Vital Signs

Engaging With Our Neighbors

During Lent, Rev Rob Stewart offers a 7-part series about the Vital Congregations Initiative entitled “7 Marks of Vital Congregations”. This is the third installment, which focuses on outward incarnational focus.


A lid cannot be kept on profoundly felt joy. Blessings cry out to be shared. God’s outpoured gifts are simply meant to be both enjoyed and spread about for others to join in the goodness. God’s overflowing abundance becomes a communal celebration. As they say, “Sorrows shared are halved and joys shared are multiplied.”

Many cultures know and teach that those who are privileged have an obligation to share out of their abundance. Jesus teaches us that “unless your religion goes beyond that of the scholars, you will not be in God’s realm” (Matthew 5:20). The early church practiced the sharing of God’s gifts and graces for the common good (Acts 2:42-47)  The challenge (and call) to the church is to listen to God’s invitation to serve as well as to listen to neighbors around us who need us to join them in dispersing God’s abundance with joy.

One of the marvelous tools that a congregation can use to discover or rediscover their neighborhood is to get outside the church doors and start walking. What do we see? Who do we meet? What do our neighbors say about what is going on? What are their concerns that a congregation can listen to even if it is just to show compassion? Are there struggles to which a church can lend support? And again, my favorite question, “How can our church be the answer to someone’s prayer?”

Many church folks have an attitude that we only need to be kind and welcoming to those who happen to come through our sanctuary doors. It is an entirely different thing for a church to take the initiative to reach out, to offer a listening ear, to discover a need, to offer a helping hand.

Yes, Jesus calls us to BE kind and loving; Jesus also calls us to ACT in spiritually tangible ways. In a world with compelling needs, we begin with what is right in front of us. Dealing with our own fears and hesitation can be a challenge. We need each other to find our way. As Anna in Frozen 2 asks, “What is the next right thing?”

Walking along a beach, two people saw thousands of starfish washed ashore. Every now and then one of the walkers would bend down, pick up a starfish and toss it back into the ocean. Finally, the other asks, “Why are you bothering to do this when there are so many?” The star-tosser picks up another one, flings it into the sea, and replies, “It matters to that one.”

We can each do something. Together we can do great things. Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these….” (John 14:12)

This is our invitation! May blessings abound as we faithfully serve God and others with an Outward Incarnational Focus.

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