I started writing this the day after Big Omaha 2012 ended. I had intended to write a happy post about the Big Omaha experience, but something else came to the surface. Anger.
Various streams of consciousness loosely tied together…I think.
I’m often asked by Christians why I make a big deal about attending Big Omaha.
Big Omaha is a reflection of Omaha in many ways. It is a good mosaic of the city, and surrounding area. Most of the people attending are part of the up and coming generations, getting ready to be the major influence in all aspects of society and culture. Big Omaha is a melting pot. It is a think tank. It is an accelerator for dreams. It is where like-minded people come together, from a variety of fields, to engage in conversations and community. It is an event empowering attenders in creating a better future for themselves, their work, and community.
When I first started my social media and community involvement (in its current form), I heard a number of critical comments, from Christians, about it.
- I’m “wasting time” blogging about “nonsensical stuff”. (Nonsensical by their interpretations.)
- I’m “wasting time” talking to people on Twitter about matters that aren’t gospel-related. (As if any kind of discussion not directly quoting the Bible, or some dead commentator, isn’t worth anyone’s time.)
- I only have my job, at Christ Community Church, because I “stayed around” and moved up the ladder because others left. (I’m a talentless nobody, apparently.)
- There isn’t a “spiritual component” to what I do.
- I am not “serious” about theology. (I don’t have a seminary background and work at a church which is “seeker sensitive” and “production based” with their services.)
Now Twitter can be a window to the soul of a community. It’s something I’ve used to get a better read on Omaha, and deepen my connection with the city, since I first started using it in 2008. I’ve met countless people through it, and the relationships built because of it are priceless.
Over the past few years I tried to explain and reason with people, who made these comments, why it was beneficial and crucial for me to be involved with the community, and social media, the way I was. More often than not, I received a lot of eye rolls and backhanded remarks. Often, something like this, “Twitter? Really?! Yeah, like anyone cares about what you ate for breakfast.”
To them, I was Don Quixote tilting at windmills.
As Big Omaha 2012 drew near, I heard a different take on some of the criticisms. Critics could see the benefit, in my life and work, with what I’ve been doing the past few years. So, they remarked they too can simply set up a Facebook Page, a Twitter account and/or show up at one event, like Big Omaha, and immediately have the success I’ve managed in these various arenas the past few years.
I’m left shaking my head because they are missing it completely.
It’s more than just showing up at Big Omaha. It’s more than setting up some social media accounts. What’s behind it? It’s a relationship. It’s being a part of a community. It’s listening. It’s being on mission outside of your comfort zone. It’s being patient. It’s being a friend. It’s responding to others when it’s not convenient for you. It’s getting involved in others’ projects that aren’t your projects.
If you think you can just show up to a community, with no relationship and/or track record, and expect to have credibility, you are mistaken.
You need to get to know people. Know their likes, dreams, fears and frustrations…and perhaps what they like for breakfast.
Jeremiah 29:7 is a verse I’ve been thinking a lot about in recent months.
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7 ESV)
What does it mean to seek the welfare of the city we live in? What does it mean to live this out in a practical way?
We are on mission, in our city, whether we like it or not. We are on mission, in our communities, whether we like it or not. What does your mission reflect? What does it say to people watching from within your city and community?
For many in Omaha, Christians have a reputation for not seeking the welfare of the city.
Being involved with your city means being involved with YOUR CITY.
Sure, you can make a point from the safety, and comfort, of your house and/or church. You can’t necessarily make a difference, though. We need to get out into our communities and be engaged. We need to be intentional about reaching out to people. We need to engage people on their turf around the city. As Andrew Marin said recently, “We know more about an earthquake in Japan than what happens in our own zip code.”
Christians need to realize this. If you want to be a part of a community or city, if you want to be taken seriously, you need to be involved. You need to be patient, and consistent, in building up trust and credibility within your community and city. Your libraries of Bible commentaries, Christian living books, contemporary Christian music, and/or various seminary degrees don’t matter to those outside the Church. Your willingness to love and serve, to be a reflection of Jesus, does matter to them.
Is sound doctrine important? Yes, it’s vital. If you aren’t engaging with the community around you, if you aren’t reflecting Jesus to those who are in need, to those who don’t know him, what good is your amazing doctrine?
For some Christians in the Omaha area, they seem surprised their wealth of Bible knowledge hasn’t translated to impacting the local community. What do they expect when they aren’t engaged with the community?
It’s no wonder the Church has a sullied reputation amongst many outside of it. I hate that. I hate the poor reflection us Christians have on Jesus. In the past, I know I’ve played a part in adding to the negative stereotype the Church has. I want to change that, and I’ve been trying to in recent years.
One of the reasons I loved Big Omaha 2012 was because of the people there. I was able to talk and interact with friends who I’ve been able to get to know these past few years. (Sometimes getting to know them better through Twitter.) I was introduced to new people because of the credibility I have within this community. That is rewarding. Those who have told me they hate Christians and don’t believe in God, but yet know full well who I am, what I do and what I believe…they call me a friend and tell their friends about me
It is confounding to those who critiqued me in the past…so I’ve heard.
Why say all this?
Omaha is a wonderful city. I’m called to this city. I love its people. Seeking the welfare of Omaha is the goal with much of my life and work. Many in the area, who identify as Christian, would agree with those statements, but they aren’t doing anything about it. They fail to act. And so a wonderful community of people is ignored by them, and the community notices.
I feel clueless with a lot of what I do. I am stumbling forward most of the time. I don’t have a master plan with my work. And yet, God has graciously given me a platform to share with others in the greater Omaha community. It’s not because I am a pastor. It’s not because I am a former missionary. It’s not because I launched an online church. It’s not because I opened a Twitter account. It’s not because I blog. It’s not because I showed up at Big Omaha. It’s not because of the creative pieces I’ve produced in the past. Those things may help open a few doors, but none of them provided me with the platform I have. What did was getting involved with the community and building friendships with people in it. I sought the welfare of the city I was in.
Here’s the thing, anyone can have this same platform. For those in the Church, whom Jesus has commanded to be a light to this world, we need to be doing this more and more. It cannot be sufficient to stay within the walls of the church. We can’t be afraid to leave our homes. We need to be engaged with our communities, with our city. If we are for Omaha, we need to be for it in its entirety. Not just a section of the city, the entire city of Omaha. It’s sad when “North Omaha”, “South Omaha” or “West Omaha” are euphemisms to people in Omaha. This is especially the case with those in the Church. What a sad state of affairs when Christians denigrate communities, in their city, instead of trying to be part of the solution in loving, helping and serving communities. Why do we prefer to be separated?
We need to raise our level of engagement. Yes, there are tools that can help with that, but they are only tools. They are no better or worse than the tools and methodologies of the past. What’s behind them, though? Who is using them? What are you doing with them? That’s what matters.
Are you seeking the welfare of the city where you are living? If you aren’t, today is a good day to start.
Your city waits for you…whether they realize it or not.