Bob Roberts wrote in his blog, “’Church’ should be the culmination of living incarnationally holistically touching the hurting people of society.” (here) I think serving the community, first, is the key to effective evangelism and church planting. Jesus instructed his disciples to heal the sick, cast out the demons, raise the dead, feed the hungry, take care of widows and orphans, visit the imprisoned, and preach that the Kingdom of God is near. Somehow, in the past hundred years or so, we have divided serving the community and saving the lost into two separate camps. To save people without serving them establishes a crippled church that will not obey Christ’s commands related to community. To serve the community and not share Christ puts a Band-Aid on a terminal wound. We help a person find a new job, or visit the family in the hospital, but don’t share the Gospel, and they end up in hell for eternity because we never told them about Jesus.
Church is not church unless it is both serving the community and proclaiming the Gospel unapologetically. No apologies needed when our actions match our words. We must earn the right to share the Gospel based on how we serve. People notice how we serve, or don’t serve each other. It is obvious when we take care of our own, but don’t lift a finger to help someone outside our church. It is also obvious when we help those outside our church, but don’t make any efforts to meet the needs of our own church members.
I have a friend who pastors a church in a small Texas community. He has led his church to take up offerings for the fire department and the police department, helping them to purchase much needed equipment. Is it a wonder that this church is growing. When churches engage the community, assist those in need, and share the Gospel they have high impact on lives.
The organization I serve with, CityTeam Ministries, continues* to work in Mississippi to assist in the rebuilding after Katrina (here). I’m not sure any other Christian, secular, or government agency is still serving in the area, but we are. We are committed to rebuilding the community, and while doing so we are starting new churches. Community came first. While serving the community we shared our faith. Out of our service to the community we have started Bible Study Groups. Some of these groups are now becoming churches ministering to their own communities.
Evangelism starts with ministry to the felt needs of the individual and community. Evangelism is not complete until those we have served have heard the Gospel in such a way that they can say “yes” or “no” to the invitation to become one with Christ. If you want to reach the world for Christ, you must start with ministry – meet the needs of those around you to the very best of your ability. If you want to reach the world for Christ, you must end with the Gospel – show those you serve that the Kingdom of God is near, and it can change their lives for all eternity.
*Originally posted October 2007