communication? Most of the time, we are not really participating in a conversation, because we are not listening and responding appropriately.
Missions should be primarily a conversation with the needs of others and discerning how God is calling us to respond with our time, talents, and resources. However, this does not happen all of the time. Many times groups and organizations prioritize what they would like to do, and what they would want or enjoy over then actual needs of others. I have seen moments where this type of thinking was present in every church where I have been involved. It is just one of the many ways that we are indeed in need of grace, one more way that we are still on our way to Christian perfection. But how do we discern the needs of others? During the remainder of this blog post, I am going to describe one way to go about discerning what to do in missions in any local community.
Remembering that Missions is about people (subject of last week's post), the most important thing one can do is actually ask people within the population of your local community what their needs are. Sounds simple and it really can be. It is as simple as scheduling an appointment with a school principle or a guidance counselor, speaking to a local civic league, reaching out to city level officials. Once you have established a relationship with this person, then ask with what and how can we help? How can we serve? Do not make any assumptions, clarify as much as you can.
Once you have asked about the needs, then listening to the responses is essential to figuring out how to effectively to respond to those needs. Listening to formulate a response is essential to the on going conversation in mission. Not responding to what was said or at all is like abruptly walking away from a conversation. Missions is a conversation that should encompass all the people involved, as well as remain a conversation with God. We must also consistently be in prayer about what God is doing and calling us to do in local communities. These are important steps toward understanding what we are called to do in mission, but we cannot stop with prayer or conversation, we must respond to the need.
This is the step that is easiest to write about and the hardest to do. The Nike slogan, "Just Do It," comes to mind. Responding to the need is really all about doing what we are capable of doing to meet the needs of others in the community. Responding will look different in every situation; however, responding appropriately after asking and listening to the needs of others can have a tremendous impact in local communities, and it can transform the world.
This last step is the most important: repeat this process continually. People's needs are constantly changing and our capacity to address those needs is constantly changing too, so how we do missions should also change. Not change for change sake, but change so that we are more in tune with what God would have us do in any local, regional, national or international community. Constant discernment of needs of community and God's desire for our lives is how we live a life of mission. I was once told, "Our calling is where our deepest passions meet the world's deepest needs." How is God calling your to serve in missions in our local communities? What are your passions? What are the needs of those around us? The conversation is on going, let us go and listen for what we are called to do in the world.
Grace and Peace be with You