Sharper Focus- Context
By Kelly Pontsler, Major
I must give a shout out to Bromley (U.K.) Corps! It’s hard for me to believe I’ve been gone nearly six years, but I tell you, walking through the doors last Sunday felt very much like being home. It’s a great feeling when the connection is instant and the conversation picks up as if you’ve never been apart. The kids were taller and all of us a bit older (and wiser, of course), but I had this remarkable sense of just sliding back into places known and rhythms understood. Dear friends, it was good to see you again!
I’ve always marveled at that kind of experience; perhaps it has happened to you as well? What is it about us that makes us yearn to connect and fit in? While few of us could be rightfully classified as hermits (shunning human encounter) and some of us have that extraordinary gift of an instant link with everyone they meet (I admire people like that), I suspect that most of us hover somewhere in the middle in alternating moments of shyness and boldness until we actually make a friend of an acquaintance. It can be daunting at times, even in the church.
The Salvation Army has been my place of worship and service, and a primary point of social connection my entire life. I know it, I get it and I love it. But more and more I am fascinated by the life stories of those who come in new to join us, choosing to align themselves with our message and our mission. While our movement is international, our ministry is local. So it should come as no surprise that when asked why they came and stayed, so many simply say, “it felt like home.” The more familiar the context, the greater the speed of connection.
I have a firm conviction that congregation starts in community. When our mission intersects healthfully and helpfully with the people right around us, they dare to meet us and (often) stay to join us. When our ministry is targeted to the day-to-day context in the place where we live, it resonates a chord of hope with those who observe us up close. The action in my corner of the world will never be identical to yours in your corner of the world, but I think that might be the point.
Recently, I heard a message on a familiar verse. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11). There are no better words to encourage us in the midst of life’s storms and reassure us that God is firmly in control and looking out for our welfare.
We often pull out this one verse and hang our hat there, but as I listened to the speaker (and as I often do), I scanned back a few verses and my eyes landed on this: But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you…and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:7).
The people to whom the message was directed were actually in exile, but that didn’t matter.
God issued them an instruction: seek the welfare of the city where you are. In their welfare you will find your own. I had to smile when I realized that the context of that favorite verse was actually local context. It doesn’t matter where you are, work and pray for the best for the city where God has placed you.
It makes sense, right? When our local community thrives, so does everyone in it. When we settle in for the long haul, our missional relevance is enhanced. When we keep our eyes on the goal of leading people into a family relationship with our Heavenly Father and live ourselves like it’s possible, people walk in the door and stay because “it feels like home.”
I read those verses and a light bulb went on for me! We are exploring new possibilities for ministry in San Francisco at the moment. As we strive to connect with the men and women and kids right around us, we just keep asking this simple question: what does God want for this neighborhood and his family here? Little by little the plan is unfolding before our very eyes. As my colleague Jen would no doubt agree, it’s exciting and humbling and awesome all at the same time! Maybe, just maybe, we’re getting it right?
Congregation in community, places known and rhythms understood, and everything in context. I’m thinking there’s no better place to be!