On June 11, 1739, John Wesley made the following journal entry:
I look upon all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation.
I’ve never given much thought to how this might pertain to my own ministry until recently. But one of the more exciting things that has happened to me personally as a pastor and, I think, to our church as a whole has been expanding my/our sphere of influence beyond our church walls to encompass if not the whole world, than at least our city of Dayton, TN.
This paradigm shift has made some practical difference in how I go about my job as pastor in the parish/city I serve. Here are a few of them, and I invite you to add your own ideas or practices in the comment section.
- Spend time in your parish. This might seem like a no-brainer but often times because something seems so obvious it’s often the first to be forgotten. A pastor friend suggested to me that 80% of a pastor’s time should be spent out of the office. I think that’s about right. Visiting shut-ins or the sick or other church members is certainly a part of this time but I also want to be with the people who aren’t part of my church (at least not yet). I try to bounce around from coffee-shops and libraries and other hang-outs when writing my sermon or doing my devotions. I am becoming intentional about timing my grocery store visits to rush hour, when I know the most locals will be around and I can meet someone I’ve never met before.
- Be intentional about time spent in your parish. I make up flyers that tell in a simple, compelling way some of the things their (notice how those I meet are given ownership in this) parish church is doing and hand them out to people I meet. I make it known to the check out person at Bi-Lo or Walmart or the DMV that I’m a local pastor serving the area and that I’m pleased to know them. The other day at the grocery store I ran into the lady who cut my hair a couple months ago and she recognized me as the pastor of “that Methodist church down the road” and said she hopes to visit one day when she gets a Sunday off. I told her I’ve been expecting her and will see her soon for another hair cut. Of course, if you are going to make a flyer advertising community outreach, you need to start having some community outreach!…
- Community outreach to your parish. At the church I serve we have begun asking ourselves the question, If our church closed tomorrow, who in our community would protest? In other words, if our church shut down and the only people upset is us, we’ve failed not just our community but Christ Himself. This question continues to propel us out into our parish and re-orient all of our activities towards evangelism and outreach. Thus, the potluck dinner we have the last Wednesday each month is now called Community Potluck and it’s advertised on our marquee and Facebook page. During bad weather we’ve made it known that our fellowship hall is open to the homeless in our parish. We have begun a recovery ministry on Thursday nights and call it “Recovery @ Dayton,” and even though this is in the very early stages of development we are already seeing great results. Our men, who meet for breakfast each Saturday, decided to offer a Community Pancake Breakfast the first Saturday of each month (this Saturday will be our first). In 2 weeks we are offering Financial Peace University and have passed out flyers and put it in the paper, hoping to contribute to the financial health of our parish. And when we concluded VBS last week we threw a free cook-out (hotdogs) and put up bouncy houses and invited the community to party with us. These are just a few of the ways we have tried to say to our community, “We are your church, and you are our parish.”
- Pray for your parish. This is the most important part of all. We’ve been praying that God would make us the kind of people who want the people nobody else wants. Since arriving here last year I have made it a habit to walk the premises of our community and pray for the people who live here. I pray regularly for those in my parish who are sick, lost, broken, addicted, lonely, hurting, suffering, etc. I pray that our church would be a vessel of God’s mercy and grace, that the Holy Spirit would be so powerfully present here on our campus that all the world would know God is present and willing and able to save even the hardest soul. I pray for revival in our town and for the pastors of other churches, that we would be of one mind and one Spirit, pointing the folks of our shared parish to the cross of Jesus Christ. This is my daily prayer, and I believe God, as He is prone to do, is answering it in ways I could not imagine.
These are just a few of the ways I, and my church, are striving to make our city, if not our world, our parish. I pray they ignite new ways for you to do ministry through your church, for your parish, that we might reap the plentiful harvest our Lord says is waiting (Matt. 9:38).