By Jon Ferguson
God’s approach for changing the world is a “bless” strategy. And for members of Community Christian Church in and around Chicago, change is happening as they apply the strategy day by day.
For as long as I can remember, Community Christian Church’s mission has been “helping people find their way back to God.” And we believe that mission is accomplished as we:
REACH people who are far from God,
RESTORE God’s dream for the world, and
REPRODUCE the mission in others.
If you were to survey the people of Community on any given weekend, the majority could tell you we’re about “helping people find their way back to God.”
While we love that most of our people can recite our mission statement, we concluded that familiarity didn’t necessarily translate into practice or action. So, two years ago we challenged our people with this: “We want you to wake up every day asking, ‘What does it look like for me to be on mission to the people who cross my path today?’” After much prayer and dialogue, we realized that, in order for this to happen, we would need to give them specific practices to help them live out the mission every day.
We came up with what we call a BLESS strategy because we believe God’s approach for changing the world is a “bless” strategy. God explained this to Abraham when he said, “I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you. . . . All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2, 3).* The apostle Paul echoed this when he wrote, “All who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith” (Galatians 3:9). As followers of Christ, and descendants of Abraham, we are blessed to be a blessing.
With that in mind, we asked people to implement this practice in the following two ways:
1. Put this “blessing strategy” into practice every day.
2. Discuss it in your small group every week.
We were convinced this strategy needed to be something they could do every day, and it needed to be done within the context of a small group where they could find encouragement and accountability to be on mission daily.
B – Begin With Prayer
We believe prayer is both how you discover your mission and how you accomplish it. If you’re not sure about the specific mission God has for you, pray. Prayer is also how you go about doing your mission. If you know the person you want to reach, pray for that person. If you know the place you want to restore—pray for that neighborhood, community, or country.
Just over two years ago, my wife, Lisa, and I, along with my son, Graham, and my daughter, Chloe, moved to the north side of Chicago to launch a network of churches in the city. As soon as we moved, we began praying for people and families in our new community. We soon started a small group. And part of our group time together was dedicated to everyone sharing how he or she was practicing this BLESS strategy throughout the week.
Sometimes people will ask: “How can you ensure that prayer is foundational to your missional practices?” My response: “The first practice in our blessing strategy is ‘Begin with Prayer.’”
L – Listen
Sadly, Christians have become known for talking much more than listening. Before we can reach anyone or any community, we must get to know them first. Any relationship starts with listening. We need to listen to their hopes, dreams, and challenges.
Rich and Dori Gorman started a campus of Community in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood. They began with prayer, but they also did a lot of listening. One way Rich listened and prayed was by going to the local Dunkin’ Donuts near an “L” train stop. As he sat there, watching and listening, he couldn’t help but notice the hopeless, tired looks on people’s faces. And they were all looking down.
He came up with the idea of sending chalk-toting people from small groups into the neighborhood to write simple, encouraging phrases on the sidewalks as a way of bringing life to these people as they walked to the “L.” Some of the phrases were:
• “You are not the sum of your Facebook statuses.”
• “You can live a good story.”
• “You are loved!”
The response has been amazing. The Red-Eye, a web version of the Chicago Tribune, ran a story on Community’s chalking. A DePaul University student produced a film about it. Northwestern University’s student newspaper published an article about it. It was all over Facebook and Twitter. People who know nothing about Community started chalking. (See https://christianstandard.com/2012/06/church-pounds-pavement-with-positive-chalk-talk/.)
One night a police officer came by and saw these groups chalking. The officer said, “Hey, you punk kids, what are you doing?”
Rich said, “We’re chalking encouraging messages on the sidewalk.” (Rich figured he was in trouble.)
Then the policeman said, “That’s you? Everybody loves that stuff. Keep up the good work.”
E – Eat
This third practice is my personal favorite. It’s something at which many of us are experts—eating. I think it might be a spiritual gift.
There is something about sharing a meal together that moves any relationship past acquaintance and toward friendship faster than just about anything else we could do. Jesus was very aware of the power of eating together. The Pharisees accused Jesus of eating meals with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus used a meal to perform one of his greatest miracles—the feeding of the 5,000. He instructed us to remember him with a meal every time we gather together.
A Community couple named Rudy and Amber are like many of us; they didn’t know their neighbors. So they started praying for them and listening to them. It was a diverse neighborhood of different cultures and different life stages—some new to the neighborhood and others who had been around for years. Rudy and Amber decided food might be something that could bring this diverse group together. So every Tuesday they set out the grill in front of the house and invited everyone over for a meal.
The first four weeks only Rudy and Amber, with perhaps one family, participated. But after a month there was a breakthrough, and soon the whole neighborhood was eating together. The couple was amazed. People started sharing at a deep level, even discussing relational and financial struggles. They were becoming friends, and even started serving one another! Rudy and Amber were blessing their neighborhood! Recently they told me, “We know it’s only a matter of time until we get to help one of them find their way back to God.”
In the book Right Here, Right Now: Everyday Mission for Everyday People, Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford write:
Sharing meals together on a regular basis is one of the most sacred practices we can engage in as believers. Missional hospitality is a tremendous opportunity to extend the kingdom of God. We can literally eat our way into the kingdom of God! If every Christian household regularly invited a stranger or a poor person into their home for a meal once a week, we would literally change the world by eating!
S – Serve
Begin with prayer, listen, and eat. And by then there is a good chance you will have discovered how you can best serve the person or the place to which God is calling you. As a matter of fact, it’s likely the person will tell you how you can best serve him or her.
We’re usually too quick to jump to serving before we’ve really listened. Listening helps us discover how we can best come alongside someone and serve. The listening before serving ensures that the serving is really about the person being served and not the person doing the serving.
S – Story
Let’s review: begin with prayer, listen, eat, serve, and by then there is a good chance you will have earned the right to tell your story, or they might just ask you to tell you what makes you different . . . or how you found your way back to God.
When I moved to the city, I discovered that a friend from high school lives a few blocks away. I’ve been praying for him and his family. We’ve spent time together getting reacquainted and talking about good times from the past as well as current challenges. We invited him, his wife, and stepson over for dinner.
During those meals and talks, I learned the best way to serve him is to listen to him. He has been going through some tough times: a job loss, health concerns, and the challenges of raising a teenage boy. Not long ago I began to tell him my story and the difference a relationship with Jesus has made in my life. I think he might be finding his way back to God.
Begin with prayer
That’s what it looks like to be “on mission” at Community.
Practice at least one aspect of this BLESS strategy every day.
Every week in your small group, ask, “Whom did you BLESS this week?”
After two years, 75 percent of Community attenders are in groups that are on mission. That means these groups have a clearly stated mission they have shared publicly at a weekend celebration service. And at that service, they were prayed over and commissioned to be on mission by the leaders of our church.
We are just at the beginning of this journey of being a church where every single person wakes up every day asking this question, What does it look like for me to be on mission today? But I believe we are well on our way to mobilizing a movement of people in groups who are helping people find their way back to God.
*Scripture quotations are from the New Living Translation.
Jon Ferguson is Chicago Network Leader at Community Christian Church, Naperville, Illinois.