I originally posted this as part of an update on our family’s Sabbatical Year site. I wanted to share it with all of you here, too…
I’ll start with a confession/acknowledgment. I’ve always turned my nose up at community events put on by churches. I’m thinking about “secular” events––the kind that could have just as easily been sponsored by a Rotary Club or the city hall––where they distribute a little grab-bag at the end with information about the church and maybe a brief articulation of the gospel. Or sometimes a little bolder: someone takes the microphone near the end of the event and shares the gospel and/or invites people to come to a worship service.
Now we’ve come to Spain and helped put on several community events and activities sponsored by the church. We ran an English Weekend in September, held a big Thanksgiving dinner in November, and sponsored a secular concert in January. We’re teaching English classes to government workers for free every Friday. Next week, we’ll be in all seven of Algete’s elementary schools leading an “English Week” program. None of these are exclusively Christian activities. That is, any Rotary Club could do them without needing to make any changes (except for that little handout telling people who we are and giving them an invitation to our church gatherings).
Rather than turning my nose up, I’ve come to appreciate these activities and look forward to more opportunities for them. That change of heart has come because I’ve seen a different reason for the activities in the first place. In the past, I’ve seen the invitation as the real point of these activities. Why does a church hold a concert or a children’s fair? So they can invite people to their church or share the gospel. If they knew that no one would respond to those invitations, they wouldn’t waste their time on the events.
But the invitation has never been the point of the activities here. There’s no veiled, real agenda. The point has been to bless.
We wrote early on about the way the church here emphasizes prayer––a more serious emphasis than I’ve ever seen or given before. Most unique to the church’s prayers here is a focus on blessing. We spend a lot of time praying God’s blessing over Spain, the city of Algete, and its people.
The church has especially taken Psalm 132 as a word for us. The psalm says,
13 For the LORD has chosen Zion,
he has desired it for his dwelling, saying,
14 “This is my resting place for ever and ever;
here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it.
15 I will bless her with abundant provisions;
her poor I will satisfy with food.
16 I will clothe her priests with salvation,
and her faithful people will ever sing for joy.”
One of our leaders began asking last year whether God could say the same for Algete. Whether God has chosen Algete, desiring to dwell here and bless its people. 1 As the church, the Body of Christ, we want to join in that blessing.
Why do we do English camps and classes and presentations? Why do we sponsor “secular” concerts and Thanksgiving dinners? To bless. Those events have no veiled purpose. Yes, we hand out information about the church and invite people to join us. We do that because we want to invite people at every opportunity. But those invitations truly aren’t the reason for the events. If we knew no one would respond to our invitation, even after doing months’ worth of free English classes, would we still do the classes? Absolutely! We don’t do them to add new people to our church. We do them because we’re part of the Church, and the Church blesses.
Maybe this has always been the point of all those “secular” events I’ve seen churches sponsoring, and I’m late to understand it. If their primary purpose is veiled and strategic––trying to bait people with an event, then hook them with an invitation––well then, I continue to turn my nose up at those. But there’s a place for the church to bless just for the sake of blessing. We bless not to achieve some other goal, but because we are a people of blessing. I’m embarrassed that I’m only now seeing that more clearly.
- The psalm’s reference to Zion as God’s chosen place isn’t insignificant. There are lots of big theological things happening here. You can’t just replace “Zion” with any city of your choosing. And yet, we still believe there’s a word here for us about our particular location. ↩