What Happens When Your Church and Community Collide

“It seems like we need an earthquake to dislodge both feet out of our churches so that we can get one foot in the community.”

I’m sure you’ve heard this before: “I was in the right place at the right time.” Or maybe your ear has caught wind of another version: “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Note that in both cases, the speakers attribute the outcomes to chance.

Divine mergers require deliberate and strategic positioning. Meaning, by choice and by God’s grace, you intentionally align yourself in a missional space between your church and your community. In other words, you constantly have one foot in the church and one foot in your community. When it comes to the church, you’re all in; when it comes to the community, you’re all in.

By living in this space, you can harness the capacity to facilitate a Jesus collision in your community. A vivid example that clearly defines the importance of strategic positioning is the life of Abraham.

Between Bethel and Ai

One verse has been extremely helpful to me and to our church regarding positioning: Genesis 12:8. The imagery in the verse illustrates the necessity of being in the right position. Not only that, it implies powerful prophetic possibilities and implications for our churches and communities. It says, “From there he went one toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.”

Abram was having a fresh, life-changing encounter with God—an encounter that moved him out of his comfort zone and launched him on a God-given journey into Canaan. The second stop of his journey is where Genesis 12:8 picks up. Since no Marriott or Hilton hotels are available, Abram has to pitch a tent. Where he pitched his tent is all-important. The location where he chooses to live for a season places him in a very strategic position.

The site of his lodging is between Bethel and Ai. To the west is Bethel, and to the east lies Ai. Absent from this verse are a few pieces of information that would be helpful to know. For one, it would be nice to know a bit more about some of Abraham’s interactions with the Canaanite people who were living in Bethel and Ai at the time. Also, it would be nice to have a footnote or two as to how Bethel and Ai acquired their names.

Many times in Scripture, the names of individuals and places are based on their attributes. Bethel literally means “the house of God,” and Ai is, by definition, “the heap of ruins.” According to the literal meanings of these two cities’ names, Abraham is living between the house of God and a heap of ruins. What a great snapshot of how to be positioned for a divine merger—living life between God’s house and a heap of ruins!

You may not live in Canaan, but there is a Bethel and Ai near you. For us, Bethel is our local church. It is the place where we are in community with other Christ-followers. It is the place where Jesus Christ is celebrated and honored. It is the place where we grow in God’s Word and in grace with others. Our Ai, on the other hand, is the community outside the walls of our local church. It is where the ruins of addiction, brokenness and hopelessness abound. It is the places where people who need Jesus live.

When we live life between our church and our community, we forge a unique paradox of missional tension. This tension from both sides creates a fulcrum that allows us to have a balanced ministry to our church and our community. That hallowed ground allows us the opportunity to feel the pull and calling of the church on one side and the pull of a community in need on the other side. That central position allows you to give each side equal value and equal commitment. Preferential allegiance to one side or the other is not a part of the equation. It is a package deal that calls you to live in a place where divine mergers can happen.