One lengthy handout helped fill in and make Swanson’s talk stick. FYI he’s a blogger catch him here. I won’t record them here but he has a tone of thoughtful, timely illustrations from actual Christians and churches who live externally focused lives.

Why we don’t get started but rather stay on the sidelines: The church has a tendency to only view sin as personal and not systemic, we would talk about it with the illustration of the Prodigal Son but not realize that the systemic nature of sin that the scandal of the Good Samaritan embodied. And when the church doesn’t do the labor God raises up the Good Samaritans of the world to do it in their stead (remember the common grace element from Swanson’s first lecture).

Taking Micah 6:8 seriously: “Walk humbly with God” addresses the spiritual lives of those who come to church. “Love mercy” addresses individual symptoms outside the church. “Doing justice” addresses systems that create symptoms. Alternative analogy: Giving a man a fish, teaching him to fish, him owning his own fishing pond, him zoning his fishing pond. Often times churches stop at the first one, we need all three. Mercy is God’s attitude and actions to those in distress; the church needs to be a people of this sort of mercy. The difference between mercy and justice is this, moving from problems to symptoms. People get praised for mercy but killed for justice.

What should we do to start?:

  • It begins with theology says Swanson. Here’s a few key passages to build a theology out of: Deut. 10.17-19, 15:11; Job 29.11-13; Psa 68:5; Prov. 14.31, 31.8-9; Jer. 22.15-16; Matt 25.35-40; Jas. 1.27; 1 Tim. 6.18.
  • Then it goes to assessing the needs of your community. See these sites: zipskinny.com; census.gov; dataplace.org; city-data.com; epodunk.com; neighboroo.com. Also recognize the power of existing relationships.
  • Change the way you think about your community: ie problems create opportunities to serve not obstacles. Don’t forget that servants can go anywhere. Ask the Jesus questions – what can I do for you? rather than here’s the help I have to offer you. Look for “positive deviants of the community issue.” Pay attention to the power of small things, little changes can make a big difference in the community.

What could ‘we’ do?: Swanson uses a diagram created by Ray Bakke here. It breaks needs down into physical, spiritual, social, emotional, educational/training. He also uses the Mariners church model: Expose, experience, and engage – it starts out broad and narrows its focus on people. Think about depth (money & things; projects; and people) and frequency (yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly) of engagement. Here’s some questions to wrestle with from this section;

  • Who from our church is already engaged that we can get behind? Is there a “champion” who is already involved?
  • Does this opportunity put us in relationships with those we seek to help or alongside others who are serving?
  • Is this ministry or agency willing to work with us as a faith-based organization?
  • Will this ministry or agency allow us to minister holistically – not just meeting physical needs but spiritual as well as social needs?
  • Do we have people who are ready, willing, and able to develop this ministry?
  • Is there one area we should focus on (eg children)?
  • Will this opportunity result in changed lives (ours and theirs [and will it bring them into this life changing mission])?

We need to create structures to support this value. How do we do this? Think kingdom not church. Build into every structure/ministry into every department this value. Build into every small group a regular rythm of service to those in distress [and to each other in diaconal fashion]. Major annual events yearly.

Swanson uses the christology-missiology-ecclesiology trialogue to support and undergird this.

The Next Steps to Take: What are some natural ways you can begin building bridges into your community? (where is the “low-hanging fruit” for your church? where do you sense is your first (or next) entry point into your community?)