“Pastor, we’ve got to do something,” implored the eager parishioner. “We have elderly church members driving at night because we don’t have a transportation ministry. It’s dangerous.”
The plea came after one of our church members had a car accident. The driver happened to be the widow of our late founding pastor.
She wasn’t badly harmed, nor was the other driver, but the incident raised awareness in the concerned parishioner who wanted to take action to prevent similar incidents in the future.
What the concerned parishioner didn’t know was that she wasn’t the first person to issue this plea.
I told her about our “helping hands” ministry, a program where people can request simple help like car rides, and about our willing team of volunteers ready to assist fellow church members. Then I told her how rarely people utilized the service.
Next, I shared about how a couple of years ago, the church launched a weekly bus trip to town for groceries and other errands. Then I told her how the ministry failed because of lack of participation.
“I’m not sure why these ministries aren’t utilized,” I lamented. “Perhaps it’s because people are proud and want to remain self-reliant as long as possible.”
This is one of myriad issues confronting pastors serving in retirement communities.
The planned, active retirement neighborhood where my church stands is wonderful for young retirees with ample opportunity for golfing, boating and socializing.
The community is less than ready to accommodate those same residents as the effects of aging hamper once-active lifestyles.
“This is a community issue, not just a church issue,” we concluded. “We need to find some partners to help us address this problem.”
That’s when I realized that our neighborhood is in need of community development.
When citizens, churches, nonprofits, businesses and elected officials work together, there’s not much that can get in the way of addressing the most pressing needs in a community.
Since the church is often on the front lines of community service, the church must learn to take the lead in broader, community-based efforts to affect positive change for its residents that go beyond “Band-Aids” to the root causes of problems.
Churches have long been great at offering acts of mercy and compassion, but confronting systemic origins of community problems can be tricky.
Pastors in diverse congregations like mine, ministering among a people with strong, opposing political views, must avoid coming across as partisan.
Addressing issues of justice may seem insurmountable, given the political polarization evident even in our own pews.
Community development is the bridge between simple acts of service and the larger work to address systemic causes.
There’s nothing political about the church bringing community stakeholders together to address the lack of transportation for the community’s elderly.
That’s neighbor helping neighbor – coming together to solve a problem. That’s the church making a difference in the community. That’s the church being the hands and feet of Christ in an all-too-practical way.
We haven’t solved the transportation problem for the elderly in our community. I can’t solve it, as much as I’d like to. I don’t think our church can solve it.
But I know that, working together, the community has the resources to solve it. We simply need to come together around this issue.
That’s community development. That’s just the kind of kingdom business this pastor needs to be doing.
Rhonda Abbott Blevins is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is associate pastor at the Community Church at Tellico Village in Loudon, Tenn.