Last weekend our church family scattered to “Engage” the cities of Lansing and Leavenworth. It’s no secret that these Engage weekends are one of my absolute favorite parts of the life and ministry we share together at Lansing First Southern. As a pastor, these weekends present our church at its finest – serving, loving, worshiping, and pursuing relationships with our neighbors. It’s easy to feel the chest swell with pride when you watch a congregation leave the four walls of the church to carry our gospel hope into the city.
Every time we do an Engage weekend, I am reminded of the grace God has poured out on this church in gathering a people who can serve and worship him together. I echo Paul’s prayer for the Philippian church for our body here in Lansing:
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Each Engage weekend produces countless images and stories of our people serving well and loving others, and it would be impossible to recount all of those in this space. If you would like to see how the whole weekend looks, join us for worship this coming Sunday. We’ll share a video to help us celebrate all the Lord has done through us. In this post, I’d like to point out a few reasons I believe in this Engage ministry and why I am excited to see it continue and grow.
- We have a command from our Lord that we must obey. In the Great Commission, Jesus tells his followers, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt. 28:19-20). It would be extremely difficult for us to obey this command without ever leaving our church building. The first part of making disciples is going to people who are not yet disciples so that we might point them to Jesus. When we disperse across these two cities, we are intentionally going to meet our neighbors where they are, so that we may begin to speak of Jesus and the life we have in him. Speaking of neighbors…
- Our neighbors need what we have received from the Lord. Specifically, we are surrounded by people – neighbors, coworkers, family, and friends – who need to experience genuine, unconditional, forgiving love from God. What we often forget is that Jesus told us the way to convince our neighbors that God’s love is true and powerful is through the way we love. In John 13:35 Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Here is one of the tricky secrets of our Engage ministry. The Engage projects themselves are not likely to convince anyone to follow Jesus. There is nothing inherently soul-convicting about a bunch of people visiting nursing homes, buying stamps for tax returns, assisting with races to support veterans, flipping pancakes, or grilling brats at the soccer field. But at least two important things stand out when we go and do projects like this. First, people see a church that cares enou
gh about them to meet them where they are living their lives Second, people see a church full of folks whose lives are obviously different than theirs. Jesus tells us that what people will notice is not so much our incredible community service as much as it is the way we love each other. That is, when we go out to Engage our city, we model the kind of love to one another that we have received in Christ. And the love of Christ on display between Christian brothers and sisters will convince an unbelieving world of the truth and love of God’s love (John 17:20-21). This leads to the next little secret about our Engage ministry…
- Engage weekends build deeper love and unity between members within our church family. One of the challenges of belonging to a growing church family is keeping up with all of the new individuals and families who come and go from our congregation. Some of our unique circumstances make this even more difficult for us at Lansing First Southern. We live in a community with a significant military presence, and we see new families – families we meet, serve beside, and grow to love – come and go every single year. We have a smaller church building, so we have worshiped in two services each Sunday for four years. We have Life Groups meeting in different homes every week, spread across our community. None of these factors is necessarily a bad thing, but together each of them contribute to an environment where it is very difficult to know, much less build relationships, with many others. Our natural tendency will be to develop connections with those in our small groups or who sit near us in worship, even though many of us would prefer to have more connections with others in the church.
Engage provides us a unique opportunity to mix ourselves up with others in our church. We serve alongside families who attend the other service or another Life Group. As we serve, we share stories. We work together; we laugh together; we build relationships. And relationships that are rooted in Christ and built up on mission together become strong, loving relationships. If you find yourself wishing you knew more people in the church or that you could have a greater part in serving our church, make sure that our Engage weekends become a priority on your calendar. We have no other ministry quite like this that brings together the entire church, from nursery age to our most seasoned members, to serve and love together as we reach out to our neighbors.
- Finally, Engage weekends reveal new growth and new leaders in our church family. One thing I love about our Engage weekends is that they allow us to see others in the church at their very best. When we go and serve and love and laugh we all get to see a compelling picture of the work the Holy Spirit is doing to make each one of us more like Christ. We see that naturally shy woman approach a stranger to invite them to worship together with us. We see the busy dad who isn’t really sure how be the spiritual leader of his family lead his children out into the city to clean up roadways while he explains to them the reasons they are serving. We see a family connect with someone new on their project and decide that they are ready to join a Life Group or begin serving in a weekly ministry. We see a couple with a fresh joy and zeal unexpectedly step up to lead their team. All of these moments are evidence of God’s grace within our church, and they refresh our souls. Truly the Lord is building up his church and transforming each one of us in the process. Engage helps us to see more clearly exactly where he is working and how we are growing.