At our Servant Partners staff meeting yesterday, we spent some time discussing how community organizing and church-planting can relate to one another. We talked about a holistic view of people and salvation; we talked about redemption that is both physical and spiritual; we shared stories about how our work in community organizing in urban poor communities had been transformational, for us, for our communities, and for our churches.

At one point in our meeting, our executive director shared a story from his own experience in Pomona. He said that, as they gathered neighbors together to share concerns for the neighborhood, the single issue that everyone agreed on was the need for adequate street lighting. As one who lives on “the darkest street in the neighborhood”, I can attest to the ways that insufficient lighting can totally impact a street and a community. It is not a coincidence that so many are killed on my street.

He shared that, as they brought this concern to the different “powers that be” in their city, they were told that all of the budget for street repairs/lighting was being directed to improvements on White Street, one of the main streets running through the city, which leads to the fairgrounds, a place that draws many visitors to the city each year. The representatives of the city were clear: making White beautiful and usable was the thing that would most benefit Pomona. It was the “face” of the community so to speak; if White looks good, then the city will too! Yet the residents were unanimous: we don’t care about White; just please give us street lights.

It struck me that so much energy and resource is given to creating and sustaining weekly Sunday worship. It is the “face” of the church, for sure. It is often the first impression people have of who we are. Yet in my context, I know firsthand about the gritty realities of people’s lives; people struggling against powerful forces of darkness ranging from hunger to gangs to unemployment to affordable housing. While we work so hard to landscape and resurface our main street, could it be that what people really need are street lights?


  1. I may not be especially qualified to comment here, but I do feel the need to defend (at least in part) a fair amount of energy and resource being given to the Sunday worship time. It is in this time that we are taught and fueled for ministry. I hasten to add, though, that this time is far more for “us” than it is for “them” (which it would be if we focused too much on the Sunday worship as the “face” of the church and it being the first impression others have of who we are.)

    The problem, as I see it, is that so many congregations stop there. They do not engage enough in the activities for which worship is supposed to prepare them: ministry in the world.

  2. Good feedback, Mark. I am not of the mind that the Sunday corporate gathering is unneccessary or insignificant. I am married to a worship leader and I have grown in a deep appreciation for what it means to come together and declare a common story, feast at a common table, and physically witness to a corporate identity. And I am a preacher, which I would not be if I did not see that occasion for proclamation as radically significant. My comments here point toward exactly what you highlight: when we stop at what happens at the weekly gathering.

    And in my context, it is as much the people who are “us” that are struggling with the issues I named. So therein lies my occasional discontent: if our priority is the Sunday “show” (and I realize I am being crude but that can sometimes be how it feels–where are the bulk of our resources being spent, where are we expending the greatest amount of energy), are people in our faith family being given what they need?

  3. I don’t like how I worded that last sentence. I would like us to move away from images and language that suggest that the church is a dispenser of a product or set of services. I guess a better way to phrase the question is this: which one (the big Sunday service vs. practical acts of service during the week) reflects what Scot McKnight would call The Jesus Creed: loving God and loving others. We know from both Old and New Testaments that worship and festivals can be offensive to God when they are divorced from lives marked by justice and mercy. I guess that is really what I am getting at.

  4. This entry really struck me. In the last couple of years I’ve become an “outsider” in the churches we’ve attended in our new home town. I don’t have relationships with these people that reach back for years and include lots of common experiences like I did in Portland. The first church I attended did worship service very well – organized, thoughtful, amazing support materials, great teaching, great music. But it wasn’t a place where people connected with eachother. I was never greeted by anyone in the pews. I’m not trying to cast stones, but this was a big deal to me because of where we were in our lives. We did eventually find a congregation that has embraced us as members of it’s family. In fact I started going to a mom’s group and a weekly small group before we ventured to Sunday service. After a year it was really wonderful to meet some people that seemed to really want to know us. This congregation is trained in welcoming the stranger – I guees when I read what you wrote here it reminds me of how we are called to be apart of eachother’s lives and alot of our lives happen on the 6 other days of the week. I wonder if sharing those “other days” is the greatest ministry we do. I might even say that Sunday worship service is our place to get refocused on our mission that happens the rest of the week.

    E – thanks for giving me an opportunity to think about this kinds of stuff – haven’t done it in a while.

  5. When I served a church in the southwest, I also felt like Sunday morning at ten was “show time.” It’s not a good feeling. It was more like being a performer than a preacher.

    Where I attend now there is a general feeling that the Sunday morning service is the main evangelistic event of the week. It should be, in my opinion, a time of spiritual renewal and equipping for disiciples.

    We should be preparing ourselves to go out into the world with the Good News, rather than trying to bring people in to hear a message and meet the preacher.

  6. Good words. I still think Sunday morning is important … it is worship. But, I hope I don’t forget about the “streetlights” in the lives of my people.

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