On Tuesday this week, I was invited to sit with the Bellaire Elementary School Adopters at the HEB ISD VIPS Brunch. The VIPS of HEB ISD are the incredibly dedicated core of volunteers who give their time (a lot of it) to support schools, teachers, and students within the school district. Some of those folks have given more than 1,000 hours this year to earn their Gold Apple pin. Many others have donated anywhere from 50 to well over 500 hours of their time to this great effort. According to the district, this year alone, volunteers have donated more than 97,000 hours of time. That equates to a monetary value of $2.5 million in support of HEB ISD. That only counts the hours that volunteers take the time to log…because not everyone *cough* logs their hours…
What I was even more thrilled about was the fact that I didn’t represent our church alone. As the names scrolled across the screen throughout the morning, I kept telling the assistant principal at Bellaire—“Hey, they go to our church…Oh them too!…and them!” Now look, I know that they probably didn’t show up to volunteer at those various places saying, “We’re here to represent the church!” I’m reminded of a quote I hear in Sunday school often: Preach the gospel at all times—use words when necessary.
That’s living discipleship—people loving and serving in the neighborhood and community where they live to help make it better for everyone. This concept has really shaped my understanding of mission and outreach recently—for the most part, we are quite skilled at filling our lives—to the point of too much. Adding something new is challenging. Beyond the time limitations, I assume that most people typically want to spend their time (especially their non-work time) in the places that give them the most life (or even supporting their kids’ activities). That’s why I coach softball.
I want to re-iterate. It’s ok to have a life and for that life to be fulfilling. Faithful discipleship is about connecting to people, purpose, and God in ALL the places where we spend our time. Not just in church. Not just on Sundays. Christ demands all of our hearts—“Love one another, as I have loved you.”
Now all of this is not to say that we don’t stretch to help communities that struggle. Several of our Adopt-A-Schools don’t have PTA’s or communities connected enough to build and generate that kind of community support. As we consider what “Mission” really looks like, I want to challenge us to begin to shift our thinking away from being the rescuers or problem solvers. What a lot of these families need is community—places to connect. Many of our neighbors have gifts to share—but no places or people to share them with.
This is why neighboring is so important and why the connecting work of discipleship must remain on the forefront. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it. Neighboring is slow work. It’s intentional, it’s authentic, and it’s not motivated by a hidden agenda of getting people to come to our church. In other words, and this may be the biggest challenge to deepening in discipleship: What is your capacity to make one new, real, significant relationship? To find one new family to share life with and to put in the time and effort for those folks to become your people and for you to become their people? That’s not a weekend mission trip or a weekly volunteer slot. What if we all committed to make one new, significant relationship this year? How would our communities grow and benefit from those strengthened connections? What could God do in the midst of a new connection?