EDITOR'S NOTE: This column is part of the call to prayer issued by Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, to prayer for revival and spiritual awakening for our churches, our nation and our world during 2013. Baptist Press is carrying First-Person articles during the year encouraging Southern Baptists to pray in specific areas and for specific needs in petitioning the Father for spiritual awakening.
NASHVILLE (BP) -- The North American Mission Board has targeted reaching the urban centers of the United States and Canada with a two-pronged initiative -- a massive church planting initiative called Send North America and a parallel LoveLoud evangelistic ministry emphasis.
These two initiatives address what Donald McGavran, the father of the modern church growth movement, observed as "redemption and lift" -- the transformation that takes place when communities are reached with the Gospel.
Every community has needs. The sheer number of people in the inner cities amplifies the brokenness of our sin-infected and impoverished world. If we are to reclaim our nation with the Gospel, there is a tremendous need for healthy churches to reach out to these teeming masses.
NAMB's LoveLoud emphasis has a threefold strategy: mobilize your church to love neglected neighbors, to love neglected communities and to love neglected children.
Overlooked and often neglected neighbors include those struggling with substance abuse, homelessness, hunger, incarceration and/or physical or emotional disabilities. Other neglected neighbors include victims of human trafficking, people from other nations who have moved to the neighborhood and widows.
Neglected sectors of the community can be served through innovative ministries such as literacy missions, medical and dental clinics, sports outreach ministries, adopt-a-school initiatives, and community transformation through economic and community development.
Neglected children can be served through such ministries as pregnancy care, foster care, adoption and mentoring programs.
NAMB recommends three learning steps for churches willing to embark on the LoveLoud journey.
Community Prayerwalk -- seeing people and communities "through the eyes of Jesus." Prayerwalking among the people and visiting the places where they live, work and shop will allow God to speak to you about His love for them and their great need for Him.
Community Exploration Experience (CEE) -- a CEE is a natural next step following a community prayerwalk. This is an opportunity for personal interactions and an intentional focus on gathering information.
Community Strengths and Needs Survey -- this step moves a church deeper in the learning process and requires developing relationships with community leaders. It is very important to show respect and appreciation for these community leaders. Remember, you are entering their community as learners and as servants.
"Community" will look different for each congregation based on context, setting, vision and mission. It may be a focus on a certain radius around the church, a specific section of town, a group of schools, an entire inner city or an unreached people group. Churches will be able to define their specific community focus as they walk the LoveLoud journey.
In his classic book, "Understanding Church Growth," McGavran noted that church members who have experienced genuine redemption through Christ's saving activity will demonstrate certain things:
* They repent and turn from their sins, becoming new creations.
* They gain victory over pride, greed, laziness, drink, hate and envy.
* They cease quarreling with their neighbors and committing adultery.
* They turn from litigation to constructive activity.
* They educate their children.
* They learn what God requires of them and worship regularly.
* In short, they become more effective human beings.
Communities that have a healthy church in their midst (what McGavran called a "true church") are communities that experience a "lift" that accompanies redemption. Fellowship buoys the members. Concerned friends gather at bedsides to pray during sickness. Reading and hearing the Bible reminds the church family that God is for them and is available to them. Realizing they are sons and daughters of the King, members of the church act as such and begin living for others. In short, he wrote, a community "in which many others have accepted Christ, becomes a better and better place to live."
"All these redemptions occur in imperfect measure, to be sure, but they occur," McGavran wrote.This kind of redemption is "indefinitely reproducible," he added. "Wherever men trust Christ, read His Word, obey Him, and gather round His table they are redeemed in this way."
In preparation for LoveLoud Sunday, set for July 21 on the SBC calendar, ask the Lord to let you see the community where you live with the eyes of Jesus. Then ask Him to lift your eyes to the wider fields of harvest. While all effective ministry begins in our own Jerusalem, it must not stop there. Where in your Judea and your Samaria do you need to establish new pockets of ministry? What part of the "uttermost" is the Lord leading your church to engage with the Gospel?
Roger S. "Sing" Oldham is vice president for convention communications and relations with the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee. For more information about the LoveLoud emphasis, visit NAMB's (LoveLoud Web page). Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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