To regain trust, the church needs to care about more than itself

Photo: Alex Shute, Unsplash.

“What do you do for a living?” I often get nervous when people ask me this. Since becoming a pastor, I have discovered that trust is essential to my work. But the title of pastor does not always evoke trust — or even favorability. 

Nor does the term church. Church brings up negative emotions for people who have felt and seen the harm the church can cause. 

When I began my ministry in Salem, Ore., I made it a point to get involved in the community. I graduated from seminary with a certificate in urban ministry. One of the key things I learned was the need to connect the church with the larger community.

Soon I realized this task was going to be much more difficult than I had thought. Where I am located, churches are often the loudest voice in opposition to women’s rights, racial justice and gun control. 

For my congregation to connect with the community, we had to be willing to show up. Much of this work included showing up to community meetings, rallies, protests and worship events. This helped us gain trust within a community that can be suspicious of churches.

When I hear people critique the church, it’s for one of two reasons: The church is causing harm, or it did not show up when called upon. 

You cannot be on the side of people if you do not show up when you are needed. 

Churches are unique communities. We gather not solely for worship but also to fellowship and care for one another. We share prayer requests and needs. We create communities of grace and love because we want people to feel cared for within our church walls. 

While this can be our main priority as a community, we need to reach out beyond ourselves. We do this not to gain power but to build relationships with people. 

Community ministry allows for the voice of the church to be heard. It shows that the church cares about more than itself. 

It is great for those within the church to love each other, but we need to always be thinking about how this love extends to others. 

When we look at Jesus’ ministry, we see him not only caring for his disciples but also addressing needs within the communities that he comes across. The Samaritan woman at the well. The feeding of the 5,000. The healing of the man born blind. All are moments where Jesus participated in ministry within the community. 

Jesus showed up when called upon, and this was how he built trust with people.

The church is called to show up. This is how we share the light of Christ. We have to be willing to work alongside community members, Christians and otherwise, in order to create communities that reflect God’s love and peace. 

We need to always be asking how we can best show up for our community right now. Are there people who need food? Is there an organization taking donations for community members? Are there activists in the community in need of our presence? How are we paying attention to the least of these?

I believe our churches need to practice the kind of community ministry Jesus modeled. We do not only care for those within the church walls or those who are Christian. No, we care for all the people our God cares for. We care for those in the towns and cities we live in. 

The church should not be a club that lives separately, comfortable and content, while our neighbors struggle. As followers of Christ, we are called to always be actively helping to meet the needs of the communities we are placed in. 

So, keep your ears to the ground and feet to the pavement. Be open to new ways of participation. If there is healing that needs to be done, then enter into that process faithfully. 

I long for people to see churches as a useful resource again. I long for them to see the church in a positive light. I want people to see churches as good-faith partners rather than as opponents to organize against. I want people to feel trust when I tell them I am a pastor. I want us to be the ones who show up when needed.  

Jerrell Williams

Jerrell Williams is pastor of Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton, Kan. A 2015 graduate of Bethel College, he has a Read More

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