How we can remember ‘the forgotten’ among us, even as our churches grow
But He needed to go through Samaria” (John 4:4). In Jesus’ time, Samaria represented a land of cultural difference and prejudice for many Jews—a land they’d rather go around. I believe our cities and towns too have “a land we’d rather go around.” Jesus’ conviction was clear: He had to go through Samaria. And I believe that as His body, so must we.
For years I felt I had nothing to offer people unlike me. Because of my upper-middle-class upbringing and the fact that I pastored a church full of people who looked like me, I was led to believe that I was incapable of being used by God to make an impact in a different cultural context in our city.
A few years ago my beliefs were challenged, and I realized just how much I did have to offer the inhabitants of “the land we’d rather go around.” As a result, we began working in two of the most forgotten and hurting communities in southwest Florida. Today, our ministry to the land we’d rather go around is a driving force of our church. Here is some of what we’ve learned that parallels Jesus’ journey in John 4:
1. We have a responsibility to go to the land we’d rather go around. Jesus understood His responsibility to go to Samaria. The larger His ministry became, the more responsibility He felt. As our church grows, so does our responsibility to minister to the less fortunate, and the broken and forgotten of our city.
2. Working in the land we’d rather go around is difficult. Verse 6 tells us Jesus was tired from His journey to the land they’d rather go around. We’ve certainly experienced that over the years. Ministry to those who are unlike us can be difficult, can progress slowly and can be downright frustrating at times. But as you’ll find out, it’s worth it.
3. We have something to offer the land we’d rather go around. In verse 10, Jesus offers the woman from Samaria living water. So must we. As important as it is to meet the physical needs of people, it is equally important to offer them the living water of hope that Jesus brings. Nothing breaks the poverty mindset like hope. That’s what we have to offer the land we’d rather go around. Hope. Hope that life can be different tomorrow than it is today.
4. People in the land we’d rather go around will be suspicious. In verses 11-12, the woman questions Jesus’ offer to give her living water. When working in the land we’d rather go around, skepticism is to be expected.
We initially launched our efforts in our community with a “Five Weeks of Service” campaign between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Each week, hundreds of our people came out to serve the residents in one of five ways. Our goal was to lift the communities medically, environmentally, socially, educationally and spiritually. Our next goal was to gain trust with the residents over a long period of time. Though initially skeptical, over time we have felt a greater sense of trust and openness to our message from the residents.
5. Don’t give up on the people in the land we’d rather go around. In verse 15, the woman asks Jesus for the living water. We’ve discovered that with time, consistency and commitment, the people in the land we’d rather go around are amazingly open to our message of hope.
So where is your land you’d rather go around? Dare to go there. Start driving through it once a week. Pray over the residents. Own your responsibility. Take the first step. You have much to offer, and they’re thirsty to hear it.
Matt Keller pastors Next Level Church in Fort Myers, Fla., which he planted in 2002 (nextlevelchurch.com). The author of The Up the Middle Church, Matt travels and speaks, coaching pastors nationwide through online video coaching networks (mynextlevel.me).
Learn from one who has gone to the “land we’d rather go around,” with The Cause Within You. Matthew Barnett shares how he found his purpose in life and built the Dream Center by reaching those who were forgotten, homeless, hopeless in Los Angeles.