I recently had a conversation with Dr. Bruce Bauer, a missiologist here at the Andrews University Theological Seminary . I wanted to speak with him because I’ve been wrestling with questions about evangelism, outreach, and discipleship, and wanted to get his perspective. During our conversation he shared that he’d been a missionary in various parts of Asia including Guam, Japan, and Cambodia. So I asked him, “You’ve obviously had experience connecting with different people groups in different parts of the world, but what would be one of the first things you’d do if you were asked to be a missionary to the people here in Berrien Springs, MI?” I think you can substitute whatever town or city you live in by the way, because I think his answer can apply to just about anywhere.
He said, “You need to find out what the needs are in the community, and then figure out a way that you can meet those needs.”
I wondered out loud in front of him how someone could come to understand what the needs are in a community. He then responded that I need to connect with various leaders in the community. There was no way of getting around this. The first person he suggested I connect with is the police chief in our town. “He’s going to know what the major kinds of issues are that the people face,” he responded. That makes sense because the kinds of crimes that people commit are often indicative of the kinds of issues that are being faced in the community. “I wouldn’t stop there, though,” he continued. “I’d also connect with social workers in the area. They are actually in people’s homes and know what’s happening. They’re aware of the themes that people are facing.” He also suggested connecting with the leaders in the local schools.
I thought those suggestions made sense, and I immediately connected with them. He threw out one more suggestion to me, though, that took me by surprise: “You need to talk to ________. He’s the manager of the local hardware store. He’s been in the community for a long time, and connects with people everyday.”
So here’s two quick lessons:
1.Beware of methods that have worked in the past in a different context. Because we’re all living in different communities and the people face different things, we need to have our ears to the ground in our own community in an intentional way. The need in one community will not be the same as in the other community.
2. Learning about needs takes work. Nothing will beat the work of connecting with people and having those conversations about what’s happening in the lives of people where we live. A temptation I have is to simply order some community needs analysis from some company and to rely upon that. But nothing beats the work of being out there, having the conversations, meeting the people, and therefore discovering what’s happening.
[image by g.bremer]