Small Steps for Churches and Organizations to Engage Communities Missionally

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The Kingdom of God is like [___]. If you had to finish the sentence, what might your answer be? Jesus finished the sentence in characteristic form with a simile. “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” (Luke 13:18-19 NRSV) Well, that clears things up for me. Maybe this would help: “And again he said, ‘to what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” (Luke 13: 20-21 NRSV) Being a visual person, I appreciate the effort and the pictures being painted by Jesus, although it still leaves me with questions and a hunger for specifics.

In both descriptions, the starting point is something small: a mustard seed or an amount of yeast. I’ve never planted a mustard seed or grown a tree from a seed but I have baked bread and it only takes a small amount of yeast to produce several loaves, especially when the yeast is fed, nurtured and kneaded properly. I think this is what Jesus is getting at here. It takes time, nurture and cultivation to bring about the outward evidence, such as the expanse of a tree’s branches or an abundance of leavened dough. Too often, we look for signs of the kingdom in big obvious ways, when really, it’s being planted in small unnoticeable ways every day in the hearts and minds of people.

Over the past year, I’ve had to remind myself of this day after day, time after time as I answered God’s call to missional engagement in my community. It began as a collaborative effort between organizations from all backgrounds. The Juvenile Welfare Board, the Sheriff’s Department, local non-profits, the Dept. of Juvenile Justice, faith based organizations and churches came together to share resources and address needs together. Imagine that! The initial target area was a local unincorporated community in Pinellas County, which is known for poverty, crime, transitional families and food insecurity. Their first initiative was the Adopt A Block program. Each week, volunteers from various organizations go door to door in a consistent area to offer services and provisions. Families are provided with food boxes, toiletries and personal hygiene items. Lawns are mowed, alleys cleared and houses painted. In one instance, a much needed ramp was repaired so that a disabled veteran could get from his house to the mailbox safely. In another, a known drug dealer and pimp made steps to change his lifestyle due to conversations and friendship offered over a period of time through tangible means like food boxes, grass mowing, and house cleaning. These are kingdom building actions which plant seeds and spread yeast. Over time, these actions will produce a community of faith where every person knows and experiences the love of God.

Missional engagement in our communities means planting seeds which are nurtured and cultivated over time through intentional relational discipleship. It means that we may or may not be around to witness the spreading branches or smell the aroma of the fresh baked loaf, but we are an integral part of the process just the same. Maybe we are the pruner or the waterer rather than the planter. Paul reminded the Corinthians that it isn’t so much about who did the work as it is the combined effort being made (I Cor. 3:5-9). After all, we cannot really claim the growth anyway. This is God’s. And if there is anything I’ve learned as a baker or gardener, the rising or growth process cannot be rushed. It’s all in God’s timing. And this is what I consistently remind myself in ministry. Relationships take time. Missional engagement takes time. Kingdom building takes time. So, don’t be discouraged, but be consistent. Don’t compare your results with those of others. Trust that God is working under the surface in ways that cannot be seen. Be patient, love God and love others. And, when you look up, marvel at the birds building a nest in the branches above.

Where are you or your church planting seeds or spreading yeast? How are these efforts being watered? Whose efforts are you watering, nurturing or kneading?

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Laura Ice currently serves as minister of Missional Engagement at several communities in Florida. She is co-author The Shadow of the Almighty with Ben Witherington III, and the creator and former owner of Solomon’s Porch in Wilmore, KY. She has three wonderful children.

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