There are certain passages of scripture that God uses in certain seasons to give guidance and direction to his people. It isn’t that the rest of scripture is diminished, rather that the Holy Spirit illuminates some texts and gives them particularly relevant application. One of those texts for our church has been Jeremiah 29:7 – “Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper.” In writing to the Jewish exiles of Babylon, Jeremiah gave instructions for how to be a people living in a land that wasn’t home. This is our task as well – to be strangers in a strange land, but at the same time to be good citizens and good neighbors. Indeed, to seek the welfare of our “home away from home.”
This has become an important plumb line for me as we evaluate the direction and functions of our church. Are we blessing our community? Too many times, the church is a burden on its community. We are constantly looking for “freebies.” We expect discounts and special favor. There’s nothing wrong when someone wants to bless us in that respect, but we shouldn’t be offended when we pay the same price as everyone else. When I realize that God wants his people to be a blessing to their cultural hosts and not a burden, I can’t help but change how I think about our relationship to our community.
Over the past few weeks, God has given Northside some wonderful opportunities to bless our community. First, we were able to host the FamilyStrong Conference. I would like to thank BJ Cobb for his vision to plan and host this event. The intent of this event was not to skim church members from other fellowships. It wasn’t a bait and switch to get folks in the door and try to convert them to Northsiders. The intent was to bless our community with good information and equip parents to do a better job parenting in a postmodern world. If God chooses to use that conference to open our doors to other people, that’s perfectly fine, but that’s not our intent.
Secondly, we were able to continue our prison ministry at the Coweta County Prison. The interesting thing about our county prison is that it is designed to serve our community. I know some folks don’t like the idea of having a state prison down the road, but inmate labor saves our county millions of dollars in salaries. When we do prison ministry, not only are we ministering to those who are often the most despised and overlooked members of our community, we are blessing those who are, in fact, working for the prosperity of our community.
Thirdly, this week our spring Upward registration got underway. I took a phone call from a lady who was signing her son up to play football. She told me the story of how another secular program had really disappointed their family in the fall and her son didn’t get to play. She told me that she had heard great things about our Upward program and wanted to get him signed up. When a parent turns to the church’s sports league because we do a better job than the secular rec league, that’s a big win. And it is a great example of being a blessing to the community.
Finally, our church did a tremendous job blessing our community over the Christmas holiday. One Wednesday evening, our student ministry visited one of our more neglected nursing homes and brought joy and laughter and the love of Christ to the residents. On a cold Sunday afternoon, the youth group set up at Ashley Park and gave out free hot chocolate to the shoppers. No strings attached. Then, our church was able to provide Christmas gifts to 19 children from one of our community’s poorest neighborhoods.
I believe what Jeremiah told the exiles applies to us as well. When our community has prosperity, we too will prosper. So, let us continue to be a blessing and serving Coweta County to the glory of God!