ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) -- I had a conversation with a church planter in San Francisco recently. The one-year-old church has been heavily involved in helping a local school. They are tutoring struggling kids, supporting teachers and their families and have helped with repair work at the school. They also are providing practical help for another struggling group in their community -- young women overcoming addictions. Recently, they took up a $10,000 offering to help the school and these struggling women. Demonstrating God's love in practical ways is part of this church's DNA.
A few years ago I might have thought this church planter was spending his energy on the wrong things. No more.
Quite frankly, I'd missed this for most of my ministry. Having served on the staff of the International Mission Board, I had a glimpse of God's love for all peoples on the planet. I still believe it with every fiber of my being. Yet I had missed another clear stream of Scripture -- God's heart for the neglected neighbor.
Throughout Scripture we see God's love for the widow, orphan, foreigner and the poor. The same Gospel that moves us to see every tribe, tongue and nation also moves us to see those who live nearby -- those with great need for food, shelter, medical care and education. The Gospel moves us to see the neglected neighbor.
We're on the cusp of a new movement of Southern Baptist churches who are demonstrating God's love by meeting significant human need while sharing Christ. You can see it everywhere, from longtime established churches in the South to new church plants in the urban centers of the Northeast and the West. Since our mission at the North American Mission Board is to penetrate lostness in North America, we must do whatever it takes to be a catalyst for this kind of movement.
What will it take to cultivate this movement?
-- We must understand God's heart for the neglected neighbor. Our theological root system must incorporate what God's Word teaches on this important matter. If we start talking about events and actions without a root system in place, there will be little to no fruit. Scripture teaches that our Lord is the God of the widow, the orphan, the foreigner among us and the poor (Zechariah 7:10; Proverbs 14:31; Matthew 25; James 1:27; etc.). Before we can effectively demonstrate God's love to the neglected neighbor, we must realize our calling doesn't come from a sense of altruism but from the Spirit of Christ.
-- We must mobilize churches to love loud in their communities. People in our communities have needs -- some overwhelming. Our churches are filled with the resources, skills and gifts to help meet many of these needs. There is a real disconnect when we are surrounded by overwhelming needs and the church is doing nothing to help.
Mobilizing a church begins when the leaders find ways to identify those needs. Someone makes a list that includes activities like tutoring, food, medical or dental help. Then the church is unleashed to meet those needs while sharing Christ. Creativity follows commitment.
Imagine what God can do through our churches when it becomes our regular practice to love loud. For example, pastor David Uth is mobilizing First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., to love loudly in Orlando. Last year he told me he's seeing the favor and blessing of God on the church as the congregation is willing to notice and care for people who have been hurt and neglected.
-- Finally, we must develop networks to help church planters love loud in their communities. Some of the most extreme human needs in North America can be found in the most unreached cities on the continent. We know there are people in our churches who have been uniquely gifted by God to meet those great needs. Through the North American Mission Board's Send North America initiative, we can find ways to come alongside church planters and help them love their communities. There are dozens of church planters like the pastor in San Francisco who could use some help. And there will be many more.
I pray God will pour out His blessing on your church and our Southern Baptist Convention as we love loud throughout North America.
Al Gilbert is executive director of LoveLoud at the North American Mission Board. Visit namb.net/loveloud to find out how your church can get involved in LoveLoud.
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