28 Sep School’s Out
By Travis Fletcher –
I’d like to try to connect something which is often benign at best (a presbytery meeting) with a vision for something that gets me excited: mission. Several years ago in a little town in southwest Colorado, I was sitting in a presbytery meeting at a local church. The church was located off of the main drag, set back a couple of blocks in the neighborhood. In some ways, it wasn’t the most remarkable setting or specific location for a gathering of the mission of God. But what was remarkable (and, as I discovered over the next few years, common among churches in my presbytery) was the building across the street: a local school.
We spent part of our presbytery meeting together in small groups, praying together, which is always a good move. The group I was in sat together in front of the church on some benches located in the lawn. We faced away from the church, in the direction of the neighborhood and within view of the school. We sat together on a cool spring afternoon and talked for a few minutes, and then something remarkable happened.
As we’d been sitting outside, cars had started to fill up the surrounding streets and the church parking lot. I looked at my watch and realized that school was about to get out, and the people in the cars were getting ready to pick up their kids. The school bell rang, and suddenly, the formerly-quiet neighborhood was filled with the cacophony of kids racing to cars, buses, bikes, and sidewalks. As we sat together on the benches in front of the church, we were swept up like leaves in a river. Our conversation stopped as a flood of kids and families was being poured out around us, and we sat together in the midst of this wonderful movement of the local community.
Two observations: first – mission involves noticing what God is doing around you (like the school across the street or the park down the road or the apartments nearby) and doing something to engage. Second – most churches are content to sit in the midst of the river of their community and not engage with the people swirling around them. It’s risky, it’s messy, and (shockingly) there may not be immediate metrics for success. Our presbytery discussion group just watched – we did not engage. However, several of us challenged the leadership of our host church about what they were doing to engage the school across the street. They had the humility to admit, “Not much.”
“Not much.” I heard that again at another church in my presbytery with a school just down the road. And I’m not trying to make the case that connecting with a local school is a metric for faithfulness or the only way to make mission happen. But for most churches in most locations, it’s at least a good route to start thinking and praying about. How can your leadership bless the people right across the street? A group of leaders from my church provide a simple dinner – soup, bread, and salad – to the teachers and staff at our adopted elementary school during parent-teacher conferences. Simple, affordable, and very much a missional move.
What’s across the street from your church? Or, maybe more personally, who is across the street from your church? What are we doing to bless them for the sake of Christ?
Travis Fletcher is the Associate Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Grand Junction, CO