g92.org launched nearly a year ago. My work at World Relief, and our focus here at g92.org s has been primarily on informing and challenging evangelical Christians’ thinking about the topic of immigration.
We believe immigration presents a missional opportunity, a divinely-ordained chance to be faithful to God’s commands to love our neighbor, to make disciples of all nations and to see seek justice.
As we continue to educate and inform, though, we also need to move to action—and we need help to mobilize others in local churches all over the United States. We are looking for champions, individuals willing to invest their time and passion into engaging their own local churches and the other churches in their particular region. Perhaps you might make it your New Year’s resolution to champion the cause of immigrants in 2012.
I have worked with a number of local churches both on a local level and throughout the country. I have had some success as well as made some mistakes but I wanted to offer a few suggestions.
The first step is to think strategically through whom you know and how you could find an audience in front of the influencers within churches in your community. Your own local church is a great place to start, but you probably also have friends at other local churches that could help provide connections. Ask them for coffee or see if they have 45 minutes to give you if you stop by their office. Except in smaller churches, you probably aren’t going to be able to start by talking to a senior pastor, but think strategically about who might be interested in the topic.
Missions pastors, for example, are often quick to understand that reaching those of other cultural background is, well, part of the Church’s mission. If there’s a service at a particular church in Spanish or another language besides English, they’re likely to be your strongest advocate within a church staff. Don’t limit yourself to pastors or church staff, either: every healthy church has lay leaders who are very influential as well.
When you get the chance to meet with a leader, your first job is to listen. How can you help to meet them where they’re at? Where do their own interests intersect with your desire to see the church welcome immigrants? Which other leaders does this person respect, and what are the distinctive elements of their theology that might draw them into caring for immigrants?
Secondly, you have the opportunity to frame the issue of immigration from a biblical perspective. When framed well—with the right message and from the right messenger (we’re hoping that’s you)—we find that most evangelicals are very open to a conversation about immigration. To help provide you with some messaging points that we’ve found to be very effective, I’ve put together a webinar that you can find at the WelcomingtheStranger.com site. Above all, our challenge to Christians is to think about the issue as Christians, not just as Republicans or Democrats or even just as Americans—and to do so in a language that they’ll understand, acknowledging the complexity of this issue and the range of biblical principles that apply.
Before you leave a meeting, give the influencer with whom you’re meeting the chance to respond in a concrete way. We’ve created an acronym, PLEASE, to describe the many ways that church leaders might respond to this issue of immigration:
Prayer. Hopefully, this one is obvious. Challenge folks to seriously pray about how they might respond.
Listen. If we are to be faithful to the authority of Scripture, we should be listening first and foremost to God’s Word as revealed to us in the Bible. That could be as easy as a concordance search of the many instances of the word immigrant (or alien, foreigner, sojourner, or stranger, depending upon your English translation) in the Scriptures.
Books like Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate and Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible can also be valuable resources, as are the many resources here at g92.org, particularly, for leaders, the videos of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Dr. Richard Land and Willow Creek Community Church’s Bill Hybels, both of which can be found on our Watch page.
Beyond listening to Scripture, it is also vital that we challenge people to listen—in the context of relationship—to the stories of immigrants themselves. Facilitating opportunities to influencers within local churches to interact and learn from their immigrant brothers and sisters is an incredible way to serve the local church; pastors of immigrant congregations, who can interact with leaders of non-immigrant congregations as peers, are often a great place to start. Perhaps you even plan an event that allows church leaders to listen to both Scripture and to the testimonies of a few immigrant leaders.
Education. The next step could be to challenge an influencer, see if they would use their influence to help inform others—challenging those in their congregation to respond to immigration from a biblical and missional perspective grounded in the facts.
-One way to do so is to offer an Adult Education class (or series of classes) on immigration; in many cases, a pastor may be more comfortable inviting you in to lead the class, rather than doing it themselves: we’ve provided an adaptable PowerPoint presentation that you can use at WelcomingtheStranger.com.
-Another option would be to encourage a small group to spend a few weeks studying the issue of immigration. The National Association of Evangelicals has helped us put together a fantastic seven-session guide for a learning group experience: you can purchase a bound curriculum from the NAE or download it for free.
-Pastors could preach a sermon on the biblical themes of immigration (as, for example, Southern Baptist Convention president Bryant Wright did recently, or Rich Nathan, the pastor of Vineyard Columbus, the largest Vineyard church in the country). You could even encourage a church to host a special forum on the issue of immigration, bringing together folks from various local churches to learn about God’s heart for immigrants.
Advocacy. The more you learn about the immigration issue and the more you engage in ministry with immigrant communities, the more likely you are—in my experience—to come to the conclusion that there are systemic problems in our immigration law. As citizens, we have the privilege and responsibility to inform our public policies. In fact, we’re called to be stewards not just of our money, but, like Esther, Nehemiah, or Moses in the Old Testament, of the influence that God has given us “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).
You can start by figuring out who your congressional representatives are by entering your address and zip code at www.votesmart.org. Then, you can encourage folks to call them or to write them a hand-written letter; we’ve provided an example of what you might write. Even better, coordinate a sign-on letter signed by local pastors—and ask for a meeting with your representative or senator, too.
Service. There are lots of needs in the immigrant community, and lots of opportunities to tangibly express Christ’s love. In the process of ministering to those who are vulnerable, volunteers also have the chance to form relationships with immigrants—and learn from them. World Relief’s offices around the country have lots of opportunities for volunteers. Many member organizations of the Christian Community Development Association also serve immigrants and other under-resourced communities. And many local churches already have ministries to serve immigrants.
Evangelism. As God has brought the nations to the United States, we have a missional opportunity at our doorstep—and evangelical churches that are focused on the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) have an incredible opportunity to “make disciples of all nations” without even leaving our zip codes. Many immigrants come into the U.S. with a vibrant Christian faith, but others come having never heard or understand the hope offered through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and we have the privilege—as we serve and advocate with immigrants—to also proclaim the good news of the gospel.
These are six ways churches could respond to the issue of immigration. Won’t you start 2012 as a champion and help challenge them to take action?
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief. His blogs appear here on Mondays.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.
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