Our youth in the community, our youth in the church community….but what about us. As ministers we often can forget to engage anyone except our congregation. How do we keep one foot in the community to know it’s needs, and one foot in the church to lead it to fill those needs? Its a hard balance. So today we ask…..
“How do you as a minister connect to the community?”
Josh Beeler is the Associate Pastor for Youth and College at Central Baptist Church of Fountain City in Knoxville, TN. He is a graduate of Old Dominion University and of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Josh is married to his wonderful wife, Sherry, who he enjoys sharing conversation, adventures, and life with. He is ridiculously playful and works daily to maintain his mischievousness. Josh enjoys playing, singing, reading, questioning and laughing with friends.
I serve a church in Knoxville, TN. The particular community in which my church sits is called Fountain City. Fountain City is an area that carries a lot of pride with it. The area was only incorporated into the larger city of Knoxville about 50 years ago, a fact that still exists within the culture of the community. It has well known restaurants. It has a high school, of which everyone supports the athletics, and has genuine concern for the condition and quality of the schools. And it has many families that have been here for generations. At the current moment, there is a very wide span of economic conditions represented, and housing for all income levels—from income restricted apartments to sprawling historic landscapes and homes.
I tell you all of this because it is incredibly important to the ministry that I do. The context and community in which we serve determines an incredible amount about what kind of ministry we should be doing, and thus, we have to find ways to connect to it and invest in it. I will confess, I’m still looking for ways to do this better, but here are a few ways that I try to connect to my community regularly:
Stay aware of, and participate in local events. Knoxville hosts some pretty awesome events, so I try to attend whenever I can. From things like the International Biscuit Festival, to the Dogwood Arts Festival, and even the seasonal weekly Farmers’ Market, there is always something going. Taking part in each of these helps me to continue to get a feel for the culture of my community and the things that make it unique. In addition to these larger scale events, the area where my church is (Fountain City) also has some key events. For instance, we always try to attend the local Christmas Parade because it lets us see the different people and organizations that are at work in our community alongside of us. One of the best ways that I’ve found to keep up with all of these activities is to find local news and activity accounts on Facebook and especially Twitter. They will alert you to shows, events, concerts, and charitable events that are going on in your area that you can be a part of—a super helpful tool, especially when I’m still relatively new!
Participate in the fundraisers and events of your students. I go to tons of pancake breakfasts. Why? Because they help to raise money for the teams and clubs that our families are incredibly passionate about, and being at these events allows me to connect with those families in a meaningful way, but also to engage other supporters in the process. I go to a ton of sporting events as well. Why? Because students and parents love the support, and because I can literally find ways to make church happen on Friday nights when all of my students’ parents gather to watch the Bobcats play. You’d be surprised how many people start to recognize you when you regularly attend these things!
Partner with community organizations to serve the community. We open up our facilities to community organizations that are looking for meeting space. This past year, we opened our gym to the rec basketball league for kids, because they were having trouble finding space. In addition to this, we try to partner with associations to make events even better—like doing our Easter Egg Hunt in partnership with the local business professionals association. Showing members of your community that you care about the same things as they do by working alongside of them goes a long way!