How the Church Can Serve the City | Influence Podcast

On the Day of Pentecost, the first Christians preached the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Soon after, they also organized ministries to help the poor. This combination of evangelism and compassion is a biblical hallmark of Spirit-filled ministry. It’s also a template for action today.

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, George P. Wood, executive editor of Influencemagazine, interviews Dave Donaldson and Wendell Vinson about how the local church can serve the city through compassionate ministry.

Dave Donaldson and Wendell Vinson are editors of CityServe: Your Guide to Church-Based Compassion, just published by Salubris Resources. Donaldson is co-founder and chairman for CityServe International, whose visionis “to see the local church fulfill its calling to be a stronger catalyst for healthier communities and the restoration of broken lives.” Vinson is also co-founder of CityServe and pastor of Canyon Hills Church in Bakersfield, California.


Them | Book Review

Ben Sasse opens Them with a long epigraph from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America: “Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations.” Those associations were voluntary and pursued any number of ends, “religious, moral serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive,” among many others.

This tendency to associate was, according to Tocqueville, the genius of the American nation: “From that moment they [i.e., Americans] are no longer isolated men, but a power seen from afar.” Over the past few decades, however, this tendency has declined, leaving an epidemic of loneliness in its wake.

Part 1 of Sasse’s book details “the collapse of the local tribes that give us true, meaningful identity—family, workplace, and neighborhood.” Because people are social beings, they seek out connections with others. If no good options are available, they may turn to bad ones.

Part 2 examines the rise of what Sasse calls “anti-tribes,” in which “people are finding a perverse bond in at least sharing a common enemy.” These anti-tribes are characterized more by patterns of “news consumption” than by “political activism.” Expressed as an equation, Sasse’s argument is:

Loneliness + news cycle and social media = the mess we are in.

In Part 3, outlines a proposal for cleaning up our mess. Sasse is a conservative Republican senator from Nebraska, but his book is not about policy. It is, instead, about the habits of the heart needed to restore the healthy communities that give individual lives meaning. “Our world is nudging us toward rootlessness, when only a recovery of rootedness can heal us.”

In a time where politicians thrive on galvanizing the “base” to destroy the “other side,” Sasse’s call for less divisiveness and more unity is a welcome relief. To quote the final sentence of that Tocqueville epigraph: “If men are to remain civilized or to become so, the art of associating together must grow and improve.” Count Them as a step toward growth and improvement.

Book Reviewed
Ben Sasse, Them: Why We Hate Each Other—and How to Heal (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018).

P.S. If you liked my review, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon review page.

What Does Communion Look Like to You? (1 Corinthians 10:14-17)

In 1 Corinthians 10:14–22, Paul argues that Christians cannot participate in the Lord’s Supper and eat idol-food at religious feasts in pagan temples. Why? Because the former is “a participation in the blood [and body] of Christ,” while the latter makes the eaters “participants with demons.” This devotional will focus on the former. The next devotional will focus on the latter.

Regarding the Lord’s Supper, Paul writes:

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf (1 Corinthians 10:14–22)

What does the Lord’s Supper look like to you? If you have a Roman Catholic background, it looks like going forward to the altar and receiving a wafer and a sip of wine from a priest. If you have an evangelical Protestant or Pentecostal background, it looks like taking a cracker and a small plastic cup of grape juice from an aluminum tray that is being handed down the row. In both cases, the Lord’s Supper involves very little food and is a highly individualized act.

For Paul and the Corinthians, however, the Lord’s Supper is an entire meal shared by people around tables. The first Lord’s Supper was a Passover Jesus shared with his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion (Matthew 26:17–30, Mark 14:12–26, Luke 22:7–23). In 1 Corinthians 11:17–34, Paul chides the wealthy Corinthians for consuming the food before the poor Corinthians arrive at the meal. Their actions constitute “sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” The Lord’s Supper was one part of the rich common life of the early church

In Greek, the word for this common life is koinonia, which is variously translated as “fellowship” (Acts 2:42), “participation” (1 Corinthians 10:16), and “sharing in” (2 Corinthians 8:4). What is the basis of the Christian common life? Not family ties, for a person is Christian by conversion not birth. Not gender, ethnicity, or social class, for Christians are men and women, Jews and Gentiles, free people and slaves (Galatians 3:28). Not nationality and citizenship, for Christians have fellowship with one another across language and political barriers. Rather, the basis of the Christian common life is Jesus Christ himself. We are united “in the blood of Christ” and “in the body of Christ.” What unites Christians, in other words, is a common experience of salvation through that death of Jesus Christ that manifests itself in a koinonia of faith, crossing all boundary lines that divide people from one another—one in which the wealthy share their resources with the poor so that there may be no need among them.

Today, our practice of communion—the Lord’s Supper—is a pale reflection of the vibrant reality the New Testament church practiced. We eat our little cracker and drink our little grape juice and don’t interact with the needier members of our community, let alone share our resources with them.

Our practice of the Lord’s Supper isn’t a meal. It’s not even an appetizer. It could be so much more.