“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one ─ I in them and you in me ─ so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23).
More than ever, the Christian community in Portland is realizing that we’re better together.
More than ever, the Christian community in Portland is realizing that we’re better together. When we work in unity and partnership, it glorifies our Father in Heaven. Sometimes, that unity lends itself to traditional pictures of revival: thousands of people committing their lives to Christ as a result of scores of believers wholeheartedly praying for the lost in our city.
But sometimes, that unity looks a little different. I think of members of an affluent church working to show the love of Christ at an inner-city high school, where a majority of the students are facing poverty, hunger, or homelessness. I think of churches across Oregon stepping into better the lives of children in foster care, some of them even providing a home for those who had lost the hope of ever finding a family. I think of conversations between Christians and the LGBTQ community defined by grace and respect, instead of discord and anger. Always truthful. Always biblical. Always loving.
Actively caring for the hurting, the disillusioned, and the poor in spirit gives those who are opposed to faith a compelling image of Christianity that is difficult to simply write off.
The City of Portland is recognizing the power of a united Church. They are experiencing it first-hand. As we work together to meet the needs of our community, we are “spurred to love and good deeds,” as it says in the book of Hebrews. Through acts of service, followers of Jesus are able to engage the city, have real conversations, and deal with real issues. Actively caring for the hurting, the disillusioned, and the poor in spirit gives those who are opposed to faith a compelling image of Christianity that is difficult to simply write off. And in a city that is known for its resistance to the Gospel, that is not only important, it’s crucial.
Portland isn’t the easiest city in which to do ministry. People pride themselves on being progressive, open-minded, freethinkers. Somewhere along the line, Christianity earned a reputation for being too conservative, too intolerant, and too restrictive for the city. Yet, many secular Portlanders value the same things that Jesus did ─ helping the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable. Social justice is more than a trend in Portland. Instead, it’s woven into the DNA of the city.
The emphasis on social justice in Portland became important a few years ago, when the evangelical community in the city recognized that Christians weren’t known for what we were for, but rather, what we were against. We were seen as disconnected, uncaring, and cold towards the needs of the city. We realized the best way to counteract these preconceived notions was to humbly go to city leaders and ask how the evangelical community could partner with civic leaders to serve the city together. The city came up with several key areas of focus: hunger, homelessness, healthcare, the environment, and public schools. Then, churches from all over the city joined together in a “Season of Service” (what we now call CityServe Portland) as we worked together to meet those needs.
We watched service transform broken lives and instill a new sense of hope into communities that had found little to believe in.
As a result of our new found unity, a spiritual transformation began to unfold. We watched service transform broken lives and instill a new sense of hope into communities that had found little to believe in. We watched people change their perceptions of what Christians are like, opening the door a little wider for honest conversations about faith and love, and forgiveness, and acceptance. That was six years ago, and we’ve seen great improvements in how the city perceives Christians and the Gospel since then.
Yet, our goal in uniting as the Church is not just to partner with the city in social justice. In fact, that’s a byproduct of our first and foremost goal, which is to reconcile people with Jesus Christ. We believe service can be the means for that. We don’t see any contradiction at all between proclamation and social justice. In fact, we see them as complementary. And together, they can be extremely powerful. Cities across the United States – and even around the world – are experiencing renewed unity, revitalized ministry, and unprecedented passion for living out and sharing the Gospel. We’ve seen that the Holy Spirit moves powerfully when the Body of Christ unites to love the people God loves. And there is nothing more beautiful.