Twenty years ago, our family left a wonderful church on a gravel road in Kansas, where I had served as pastor for eight years. We moved to Moscow with the goal of planting a Russian Lutheran church. Our first task was to try to fit in, and learning Russian was an obvious step. This was groundwork for witness and proclamation. Our team needed to learn how to be in the world but, at the same time, not of the world. This is the same mission task of any Lutheran congregation in the U.S.
It is easy to be skeptical about the need for Lutheran congregations in rural America to fit into their communities. Many churches have deep roots and long memories, and rather than trying to fit into the community, they only think of how the community needs to change to be fit for the congregation.
In the foreign mission field, we find that fitting in is more than speaking the language, it is also in giving gifts to the community. Free English lessons are still popular in many of our mission fields, but there is a whole spectrum of gifts that can be given.
I am using the word “gift” here because as God’s children, we are His instruments to serve without expecting anything in return. This is the same way He gives, knowing that we can never repay. What is it that our congregations give to our communities, knowing that the community can never repay? Engaging the world in this way opens doors for the Gospel.
The following are mission perspectives for work, whether in Hong Kong or in your county:
God’s salvation-sending started long before your church was established. He is the One who converts hearts, as we see in Luther’s explanation to the Third Article: “The Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.” It is not us but God who makes people fit for and fit into His church.
Christians stand alone before God, but they always stand in community on earth. This includes people who trust in Christ and those who don’t. We are God’s instruments that show the love of God through what we do and say. This is work not only for individuals but also for congregations for the benefit of our neighbor.
Just as Christ chose to have relationships with us even when we were “dead in the trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), so we are called to build relationships with those around us who might even be hostile to the Gospel, with the hope of sharing the Good News that the Spirit might do His work to fit people into His Kingdom.
The people of God are engaged in the community as individuals and as congregations. It happens spontaneously and intentionally as we fit into the world without being of the world. There is no way to plan or control the outcome of engagement, because it is God’s mission to make people fit for salvation in Christ.
LCMS Rural & Small Town Mission supports and encourages rural and small town congregations in engaging their communities and growing together in Christ through Word and Sacrament. Learn more at http://www.lcms.org/rstm.