In Santa Barbara, California, in 2005, Shoreline Community Church was experiencing a radical change in their community and in their church. The city’s demographics were changing rapidly as more immigrants moved in and white people moved out to the suburbs. Their predominantly white congregation was aging, and there were no longer any children running in their hallways. So little was happening at the church that some neighbors, they later discovered, thought the building was abandoned.
Then one day, a few members opened their eyes to see. They decided to pioneer an outreach to neighborhood children, many of whom were from immigrant families. A Wednesday Bible club and Sunday morning kids’ program meant playful voices were being heard again. They began to reach out to the children’s families, who began to attend services, and the church’s original congregants began to grow in love for their community. They got to know their names and their stories: Martha and Jose, both working long hours, anxious about their latchkey children; Geraldo, who was caring for his aging mother; Victoria, struggling to keep her family together after her husband was deported back to Guatemala.
When the church became outwardly focused, they saw spiritual vitality. Getting to know their neighbors allowed their hearts to soften and grow in love toward people they once ignored. This act brought renewal and life back to their church.
The Adventure Begins with Love
This story of Shoreline Community Church is a beautiful example of how opening our eyes to the New Samaria leads us to love, which is where the real adventure begins. We need not look further than Jesus for an example of joining the Father where he’s at work, despite controversy, popular opinion, or long- standing traditions of the elders.
After the conversion of the Samaritans in John 4, Jesus and the disciples remained for two more days. I’d like to think they were having a grand fiesta. It must have started off awkwardly because of their different dietary staples and cultural traditions, but nevertheless, they stayed. Jesus wanted to teach them an important lesson, and it’s no wonder that it took a few days; Jesus was addressing deep-seated biases that were impeding their missional vision, resulting in blindness to the purposes of God for the world.
After two full days of a fiesta in the Samaritan village, Jesus and the disciples traveled to Jerusalem. They arrived on the Sabbath, and Jesus healed a man sitting by the pool of Bethesda who was hoping to be healed from thirty-eight years of infirmity. Instead of a celebration, Jesus was questioned by the religious leaders for healing on the Sabbath. I wonder if the disciples saw the contrasting reaction. The Samaritans worshiped Jesus, but his own people questioned him for healing a man who had been in affliction for nearly four decades. Here is how Jesus defended his actions:
- My Father is always at work (even on the Sabbath). JOHN 5:17
- I look to see where the Father is at work and work only there. JOHN 5:19
- Because the Father loves the Son, he shows him where he is at work. JOHN 5:20
This is why Jesus was so effective. He rested in the realization that his Father already had it all figured out and was already working. So Jesus didn’t have to figure out a five- or ten-year plan. Jesus did the hard work of looking to see where his Father was already at work, and that’s where he focused his time, even if others did not agree.
An Invitation to Join God’s Work
What a novel idea! This is a real challenge for many, especially Americans who love to come up with plans for everything (not to mention avoid things that are controversial). The problem is, usually our plans are too small. Not only has Jesus clearly called us to open our eyes and see the harvest, but he’s also called us to look to where the Father is at work. When was the last time you asked yourself, Where is God at work around me?
What if this demographic shift is from God? What if this is the Father at work, and what if we should see the movement of people around the world as his doing? If this is the case, then reacting in fear, resisting, and trying to limit their growth is actively working against God.