"Your church is not growing spiritually if its members are not serving," states The Externally Focused Church. I'd follow that up by saying, in as much as your church understands the gospel, the response will include a passionate desire to serve and engage in mercy ministries. Scripture is clear on God's concern for the poor and needy. The Externally Focused Church is a book I'd recommend along with Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road by Tim Keller for churches seeking to think through their mercy ministries. I preached a two part series on this in January at our church (post on my sermon: The Call to Mercy Ministries) and this issue is critical for churches to think through. The Externally Focused Church provides a great series of case studies, theological overview, how to cast the vision, assessing the needs of your community and other resources for churches seeking to put 'hands' to the gospel. Krista Petty (the editor of the book) posted on my blog earlier, and from that we've had several conversations. Petty pointed me to Leadnet's site that has articles about becoming an externally focused church. I believe churches must not just engage in mercy ministries, but partner together to represent the fullness of God's Kingdom in our collective witness to the world and as a visible demonstration of God's redemptive work.
How can local churches partner together? I spoke with Eric Brown (Imago Dei in Portland) and we are looking at documenting how churches can partner together to impact the city. Some of this may be done through the Metro Church Alliance. Krista Petty has been working on a paper that details how churches are partnering together. She pointed me to City Impact: How To Unify, Empower And Mobilize God's People To Transform Their Communities a book that she says is helping her based on Daniel Bernard doing this in Tampa with a network of churches. The back of the book states: "This book provides tools to begin solving problems in the community: prayer tools to help bless neighbors, twenty-five suggestions for bringing local pastors together, eighty ways to promote unity among churches, twenty-seven reasons the church needs the poor, and fifty-six ways businesses can be vehicles for ministry." The biggest hurdle is pastors rely solely on their own denominational sources and rarely connect with other denominations or affiliations to learn and partner together.
Should local churches partner together? We've always believed in ecumenism as long as it is gospel ecumenism. Our partnering with other churches as a collective witness, to be about God's Kingdom and to spread the good news of God's redemptive plan is only legitimate when it flows from the gospel. Denominationalism has done a terrible job representing the church. It saddens me to see churches still host 'paedobaptism' debates or other theological scholasticism that move further and further from a centrality on the gospel and more to strict systematics. We can hold distinctives that are important, albeit secondary, and still partner with gospel-minded churches.
Where are we going next? Kaleo has a few people working on putting the system in place to adopt (low income, under performing) schools to provide tutoring, mentoring, teacher appreciation, provide resources, clean up their campus, etc. From here we would expand and have partner churches adopt parks, the library, community centers or other public places. A group of mechanics in our church are coordinating how to offer free basic car care to single moms (battery changes, oil changes or other fixes). We have and would continue to help senior citizens who struggle with household chores, yardwork and other needs. This amongst other expressions of the kingdom will be developed with the purpose of inviting other churches into the cause, adding other church ministries as part of the vision and learning from other groups who are doing this far better than we are.
If your church doesn't have the time/leader resources Krista pointed me to Agents of Grace and mentioned Operation: "In as Much" as two places churches can connect with others to begin serving. If you are in San Diego, feel free to comment here, attend our Church Conference to meet like-minded churches.