Do you realize that the church and the community are connected? The church is here for the benefit of the community. The community is where the raw material of the church comes from. The community is where the Bride of Christ comes from. Let me ask those of you in the church a question . . .
1) How is the community different or better because of your church?
2) If your church was to die, would the community miss you?
These questions are crucial if we ever are to experience community impact and transformation. Years ago God gave the inhabitants of Jerusalem a strategy on how to transform the city of Babylon. They were to serve God by serving the community. If we had an email address for this strategy, I would call it Church@Community.
The Church-Community Connection
In Jeremiah 29:4-7, God describes what I call the church-community connection. At this time, the inhabitants of Jerusalem had been taken captive by Babylon. The natural reaction would have been for these inhabitants to withdraw. After all, Babylon would be an uncomfortable place for an Israelite to be. Babylon would have been considered very unholy, very sinful and very anti-God. This describes what many Christians would feel like today in most large cities of the world. The tendency would be to disengage from the city. However, let’s look at what God says in Jeremiah.
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare. Jer. 29:4-7
God’s intention here was for Jerusalem to be greatly involved in the community life of Babylon. His exhortation through the prophet was “build houses, live in them, plant gardens, eat their produce, take wives, have families, have grandchildren . . . multiply there . . . DO NOT DECREASE!!!”
In other words, God was saying “get involved in commerce and the city.” God wanted them to start housing companies. God wanted them to entrepreneur agricultural companies. His desire was for them to multiply in the city. They were to become responsible citizens in the community. While they were in Babylon they might as well be a blessing too Babylon.
God gave them the green light to become mayors, magistrates, teachers, provosts, businessmen, educators, involved in the PTA, and to have families and extended families. After all, they were going to be in Babylon for the next 70 years. They might as well be salt and light in the community.
God wanted them to engage the community, not ‘enrage’ the community or ‘disengage’ from the community. God’s strategy then is applicable today. God wants His people to be involved in all five spheres of influence in the community. He needs ‘Christians’ to be part of and involved in the community’s business, government, education and media/entertainment sectors.
His people bring Christian core values into all sectors of the community which enhance the community. In reality, church is wherever they are. Just like the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the present day church needs to be for the community, not against the community. The perspective the inhabitants of Jerusalem needed to take was one of contribution, not conquest.
It’s possible and even normal for today’s church to be for the city and for God at the same time. How will the other four community spheres of influence know what God is like without people from the church involved in commerce? The Babylonians certainly weren’t going to synagogues! Therefore, the synagogue had to go to them through those involved in commerce.
In the time of Jeremiah, Daniel gave God a face in Babylon. Daniel was a person of influence in a position of influence. He redefined God and the people of God to the Babylonians. He showed the Babylonians by his life and wisdom how to transform a community. His influence was real. His life was exemplary. He changed Babylon’s perception of God. He created a positive public relation’s image of God. He was part of God’s plan to put the church of that time into circulation in Babylon. How? Through the business, government, education and media/entertainment sectors of the community. The ‘church at that time’ was there for the community, not the community for the church. The church at that time was to be salt and light in the context of the community.
The church at that time was to increase and multiply it’s positive influence. They were to bless the context they live in. The same is true today.
Seeking the Welfare of the City
The last part of this scripture catches us by surprise! Most of the inhabitants of Jerusalem had been taught that Babylon was evil. Now Jeremiah is saying . . . seek the welfare of Babylon! From a church perspective it would be the same as saying to us . . . seek the welfare of Los Angeles, Auckland, Delhi, Singapore, London, Paris, or wherever.
Look again at God’s strategy for influencing Babylon. His people were to seek the welfare of Babylon. They were to pray to the Lord on Babylon’s behalf. Why? The Bible says “in Babylon’s welfare, the inhabitants of Jerusalem will have welfare!” In other words, the welfare, peace or prosperity (shalom) of Babylon directly affects the people of God.
The inhabitants of Jerusalem were to act as intercessors for Babylon, not against Babylon. They were to overcome evil with good. They were to be good citizens in Babylon, not judges of Babylon. They were to be fruit bearers, not fruit inspectors. They were to see the glass as half full rather than half empty. They were there for the city, the city wasn’t there for them. In other words, the answer to their prayer was . . . themselves!
The application of this truth should be apparent to all of us reading this book. We, as the people of God, are to be for our cities and communities. We are to act as priests or intercessors praying on our cities’ behalf. As a church person, if you live in Singapore, the economy of Singapore directly affects you. In Singapore’s welfare, you will have welfare. In Singapore’s peace, you will have peace. In Singapore’s prosperity, you will have prosperity. Your chances for a profitable and effective business are enhanced as you learn to love Singapore. Your chances for a raise are enhanced as you learn to love Singapore, not hate Singapore.
Remember, where there is no love, there is no influence in the city. If you want to be blessed, you bless the context you live in. God says pray for the welfare of Singapore. Be a part of the solution, not the problem. When Singapore prospers, your family will benefit from the prosperity. It creates better jobs, a higher standard of living, more tithes to the church, taxes to the government, and more money to help the needy. I could go on and on! This is God’s strategy for many communities and cities. This is what I call the church/community connection.
Please don’t react to this strategy, act on this strategy. Learn to separate the behaviors you may not necessarily agree with in the community from the community. God loves our communities and you can too! The answer to your communities’ behavior is you! God required the inhabitants of Jerusalem to be involved in all five spheres of influence in the community, not just the ‘church’ realm! Realize the answer to the problem of government is not the ‘entity’ of government.
The real problem is we don’t have enough Christians involved in and influencing government for the betterment of the community. In other words, seeking the welfare of your community starts in prayer but ends in community involvement. The answer to your prayer is you!
The following is a poem that I wrote that illustrates the Church-Community Connection.
IF WE DO NOT SHINE,
THEN WHO WILL BE THE LIGHT?
If we do not shine, then who will be the light?
If we do not have influence, then who will be the influencers?
If we do not speak, then who will be the voice?
If we do not lead, then who will be the leaders?
If we do not stay in unity, then who will be the united?
If we do not go to the community, to whom will the community go?
If we do not impart life, then who will be the life imparters?
If we do not show the way, then which way will they go?
If we do not lead against injustice, then who will the downtrodden go to?
If we are not the salt, then who will flavor our community?
If we do not offer salvation, then where will they go to be saved?
If we do not forgive, then where will they go for forgiveness?
If we do not act wisely, then where will they go for wisdom?
If we do not hear the community, then who will the community hear?
If we do not incarnate good citizenship, then who will be the citizens?
If we do not make Jesus known, then who will they go to for a hero?